| Brett Farrow
There are many things pregnant women anticipate as being problematic after childbirth. Sleepless nights, hormonal fluctuations and major changes to physique are the usual. However, there is one potential issue that is commonly overlooked: painful sex (dyspareunia). Does sex hurt after a baby? Unfortunately it often does… in fact it’s pretty common.
Of course painful sex after childbirth isn’t guaranteed, but statistics from a study of 1000 women showed that it happens to 85% of women the first time they have sex, and 45% are still battling with it 3 months later. 23% may still have dyspareunia 18 months later.
Let’s take a look at the reasons sex can hurt after childbirth and what you can do to overcome this problem…
Why does sex hurt after a baby?
Below are the most common causes of painful sex after a baby:
Trauma to the perineum or pelvic floor
It’s common knowledge that a large number of women end up with tearing when they give birth naturally. Some women are given episiotomies, although there is mounting evidence that these are unhelpful. Tears to the perineum tend to heal naturally, but some women find that this is one of the main reasons sex hurts after childbirth.
Depending on how bad the tear is you may experience dyspareunia later. For example, if you suffer with tears that reach the anus area, it could mean that you’ll have painful sex even a year later. Your pelvic floor muscles can also be traumatized by childbirth. This is true even if you have a Caesarian section, since this muscle group is intrinsically connected. A weakened or injured pelvic floor is a common cause of painful sex after childbirth.
Fluctuating hormones and exhaustion
Hormones go crazy after a baby, as many partners will attest to! Postpartum hormonal changes can play havoc with women’s bodies and emotions in equal measures. Not fun! On a physical level, moms who are breastfeeding may find that estrogen levels in the vagina decline, which results in thinner tissues, as well as less lubrication and libido. None of those factors make for the greatest sex; on the contrary, they can actually make the experience painful.
Breastfeeding a baby is great for its development, so this may just be something you’ll need to ride out. Besides, stopping breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily make any difference as you’re still producing milk. All being well, if this is the reason sex hurts after a baby, you should return to normal within 6 months.
Let’s not forget that physical exhaustion can have similar effects on your libido. Who would feel like sex when they’re suffering from constantly interrupted sleep and full time focus on a tiny human? No libido equals no lubrication, and no lubrication can lead to dyspareunia.
What to do when sex hurts after childbirth
Most importantly, don’t just ignore the problem. You may be suffering unnecessarily, and the same could apply to your partner. First things first, you’ll need to check in with your OB/GYN to make sure there are no serious medical problems behind your dyspareunia. If there is an infection present you may need to seek treatment for this before things can return to normal.
If you’re struggling with vaginal dryness, try a personal lubricant or moisturizer and see if that makes any difference. Otherwise you may find relief with an estrogen cream from your Doctor. It’s also worth having an honest and open chat with your partner about how you feel, as well as what it working and not working for you. Maybe a little extra support, romance or TLC will make all the difference.
Painful sex after a baby could mean you need to check in with a pelvic floor physical therapist. Your pelvic floor muscles may be weakened, or you may have sensitive perineal scarring. A good PFPT will be able to identify where the issue originates. This is the case whether you gave birth naturally or had a C-section. What can you expect from your first visit? Your therapist will use a range of techniques to help you deal with your dyspareunia, as well as giving you exercises to do at home. Vaginal dilators could be a part of this protocol.
Finally, don’t worry too much – anxiety tends to make things worse. Sex may hurt after a baby but it’s unlikely to be a permanent problem and with a little assistance and/or persistence, you should see improvements over time.
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