Your body went through profound changes during the course of your pregnancy. You may expect to continue experiencing some changes as you heal after delivery, but are you ready for changes in your sex life?
Less interest in sex or even pain at penetration might seem normal after giving birth. Vaginal dryness though? Yep, it’s normal, too.
Believe it or not, in one 2018 study of 832 postpartum women, 43 percent reported vaginal dryness 6 months after giving birth, so if you experience it, you’re far from alone.
Indeed, postpartum vaginal dryness is a common condition. And many women find that this dryness makes sex uncomfortable or even painful. If you’re experiencing it, don’t worry, there are ways to ease the discomfort.
You’re probably wondering why postpartum vaginal dryness occurs, and one answer is your hormones… particularly estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen and progesterone are produced mainly in your ovaries. They trigger puberty, including breast development and menstruation.
They also cause the buildup of a lining in your uterus during your menstrual cycle. If a fertilized egg isn’t implanted in this lining, estrogen and progesterone levels drop, and the uterine lining is shed as your period.
Estrogen and progesterone levels soar while you’re pregnant. Instead of being discarded, the uterine lining develops into a placenta. The placenta also begins producing estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen and progesterone levels decline dramatically after you give birth. In fact, they return to their pre-pregnancy levels within 24 hours after giving birth. (Your body dials down estrogen even further while you’re breastfeeding because estrogen can interfere with milk production.)
Estrogen is important to sexual arousal because it boosts the flow of blood to the genitals and increases vaginal lubrication. A lack of estrogen is responsible for many of the postpartum symptoms women experience, including hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness.
Some women choose to use an estrogen supplement to counter this. Others choose not to take one because it increases the risk of cancer and other issues, such as blood clots.
Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits if you’re interested in taking or using an estrogen supplement, such as a pill, patch, or vaginal cream. (In most cases, estrogen supplements are used temporarily in the form of a cream.)
Postpartum vaginal dryness can also be caused by postpartum thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid gland.
Your thyroid produces hormones that are vital to various bodily functions, including metabolism; however, your thyroid may produce too many or not enough thyroid hormones when inflamed.
Symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis may include:
- difficulty sleeping
- weight gain
- sensitivity to cold
- dry skin
- vaginal dryness
If you experience these or any other symptoms, you may feel some comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Postpartum thyroiditis up to 10 percent of women.
The type of postpartum thyroiditis you have will determine your treatment. For an overproducing thyroid, your doctor may suggest beta-blockers to help reduce symptoms. Alternatively, your doctor may recommend thyroid hormone replacement therapy if your thyroid is underproducing.
If postpartum thyroiditis is the cause of your vaginal dryness, rest assured that thyroid function typically returns to normal within 12 to 18 months for 80 percent of women.
Childbirth and postpartum vaginal dryness can mean that the tissue of your vagina become thinner, less elastic, and more prone to injury. The vagina can also become inflamed, which may cause burning and itching.
Because of these changes, postpartum intercourse might be painful or you may experience bleeding from your vagina. However, take heart that these symptoms should disappear once your estrogen levels return to normal.
You can still have an enjoyable sex life despite postpartum vaginal dryness. The following tips offer a few ways to enhance your postpartum sexual experience:
- Use a lubricant when you’re having sex. (If your partner uses a condom, avoid petroleum-based lubricants, which can damage condoms.)
- Talk to your doctor about using an estrogen vaginal cream, like conjugated estrogens (Premarin) or estradiol (Estrace).
- Consider applying a vaginal moisturizer every few days.
- Drink water. Keep your body well hydrated!
- Avoid douches and personal hygiene sprays, which can irritate sensitive vaginal tissues.
- Talk with your partner about your concerns.
- Increase foreplay and try different techniques and positions.
Always speak to a healthcare provider if something feels wrong with your body. Make sure to talk with your OB-GYN or midwife if postpartum symptoms persist, if your pain is intolerable, or if you’re concerned in any way.
Infections, diabetes, and vaginismus (involuntary contractions) can also cause painful intercourse, so it’s important to have honest conversations with your healthcare provider about what you’re experiencing.
No matter how uncomfortable you may feel about these conversations, remember that you’re not alone in what you’re going through!