Using Natural Sea Sponges for Prolapse Support
Natural Sea Sponge Assist to Your Pelvic Bowl
by Emily Graves, M.A., L.M.T.
Oh my friends with a vaginal vault…there is ever SO much to say about the range of what we call “prolapse”! Some of the (many) common descriptors of the experience an individual may be having in their vaginal vault, whether or not they have actually been diagnosed with “prolapse” of an organ into the vaginal vault are these:
- It feels heavy in there
- Something is pressing down/against: the inside of me/on my pelvic floor
- I can’t ‘suck’ my tummy in
- Something is pressing against/pulling on: my lower abdomen/sacrum
- I can’t ‘close’ my vagina/anus/urinary opening
- “Air” comes out when I don’t expect it (usually vaginal or anal)
- I leak urine/fecal matter/vaginally (more than I used to)
- I try to ‘keep my legs together’ when I run/walk/jump/ski because it feels like something is going to fall out
- When I insert a finger into the vagina, I feel something
- Something keeps coming out of my vaginal opening and I have to manually push it back in
- When I look at my vaginal opening with a mirror, I can see something in my vagina
Types of pelvic organ prolapse – cystocele, uterine prolapse, rectocele.
Photo credit: advancedgynecology.com
As a person who lived for several years with rectocele and then added uterine prolapse to the mix, along with eventual diastasis recti, then a large ovarian cyst and chronic perineal tearing, and, as a person has worked for couple of decades with people experiencing prolapse of every variety, I really, really do feel you!
There are general recommendations for working with prolapse at the bottom of this post, but, before we launch into our sea sponge topic, let me just say, right off the bat, that I recommend pelvic floor therapy and conscious core work to just about every single person with any kind of prolapse, regardless of whether you will heal it or manage it without any medical intervention at all, or if you will be receiving medical diagnosis/treatment and/or surgery. With the right manual therapy, strengthening, relaxation, and increased self-knowledge you simply can’t lose, regardless of your path.
Now, instead of talking about EVERY SINGLE THING regarding prolapse today, I’m going to keep things simple and spend our time walking through how you might use a sea sponge as a type of pessary—an internal structural support within the vagina—to assist in mitigating the symptoms and effect of prolapse of all types. This is a question I get asked all the time in my practice and learned myself through trial and error, so it is my hope that this will clear your path.
Sea sponges can be shaped to fit like a natural pessary. While each body is different and yours may respond differently to a sponge than mine or your sister’s, my sponge worked so well for awhile that my Urogynecologists recommended I not even bother with a medically-fitted pessary. I personally credit the sponge with being the only reason I could physically do anything for a long while, so all hail the beautiful sea creature (is it a plant? an animal? Scientists settled on an answer but I’ll let you have the fun of finding out for yourself!)
I’ll also let you know how I incorporated Party in My Pants reusable cloth pads and totes as valuable allies in this endeavor and at the end, I’ll give you just a couple of links to people (including me!) who use structural anatomy approaches that may help you in achieving greater health, support and movement within your entire body to mitigate or relieve prolapse, or simply keep you strong (and we’ll come back to anatomy stuff in detail in a future post.)
For now, read on to learn:
- When to use your sponge
- How to choose your sponge
- How to cut your sponge
- How to insert your sponge
- What to bring with you when you leave the house
- How to clean your sponge
When to Use the Sponge
If you are using the sponge as a pessary, a general rule is to use it as little as needed, but, always when you know you need the support or are feeling unsupported internally, in particular, if you are exercising/lifting, etc. So, for some of you, that may mean you only use it while exercising, or at certain times of the month or day. For others, it may mean that you are using one pretty much all of the time, while you are awake and may need to change yours out during the day.
Don’t wear a sponge while sleeping—your vagina does need a break! And, never re-insert a sponge you’ve taken out after any length of time (this can cause UTIs!). And, for sure, remove during sexual activity of any kind.
So, to review:
Use Only When Needed; Do Not Reuse Until Properly Cleaned.
What Kind of Sponge to Use as a Pessary
You have a variety of choices here, and you may go through some trial and error. However, after trying several options for myself, my conclusion was that you generally want a ‘rougher’ looking and feeling sponge with a lot of structure to it. The absolute best sponges have a sort of “vein” in them, which adds support to the sponge, helping to hold the prolapse and extending the life of your sponge. Remember, that as tempting as a silky-smooth sponge may sound, a small, soft sponge will just get squished by your prolapse and will not provide support—and support is what you’re looking for, after all!
An example of a sea wool sponge. Photo credit Emily Graves.
Once I knew what worked for me, (the “Sea Wool” style of sponge was my preference) I ordered several large “forms” in bulk from a sponge company to make it easier and cheaper to cut a few sponges from each form to my preferred size and shape. The Sea Wools, with their firmer structure, lasted a long time in my rotation—usually many months. Because, with prolapse, you may find yourself using sponges almost daily, I recommend keeping a number of sponges on rotation at one time. For example, if you have a physically active lifestyle, you may want to have 3-5 around for a single day’s use and about 20-40 total in your sponge stash. This way, you have enough sponges to use for several days in a row without needing to clean and dry them every day.
- don’t need a sponge every day
- won’t need to change it very much because you aren’t moving around lots
- have the time to clean them daily, and
- live in a climate in which they will dry overnight
you can likely get by with fewer sponges. One ‘form’ usually yielded 4-6 sponges for me.
Recommendations for Cutting Your Sponge to Correct Size & Shape and Positioning the Sponge for Optimal Support
Once you’ve got your sponge(s), you will almost always need to cut the sponge to fit you correctly. You must leave the sponge large enough to fully support you internally–without the sponge coming outside of the vagina at all. A too-small sponge will end up compressed by your prolapse(s) which doesn’t give you support. A too-large sponge will feel like it’s pressing on you too much from the inside—against your bladder or at the base of you–or it will actually ‘hang out’ of you–but, remember—with a too-large sponge, you can simply trim off the excess to resize it so that it gives you the right amount of support, so don’t get too excited with the scissors before you’ve tested for size.
Sea sponges can be cut to the size and shape you need. My recommendation is to cut the sponge so that the curve of support is in the area(s) where you need it-i.e., where the organ is pushing into the vagina. This means that if you have a rectocele (the rectum, which is on the back side of you, is not able to get full support from the tissue/muscles of the vaginal vault and is pushing into the vaginal vault area), you could cut a larger, rounded section on one side to push the rectocele back into place, and keep the sponge flatter on the top, where your cervix (part of uterus) is, and flatter to the front of you where your bladder is. When placing the sponge in the vaginal vault to support a rectocele, the rounded area will face the back of you.
If you have a cystocele (the bladder, which is at the front of you, is not able to get full support from the tissue/muscles of the vaginal vault and is pushing into the vaginal vault area), it’s a similar cut, but, you’ll turn the sponge around so that the curved edge is towards the front of you, to help support the bladder.
Support for the uterus may mean a sponge that is more oval or alien spacecraft-shaped, providing “cross-section” support from front to back of you and a raised dome for the cervix to relax on. You may also want less ‘rounding’ when you are supporting a cystocele as opposed to the rectum, or cervix.
Remember that your bladder and your rectum will be heavier and lighter at different times of the day as they fill and empty. Your uterus will be heavier and lighter at different times of the month if you still have your period. You may find that your prolapse is higher or lower in the vaginal vault and can cut or position your sponge accordingly.
Your sponge should not hurt at all. It should feel like a blessed relief. If it doesn’t, you may need tweaking or assistance with the sponge shaping process.
How to Insert Your Sponge
Before inserting the sponge, you can wet it a little with tap or filtered water, squish or ball it up and insert it fully. Then adjust it to get to your comfort level.
Pro tip–if you wet it too much, the water will definitely come out of you when you insert it!
After a few hours, the sponge can put some pressure on the bladder (though whether or not you will experience this varies immensely depending on your particular body). If, however, you do notice this happening, you may need to pull the sponge out to make sure you’ve emptied the bladder completely while urinating, particularly if there is pressure on the bladder. This is less common with the rectum, but, keep it in mind if you are not fully eliminating when you poop and remove the sponge if you need to.
Other than when you are initially fitting or inserting a sponge (and you may find yourself pulling it out and putting it in a couple times within a few minutes) do not re-insert a used sponge–use a dry, clean one. This is important! Don’t re-insert once it’s been in there for awhile!
If you’re menstruating and sponged, simply wrap a reusable cloth liner around your undies as a drip shield, try not to totally squish your sponge on the way out and thank your sponge for doing double-duty and soaking up your blood–n-stuff while also holding up your internal organs, because that is some sea-magic hard at work!
Daily "Just-in-Case Kit": cloth pantyliners are comfortable and thin.
Photo credit Aria Durward.
If there’s leakage during general sponge use (which can happen to some women if the bladder is full and you lean forward suddenly, or if you are near ovulation time and the heavier uterus is placing more pressure on the bladder. Stress incontinence is generally a thing) a reusable cloth pantyliner or small cloth pad is an amazing help and can just get thrown into the laundry with the rest of your clothes and used over and over again (my oldest pads are going on their 16th birthday).
My daily leaving-the-house kit during the time of prolapse consisted of a Party in My Pants Daytripper pouch packed with 1-3 cloth pantyliners, 2 Party in My Pants Pixie Laminated pouches, for used sponges and about 4 sponges (cause, you just never know…).
Party in My Pants makes laminated cotton totes in 3 different sizes.
Photo credit Elizabeth Downey.
If you are an individual who is prone to Bacterial Vaginosis or Vaginal Yeast Infections you probably want to add another waterproof Pixie pouch with a couple of just-in-case Boric acid capsules inside so that you can insert one intravaginally if you feel symptoms coming on.
Once you get home, take those used sponges out of the pouches, STAT! Give them a quick rinse, squeeze the water out and let them sit out to dry. You’ll be deep-cleaning them soon, so no worries…but, if they stay wet, mold will surely follow. And there is no coming back from that. So, up next:
How to Clean Your Used Sponges
Because I didn’t want to deal with cleaning and then drying sponges every day, I used a half gallon mason jar for a ‘group sponge cleaning’ every few days and a big zippered mesh bag for hanging up to dry. Put all sponges in your jar and completely cover sponges with warm (but never boiling!) water, 1/4-1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide, a few drops of tea tree oil and about 3 tbs baking soda. It will bubble and foam so make sure you haven’t filled the jar all the way to the top! Shake when the bubble action is past and then soak for about 15-30 minutes. They should not have a vagina smell at all anymore—if they do, they need another wash or a stronger, longer wash. Rinse them out with clean water, squeeze out any excess liquid from each sponge, and hang them in a mesh bag to dry. Bonus points if your mesh bag of sponges can dry in the sunshine or a pleasant breeze. Make sure they dry COMPLETELY before using again.
If the sponges are discolored (during your period time or whatever), you can put straight baking soda on them and then hydrogen peroxide and it’ll come right out.
If your sponge gets stinky, moldy (god forbid!) or loses its structure, or you’re suspicious of its cleanliness, do not use it! Get rid of it! Sponges can be composted.
Sponges are easy to clean with simple household ingredients.
Photo credit Emily Graves.
So, there you have it! This is one of many ways you may find yourself coming into better relationship to your prolapse and in doing so, you will both move better, feel better, and heal better.
For more support in living with or changing your relationship to prolapse, you might start finding help in some of these places and work outwards, finding many, many more resources and assistance as you go: While I am not a physical therapist (and I do recommend a great pelvic floor PT if you are dealing with prolapse!) you can read more and book a one-on-one Conscious Core Consult with me or try my Conscious Core class for Women here. You can also check out my free video talking you through ‘finding’ your pelvic floor and core here.
Prolapse Help is a great site for finding support from others working with prolapse.
Making Mom Strong has helpful videos on posture, checking for DRA and a few exercises for the core.
If you are solid on finding your TA and pelvic floor muscles and not in an acute state of prolapse, Tasha Mulligan, at hab-it has great pelvic floor-conscious exercises, lots of info on prolapse, as well as advanced exercises.
About the author:
Hi! I’m Emily Graves, M.A., L.M.T. I live in the high desert mountains of Northern New Mexico and return every year to spend time in my homeland: the lakes, green trees, and Twin Cities of Minnesota. I’ll be showing up here on the Party in My Pants blog from time to time to share with you some of the experiences, wisdom and information I’ve gathered over my 20 years in the business of health and healing, with a focus on Women’s Medicine and Body-Centered Empowerment. In addition to being a health & healing professional, I am a teacher, writer, musician and all-around movement arts practitioner with a special passion for Muay Thai boxing. You can find out more about me, my online classes in Conscious Core for Women and my 1:1 sessions here at Radiant Body Arts & Healing, where we are fiercely devoted to providing the creative, outside-the-box support you need to enact the positive changes you want.