During pregnancy there can be a whole host of weird and wonderful things that can happen to your body. Most of these changes are predominantly due to hormonal changes in the body as your pregnancy progresses.
A swollen vulva is just one of these changes that can crop up at any time. It may fluctuate throughout your pregnancy or it may sit with you until your baby is born.
Many women think their vagina is swollen during pregnancy however it’s actually your vulva. Your vulva consists of your labia majora, labia minora, clitorus, urethra and entrance to the vagina; basically all the outside areas. The labia tends to swell up the most during pregnancy however, women may experience a generally swollen feel across the whole vulva area.
Here we discuss why you might develop a swollen vulva during pregnancy, what is normal and what isn’t, what you can do to ease any symptoms and if there are any ways to reduce the chances of developing a swollen vulva.
Is it normal for your vulva to swell during pregnancy?
Developing a swollen vulva at any stage during the pregnancy is fairly common. However, what’s less common is talking about it!
Over the past decade, women have been a lot more open about their varying body changes during pregnancy and so we have had a lot more discussion around swollen vulvas and vaginas in our antenatal clinics.
During pregnancy, almost a third of the weight that you put on is extra fluid alone. This fluid has a tendency to gather in certain places, usually extremities like hands and feet, but occasionally it will land at the vulva and the vagina. This extra fluid can make the vulva feel very swollen and puffy.
What causes a swollen vulva during pregnancy?
1. Vulvar varicosities
The main cause of a swollen vulva is due to excess fluid gathering at the extremities. Vulvar varicosities can also cause swelling and sometimes pain in this area as the pregnancy progresses. This is when women develop varicose veins in the vulva and/or vagina. These can be very uncomfortable at times and will need a check by the midwife and or an obstetrician to ensure that they will not become an issue during the birth. Sometimes these varicosities can appear very near to the perineum so it is important that they are checked prior to giving birth incase of any perineal trauma sustained during the birth process.
2. Cysts and boils
Other issues like a bartholin’s cyst or a boil on the vulva may cause swelling and irritation but these will most likely be in the form of a swollen lump rather than general swelling. If you find or experience any swollen lumps anywhere in the vulva, seek medical advice - if left untreated, both of these factors can cause severe pain and discomfort.
###. 3. Sex
Occasionally, a sore or swollen vagina may occur after sex during pregnancy. This can be due to hormonal changes causing the vagina to feel a little dry. A water based non-fragrant lubricant may help with discomfort, but check the ingredients before use to ensure they are all safe during the pregnancy.
What causes an itchy and swollen vulva?
If you find that your vulva is swollen and itchy during pregnancy, this is usually due to vaginal thrush. Thrush is a very common symptom and whilst it won’t affect your pregnancy at all, it can be quite bothersome.
Thrush is a yeast infection that develops in the vagina, usually causing itchiness, occasional swelling and occasionally produces a white/yellowish discharge. It is easily treated by either a cream or a pessary, both of which are perfectly safe during pregnancy but we advise that you see a doctor for treatment rather than buying over the counter products. Also most pharmacies will not sell thrush treatment to you if they spot your bump. The oral treatment for thrush is not advised during pregnancy.
Treatment options for a swollen vulva
- Cold compress. If the swelling is not linked with itchy symptoms, then a cold compress can really help to give you some light relief.
- Move around. Change position regularly to improve your circulation. If you have a relatively sedentary lifestyle try to move a little bit more, especially if you are at a desk. We advise that you stand up and move around at least every hour.
- ** Stay hydrated.** Adequate hydration will help with swelling in any part of the body. The more fluid you consume, the more it helps to circulate fluid that is gathering in extremities.
- Exercise. Anything that helps increase the heart rate will in turn improve overall circulation and circulation of excess fluid. There used to be a common belief that we should rest up during pregnancy, and whilst rest is imperative, it is also incredibly beneficial to remain active as much as possible during the pregnancy for a multitude of reasons, reducing swelling being one of them.
How to prevent a swollen vulva
Unfortunately there is not a huge amount you can do to reduce the incidence of developing a swollen vulva during pregnancy. It is simply one of those symptoms that naturally occurs to some women. However, staying hydrated, getting up and about, and moving regularly can help.
Swollen vulva after birth
It is very common to have a swollen vagina and vulva after birth. If you have given birth vaginally, it is to be expected that everything will feel quite tender and sore. Even if you have had a caesarean section, you may feel some swelling in the vaginal area too. This will most likely be from trauma sustained during the delivery - even if you didn’t need any stitches there has still been a significant amount of stretching going on. If you had any internal examinations during the labour, these may also cause a degree of swelling postnatally.
A cold compress can really help to soothe the vulva after giving birth. Or simply putting a maternity pad in the freezer for a few hours before using it can feel very comforting. Sprays containing organic natural remedies like witch hazel and lavender may also help to soothe this area.
Pregnancy can cause a multitude of symptoms from dry nipples to greasy hair. Find out more about how our experts can provide pregnancy support to help you with any side effects or concerns. Book a midwife appointment at a time that suits you to get specialist advice today.
Kate, Naytal Midwife
Kate has been a Midwife within the NHS for more than 15 years and supports women to work harmoniously with their bodies and tune into their intuitions.