So, you’re pregnant. Or maybe you’ve already had three babies, each one exiting through your vagina. Perhaps you’ve c-sectioned two little ones, and reading this might cause you to intake some air, loudly. No matter which of these categories you fit into or not, we need to talk about a secret little topic which has been overlooked at mum’s group. Not even mention of your pelvic floor rehabilitation exercises gives this topic room to air…it’s the inconspicuous yet illustrious fanny fart.
The medical term for this unwelcome occurrence is vaginal flatulence, and studies quote that a highly variable number of women experience it. Hmm…it’s the topic flying under the radar, despite the fact that as much as 69% of us are well acquainted with it. Many women hear their vaginas contributing in random situations: For some of us a little air escapes during our morning yoga class and we’re scared to attempt a three-legged downward dog ever again. Others become wary of simply moving from sitting to standing at a coffee date, for fear of setting free what sounds remarkably like an actual fart and being judged by one and all.
Technically, a chattering vulva occurs when the integrity of vaginal wall tissue has been compromised – usually after a superstar feat such as the vaginal birth of a baby or two. The valve-like structure at the entrance to the vagina allows air to freely venture in while the woman is at rest, which seems fine, right? But here’s the catch. That same gateway closes with movement, trapping air inside the vaginal canal. With activity, the abdominal and pelvic pressures increase, and air is expelled through the closed entryway, much like air escaping through a musical wind instrument. Voilà! Your vagina now not only produces babies, it is also an in-built French horn which toots whenever it feels the need.
Obstetrics and Gynaecology Fellow at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney Doctor Sarika Gupta states that interestingly, younger women of reproductive age and slimmer women are more susceptible to a noisy giney because pelvic floor muscle strength is lower in this group overall. This is likely due to the youngsters believing they have a “ good pelvic floor” and not routinely engaging in pelvic floor strengthening exercises, particularly after childbirth. As if the thought of a human leaving the womb via a teeny tiny hole wasn’t enough to handle, this such action is the very provoking factor to a chatty fanny. In childbirth, 75% of women undergo perineal tissue damage, which usually requires getting stitched back up to keep everything in. And then, the pelvic floor exercises need to become habitual in order to repair the ruins and keep the varting on the low-low.
Worrying about keeping our insides inside is another fear inducing concept that we’ve all thought about before birthing a little person. Women who give birth to a big baby, have an instrumental delivery or shoot out multiples are at higher risk of developing a prolapse – where part or all of the vagina heads downtown. Those who experience this have a lot more work to do on the recovery side of things, and some even need surgery to replace everything properly. Unfortunately, ladies in one or more of these situations are more likely to experience vaginal wind, as the tissues in that area are weakened with such an injury. Sheesh!
All of this goes hand in hand with pelvic floor function and is all too familiar to pregnant mum of two, Emma Muskett. After two uncomplicated natural births, her vaginal back wall has prolapsed, and the fanny farts are real. For Emma, they are most obvious during everyday movement – so much so that she has employed some little tricks to try and evade awkward situations where friends and strangers might think she’s passing wind. “I try and do a movement, kind of like rock in my chair before getting up, to maybe get it out before standing. This sometimes works!” Kudos to Emma, she hasn’t let the queefing impact her quality of life. She still goes out despite its prominent occurrence in her everyday routines. She remains vigilant, however, to use these little techniques to keep the flatulence at bay.
Not every woman has the confidence that Emma has, however. Doctor Gupta says that actually, most studies indicate that vaginal flatulence causes considerable distress that leads to a severe decrease in quality of life. But again, almost all of us are ignoring the presence of it. The limited data available suggests that the majority of women do not seek medical help for flatulence alone, due to embarrassment or shame. That’s one huge reason there isn’t a whole lot of chit chat about it! Here we are, experiencing a loss of our libido, with the thought of a fart-sound making itself known at exactly the wrong moment, while others in the Queef-Club are reporting social isolation due to the insecurities associated with emitting wind in public. So, what can we do about it?
Targeted physiotherapy is most often the first line of management for tackling vaginal wind. This sort of physio improves the integrity of the muscles and tissues of the pelvic floor, which then translates into narrowing of the entrance, thus preventing that valve from forming and limiting air from being trapped. Bam! Failing this, ladies, we also have the option of placing an object in the vagina such as a tampon or pessary, like a little piece of hidden treasure. This would fill up the vault space and prevent air from entering and getting trapped. Our in-built wind instrument would sing no more.
Thank goodness there are ways and means we can tackle this problem. And the first step? Let’s talk about it. We don’t have to continue doing yoga in our living rooms forever, girls! It might take some courage to address, but the upside will be downward dogs and shoulder stands with our vaginas remaining forever silent, and the confidence to leave the house for normal tasks restored. Nobody should be afraid of bending down in the supermarket aisle. And the best thing about it: you can begin right now. In and up, ladies!
An altered version of this feature article was published on Essential Baby, here
Jeffery S, Franco A & Fynes M. Vaginal wind—the cube pessary as a solution? International Journal of Urogynaecology, 2007
Neels H et al. Vaginal wind: a literature review. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Reproductive Biology, 2017
Krissi H, Medina C & Stanton S. Vaginal wind—a new pelvic symptom. International Journal of Urogynaecology, 2013
Hsu S. Vaginal wind—a treatment option. International Journal of Urogynaecology, 2007
Contributors: Doctor Sarika Gupta, Obstetrics and Gynaecology Fellow at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, MBBS, MIPH, MRANZCOG, PhD (Usyd) Illustrations by Sarika Gupta
Case Study: Emma Muskett
Others: Emma Grant and Brit Jollife and Women’s Health Specialist Samantha Craddock