While some are pretty familiar with this topic, yoni steaming is still pretty niche. It even gets a sideways eye and sometimes a hard no from the medical community. But for anyone curious to dive a little deeper I want to share what exactly it is, a little history behind it, and the many potential benefits of using it both postpartum and throughout the menstrual cycle.
What is Yoni Steaming?
Yoni is a Sanskrit word for the physical representation of Shakti in Hinduism, but it is also used to describe women’s reproductive organs, from vulva to uterus. It’s more of an all encompassing word than vagina and has a more sacred connotation, which is why many people choose to use it when describing female anatomy.
Yoni steaming is the practice of sitting or squatting over hot water that has been infused with herbs. The steam will then surround the vulva and make its way up into vaginal tissues. The warmth brings blood flow to the area which can encourage well being, especially postpartum or after the menstrual cycle is done. The addition of medicinal herbs in the steam can also bring a variety of benefits from anti-microbial and astringent to warming and calming.
The history of vaginal steaming is debated but I was taught they were called “bajos” by Mayan healers and midwives, and were used for treating a variety of reproductive issues from fertility problems to postpartum tears. Some claim that steaming has a long history with traditional cultures all over the world, and my grandmother (who had eleven children and grew up in the rural South) had her own stories about this.
She spoke of the Native Americans in her area putting small fires in holes in the ground, and squatting over them to bring heat and healing to the tissues after birth. I haven’t personally found evidence of any of these things in history books, but let’s remember that history was usually recorded by men so I wouldn’t be surprised that traditional birth practices would be hard to find.
Regardless of who has used vaginal steaming I have my own feelings about it. When I was in herb school I learned how to make herb infused steams for inhaling. This brings moisture and herbal properties to the mucous membranes to heal irritated sinus cavities, lungs and coughs- so if we’re steaming our noses, why wouldn’t we steam our vaginas?
Here are some of benefits I’ve personally seen with clients…
- Quicker Healing of Tears
I’m not just talking about major tears in need of stitches here. When someone gives birth, they are stretching their tissues beyond what they will most likely ever experience again outside of another birth. While this can cause tears that require stitching, it can also cause tiny micro-tears in the vulva and vaginal tissues. Ask anyone postpartum how it feels to pee after giving birth and they’ll tell you how sore and painful the entire area is.
While many doulas recommend pads covered in witch hazel and then frozen to make an ice pack, I’m all for heat. Ice will numb the pain for sure and I use those too, but heat heals faster over the long run. It brings the necessary blood flow and immune cells to the area to encourage the tissues to regenerate. Add some anti-microbial herbs to the mix and it’s even better.
2. Helping the Uterus Shed Fully
After any bright red bleeding subsides, the uterus is properly clamped down and the pregnant person is no longer losing new blood. However, many will still have a brownish discharge for up to six weeks postpartum. This is called lochia and is because the lining of the uterus hasn’t fully shed with the placenta. The wall of the uterus is not a flat and slippery surface, it has many tiny folds and often blood gets trapped in there and can build up if not shed properly.
In fact, cramps are often just the womb’s way of trying to expel excess tissue. The faster you can help your uterus shed, the better. Steam can penetrate almost anything, so the idea is that the herbal steam enters the uterus, loosening up any remaining lochia and helping the body release it. This is important not only after childbirth, but periods too.
3. Bringing Sensation to the Area
Birth can be traumatizing to the body and scar tissue can form around the vulva and vagina postpartum, causing a sort of numbing. There may be pain as well. While six weeks is often the magic number given by medical providers as a time that’s safe to return to sex, that doesn’t feel right for many of my clients.
Vaginal steaming is a gentle and soothing way to reintroduce sensation to the vagina and lubricate the tissues. It also tends to bring up any lingering emotions trapped in that area from birth and other traumas. Almost everyone I’ve worked with has a big emotional release after steaming. I can’t tell you why that is, but I can tell you it works.
It feels good. I don’t know how else to say it but warm, soothing steam over the vagina is one of the most relaxing self care practices I’ve ever done. And let’s be real, anytime you give yourself an uninterrupted 20 minutes to sit in a meditative space and do something good for your body, it calms you down.
The nervous system tends to be very unregulated after birth, it’s such a major event for the body and the mind. So if someone you fully trust, like a doula, close friend or family member can take the baby, set you up with a vaginal steam and leave you alone for 20 minutes, you have a far better chance of feeling calm and at ease.
Kelli Garza of Steamy Chick, popularized steaming in the western world and recently did a study on 11 postpartum volunteers who all had vaginal births. A midwife performed herbal steams from days 4-8 for 15 minutes. The control group received no steaming. Here were her results:
- The steam group’s blood pressure dropped more quickly into a healthy range.
- The fundus or uterus of the steam group went back to normal size more quickly.
- After six weeks waist size and weight were both lower in the steam group.
- The swelling and labia pain of the steam groups improved more quickly and were healed by day 8 of the experiment.
- Even with stitches, the steam group experienced no discomfort of their vaginal tears after day 8 of steaming.
- Lochia discharge and bleeding stopped more quickly with the steam group.
- Hemorrhoids and constipation were also improved for those who steamed.
While this is a very small study and more of these need to be done, I think the results are pretty remarkable. Here is a link if you want to see it for yourself: https://www.steamychick.com/4thtristudy/
Best Steaming Herbs
I like to keep mine simple with the same basic herbs I would use in a sitz bath. Here are some of my favorites and their benefits.
Is an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory herb that can speed the healing process. It improves blood flow to the skin and would be a great herb for healing scar tissue. It is also an anti-spasmodic so if you’re experiencing cramping, calendula would be a good one to use.
It’s great for relaxing the nerves and calming stress, just the scent of lavender will work for that. But that’s not the only reason why it’s a great steaming herb, it’s also anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-spasmodic, making it a good one for skin healing and cramping.
The scent of rose is one of the most soothing out there. But it also has some amazing skin healing properties. It’s astringent, meaning that it calms redness and tightens sore swollen tissues (hello postpartum). Like the others it’s also anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory.
This is a warming herb that increases circulation, making it a great one for scar tissue. It’s also anti-microbial which prevents against infection and is analgesic, which means it can decrease pain.
This herb is an amazing wound healer and helps skin come back together by increasing collagen production. Comfrey is sometimes called knitbone and was used to mend broken bones back in the day. It’s also anti-inflammatory and analgesic.
Who Shouldn’t Steam?
If you have any of the following symptoms or conditions please avoid steaming.
- If you’re still bleeding red, don’t steam. Just wait until that has slowed. Brown spotting and discharge postpartum is different from bright red blood. Often if you’re seeing bright red blood for more than a few days after birth it’s a sign to rest more.
- If you have an infection or an open wound, wait until the infection has cleared or the wound has mostly healed before starting to steam.
- If you’re pregnant, don’t steam! Not only could this soften and open the cervix, but the heat is dangerous for the fetus.
- If you have an IUD in place, avoid steaming as it can heat up a copper IUD and potentially burn the inside of the uterus. The same goes for any piercings.
- C-section folks should wait six weeks before steaming, this allows the surgical wound to close and heal. But after that time period has passed steaming can be a great way to support the healing of scar tissue in the uterus or on the lower belly.
- Boil a quart of water on the stove, then turn it off and add about 2 tablespoons of your chosen herb blend. I cover that with a lid and allow it to sit for a few minutes. I don’t want the water to be too hot, and the herbs will have time to infuse the water like a tea.
- If you have a steaming stool or a chair with a hole cut into it just place the water in a bowl or mason jar under the stool, cover your legs with a blanket and sit for 10-30 minutes.
- If you don’t have a steaming stool or chair, you can squat on your knees over the bowl of steaming water. But be very careful to first check the steam with the inside of your arm to be sure it isn’t too hot. Wearing a long skirt or dress is helpful to keep the steam inside.
Well that’s it for now, I’d love to know if any of you have experience with steaming so leave a comment below if you’d like. Beyond that if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out! Contact Meghan Coleman