Vaginal pain during pregnancy is a common symptom experienced by many women, and is usually the result of the baby's growth and development. However, pain in the vagina that emerges with other symptoms can also be a sign of a more serious problem like a UTI, STI, or vaginismus.
As the baby continues to grow within the uterus, his or her increasing size can put pressure on nearby vaginal tissue. This can block blood flow to the area, leading to vaginal cramps, discomfort or pain.
If you have other symptoms besides vaginal pain, like sharp uterine cramps, bleeding, vaginal discharge, itchiness, or burning, contact your doctor or obstetrician for assessment. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the vaginal pain.
What causes vaginal pain during pregnancy?
Vaginal pain or cramps can occur during pregnancy for the following reasons:
1. Normal development of the baby
While the baby grows and gains weight inside the uterus, it also increases pressure on the pelvic floor muscles, which are muscles that support the uterus and the vagina. This can cause intense discomfort or pain in the vagina, which is more common during the third trimester of pregnancy.
In addition, because of the pressure caused by the growing baby, there may be a decrease in blood flow to the pelvic area, which can cause the vagina to become swollen and more painful.
What to do: There are some ways that you can relieve pressure and reduce pain, like avoiding standing for prolonged periods, placing a cold compress on the pelvic area, and resting after activity. Even though discomfort is more common at the end of pregnancy, it's important to see your obstetrician if the pain is too intense and stops you from walking or doing normal day-to-day activities.
2. Vaginal dryness
Vaginal dryness is also very common during pregnancy. It occurs due to the increase in progesterone, although the expectant mother's natural anxiety can also contribute to dryness. As a result, women can experience pain during sexual intercourse.
What to do: it's important to identify the cause of dryness, and to see your obstetrician. He or she may suggest use of a lubricant, changes in diet and/or exercise or routines that may help decrease anxiety.
3. Intense vaginal sex
Vaginal pain during pregnancy can also happen after intense vaginal sex which, due to the friction caused by penetration or lack of lubrication, may lead to vaginal irritation, swelling, and pain.
What to do: it's essential to ensure adequate lubrication before penetration in order to avoid lesions in the walls of the vagina and pain during sexual intercourse. If this is the case, it may also be advised for you and your partner to decrease the frequency and intensity of sexual intercourse, so that the vagina tissue is able to recover more quickly. If there is bleeding during sexual intercourse, you should advise your doctor or obstetrician.
Vaginismus is a condition where the vaginal muscles contract and cannot relax naturally, causing pain in the vagina and difficulty with penetration. This situation may appear during pregnancy, but may be present before pregnancy.
What to do: Consult your doctor or a pelvic floor therapist. They will assess the pelvic muscles to identify the cause of the vaginismus and from there they will indicate suitable treatment.
Sometimes expectant mothers can get a rash in the genital area when they use certain products that contain irritant ingredients (e.g. soap, condoms, vaginal creams, or lubricants). This can cause swelling, itchiness, redness, and pain in the vagina.
What to do: It's important to identify the product that may be triggering symptoms and discontinue it immediately. To relieve symptoms, you can place a cold compress on the external genital area. However, in cases in which symptoms do not improve or if they become more intense, consult your doctor for assessment and treatment
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common condition during pregnancy. It happens due to changes in the body that encourage overgrowth of naturally-occurring vaginal flora. Vaginal pain is a frequently-occurring symptom of a UTI, as well as itchiness, burning sensation when peeing, and cloudy urine.
Read more about UTIs symptoms and assess your risk for a UTI with our online symptom checker.
What to do: You should consult your doctor if you suspect a UTI, especially if you experience discomfort. Treatment may involve antibiotics or antifungal medication. It's also important that you drink plenty of water every day, follow a diet that is low in sugar, and wear comfortable clothes and cotton panties.
Sexually-transmitted infections, known as STIs, can cause vaginal pain in pregnancy. This is particularly the case with chlamydia and genital herpes. Other symptoms include itchiness and burning.
Learn more about the most common STIs and how each infection presents.
What to do: if you have any symptoms that may indicate an STI, you should see your doctor for assessment. If confirmed, the doctor will initiate treatment, which will likely be done with medication. You should avoid having sex during treatment and ensure that your sexual partner is aware to seek assessment and possible treatment.
8. Bartholin's cyst
Vaginal pain during pregnancy may also occur when there are cysts in the Bartholin's glands, which happen due to an obstruction of the gland. This can cause swelling and vaginal pain, especially when there is inflammation in the glands.
What to do: If you feel a palpable lump in the vagina or have any other symptoms mentioned above, see your doctor for assessment. Treatment may involve pain medication and antibiotics if the cyst is infected.