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It is small enough to hold a tampon in place, but can expand enough to pass a child through.
This is because the walls of the vagina are similar to those of the stomach, they have rugae, meaning they fold together to collapse when unused, then expand when necessary.
In 1996, doctors began using a measurement called the pelvic organ prolapse quantification system as a way of helping them see how well they were doing repairing that area after childbirth.
This was the first time there was a true before-and-after measurement, Tarnay says.
“Women will come in describing a change in sexual function and say it feels loose and they feel less satisfied,” he says.
“But just having a baby changes the sexual experience, so it may not have to do with the changes in the vaginal opening.” The vaginal opening likely changes only slightly after birth, Tarnay says.
Worrying about size and whether or not it changes over time is the wrong concern, O’Connor says.
Doctors have used the system to look at populations of women and found that there is a slight increase in the size of the opening after vaginal deliveries.
The issue may be more related to muscular weakness or injury in that area, Tarnay says.
“When I ask someone to do a bicep curl, they can do it,” he says.
“But a pretty significant subset of the women who say they do Kegels, when I ask them to show me what they are doing, aren’t doing [the exercise] properly or can’t connect between the brain and those muscles.” To find the muscles you use to do Kegels, either insert a finger into the vagina and squeeze the surrounding muscles or stop the flow when urinating.