Women’s Health Week: ICYMI, Your Vagina Can Fall Out
May 13-19 is Women’s Health Week. Instead of trying to tackle a whole host of all-over-the-place issues, we thought we would focus on something we always we have questions about — the area down there. That includes the vagina and its parts, the uterus, and a few issues pertaining to our private parts that it never hurts to know more about. To educate ourselves, we sought out the insight of Dr. Wendy Goodall McDonald. She is a board-certified OB-GYN based in Chicago and author of the super informative and funny book, It Smells Just Like Popcorn: The Modern Woman’s A-V Guide to Her Vagina and Beyond. This women’s health expert gave us the rundown on what we should know about our sexual and reproductive anatomy, the right way to take care of it, and what it’s all capable of.
When my co-worker asked me this question in the middle of the workday a while back, I needed clarification — immediately. “What do you mean your vagina can fall out?”
“Not fully fall out, but it’s called prolapse,” she replied. “When I read about it, it blew my mind.”
At the time I was informed of this horrifying possibility, I knew nothing about it. So when I had the time to talk to Dr. Wendy in preparation for Women’s Health Week, I had to ask the question: Can the vagina really fall “out”?
“The vagina can fall, the the uterus can fall, the rectum can fall — all of it,” says Dr. Wendy. “There’s actually three compartments: There’s the front, the back and the middle. The front is the bladder, the back is like the bowel, and the middle is where the whole uterus falls down. Any of those three areas can break down and allow for things to fall out of place.”
According to Dr. Wendy, there are a few different factors that can cause this. That includes giving birth vaginally to a baby of a greater weight (“You push out a nine or 10-pound baby, or even sometimes an eight-pound baby, and that can weaken the pelvic floor”), and even the strength of pelvic tissues based on genetics.
“I have had women who had prolapse, even when they have not had babies, but that is a rarity,” she says. “That is not common. It’s usually related to the amount of pregnancies the person has had, and sometimes the size of their babies can factor in. And then also their tissues. I saw a patient a couple of weeks ago who was having some concerns about leaking urine. This is all interconnected. She never had kids, and her mother leaks urine. And so we got to talking about the fact that maybe she doesn’t have the greatest connected tissue down there and that she’s going to have to work overtime to keep her Kegel muscles nice and strong, because she’s somebody who is more likely, over time, to develop prolapse. So in her case, this is genetic.”
Other factors also include your weight and recurring constipation. Both put a lot of pressure on everything down there.
“You’re always pushing, and you’re pushing on the pelvic floor more than it needs to be pushed on,” she says. “When that happens, it’s more likely to develop those defects that allow the bowel, the bladder and the uterus itself to fall through. Weight is also a factor. So just the sheer fact of having a larger abdominal wall or abdominal content, that also can weigh down the pelvic floor and make it more likely to have prolapse or to have leakage and incontinence and things like that.”
Whatever the cause of it, you can think of how prolapse happens in the way you think about…buying socks.
While ankle socks might look better with your outfits, they often aren’t reinforced the best. And while tall, heavy-duty crew socks are not a stylish woman’s dream, they tend to be strong. The sock that doesn’t have the more secure reinforcement is likely to get a hole in it faster, and that, in a way, is how prolapse works. Weaker tissue can make way for holes.
“It’s a hole in the fascia where tissue isn’t held up as strong as it used to be, and now things fall through,” says Dr. Wendy. “So some people’s tissues, with their pelvic floor, is reinforced, industrial strength. And other people’s are much thinner. So just with time, things are allowed to fall and kind of break through.”
But not all is lost. Dr. Wendy says you can work on fortifying those tissues and your pelvic floor as a whole by integrating Kegels and similar moves into your day-to-day..
“There are surgeries that can be done to help repair prolapse, but sometimes even just strengthening those muscles is a level of reinforcement,” Dr. Wendy says. “Like, for instance, with Kegels or with pelvic floor physical therapy, those options can be a level of reinforcement that can keep everything in its rightful place.”
Research has reportedly shown that up to 50 percent of women experience pelvic organ prolapse. And while it sounds terrible (and probably feels that way), if you haven’t experienced it, keep that from happening by doing Kegel exercises and other moves that strengthen the pelvic floor. Get to contracting and relaxing!