My vulva is so swollen you can see it through my pants. Why is it like that, and what can I do about it?

Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

Been there. I even nicknamed myself Mama Moose Knuckle when I was pregnant. I was so embarrassed by my bulging vulva that I swapped my beloved yoga pants for sweats and skirts — until I discovered why the bulge was there, and that almost every other preggo lady was also hiding a puffy moose knuckle. Get this — to support the uterus during pregnancy, your blood volume increases by nearly 50 percent. This is caused by an elevation of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. In addition, as the uterus enlarges, it can block the flow of blood, intensifying swelling in the vulva and legs.

For many women, this surge of fresh blood can up your libido and create an almost constant state of arousal. After all, blood also rushes to the vulva and introitus (the lower area of the vagina), and it causes swelling when the body is preparing to orgasm. I’ll trade my stretchy-pants for that any day.

However, if you’re experiencing pain, burning, or redness instead of pleasurable pulsations, check in with your care provider, as this could be a sign of infection, certain skin disorders, or low estrogen levels. In addition to the swelling, you might discover a web of varicose veins creeping across your vulva. Yay. These are also caused by the abundance of blood and will likely go away a few weeks after birth.

Another fun change this extra blood may cause is a darkening of the skin covering the labia. The skin could also develop a bluish or purplish tint. But as your blood volume returns to normal after birth, the coloring and swelling should minimize, or completely go away.

What to do

If you’re one of the lucky ones experiencing throbs of bliss, relish it. But if you’re not, check in with your care provider to ensure the discomfort isn’t a sign of a special circumstance that requires attention. Then, try the following:

  • Soothe the ouch. Slip back into comfort by applying a cold compress, elevating your hips, and wearing a compression garment (after getting the go-ahead from your care provider). To minimize varicose vein annoyance, take a warm bath, lie on your left side, and elevate your feet. Light exercise can also do wonders for many vaginal issues, as long as you remove that moist underwear and shower as soon as you’re done.
  • Buy the right undies. Lessen excess irritation by using 100 percent organic cotton, Goldilocks panties — not too loose and not too tight. And for the love of your crotch, skip the thongs.
  • Wear loose lower-duds. Opt for roomy bottoms, as the friction from tight pants or skirts can increase discomfort — or constantly distract you with stimulation. (No judgment if you’re intrigued by that idea!) Loose clothing also hides the bulge if you find it embarrassing. However, you don’t need to be embarrassed. For example, a mom in one of my classes had the superpower of finding the chicest fitted maternity jeans. These jeans showed off everything — her toned legs, juicy booty. . . and enlarged vulva. But she didn’t care, saying, “It’s a product of this amazing process that’s happening inside me, and I have no desire to hide it. And I get a kick out of seeing people’s faces when their eyes land on it.”

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