By Katherine Schreiber
Immediately following childbirth, your vagina needs to heal. It’s swollen, painful to the touch, and, for about four to six weeks, still passing left over uterine tissue, mucous, and blood (a substance called lochia), Gupta explains.
[ READ AGAIN: WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS TO YOUR VAGINA DURING BIRTH? ]
Most women with uncomplicated births are advised to wait six weeks before resuming intercourse, since an open cervix is thought to increase the risk of infection. You can also expect a six week pass on your period, adds Gupta, at which point you can introduce any birth control regimens you’ve considered re-implementing or starting anew if one baby is all you have time and energy for at the moment.
You can also expect a six week pass on your period ... at which point you can introduce any birth control regimens you’ve considered re-implementing or starting anew
Approximately 90% of women resume sexual activity six weeks after they give birth. Most women encounter difficulties when they resume their sex lives (83% experience sexual problems within the first three months after baby’s entry into the world; 64% experience issues within the first six months of new motherhood). Not surprising, considering a woman’s sleep and hormonal cycle experience intense fluctuations after baby enters the world, and the 24-hour care an infant requires. Potential complications like incontinence or a prolapse of any pelvic organs can also get in the way.
Approximately 90% of women resume sexual activity six weeks after they give birth.
83% experience sexual problems within the first three months after baby’s entry into the world
64% experience issues within the first six months of new motherhood
Luckily, pelvic floor exercises (a.k.a. “kegels”) have been shown to improve women’s belief in their own sexual abilities, improve symptoms of incontinence, and improve desire, arousal, orgasm and sexual satisfaction in the months following birth. Here’s how to do them. Progressive core exercises in the weeks following childbirth can also be helpful, but you must get medical clearance before attempting them. Gupta advises waiting six weeks, just to be safe.
Be patient with yourself, especially if you’ve had excessive tearing of your perineum and/or required stitches. Noyes, who experienced a severe tear following the birth of her second son that required stitches, recalls being in “quite a bit of discomfort for at least 3 weeks, if not more.”
Icing and a sitz bath were her go-to reliefs. “The entire area was SO puffy and swollen. I couldn’t bring myself to look at or even touch my vagina very much, save for trying to wash the area in the shower,” she recalls, adding that the first time she finally pooped after giving birth “I think it was a full week later and I probably could have used another epidural to get through it.”
“The entire area was SO puffy and swollen. I couldn’t bring myself to look at or even touch my vagina very much, save for trying to wash the area in the shower”
Once you’ve been given the green light by your doc to go at it again, don’t expect things to go as smoothly as the night you conceived your child. Muscle spasms, low estrogen levels and dryness in your vagina, and issues with scarring can make intercourse painful and uncomfortable.
Joy says, however, that after each birth, resuming sex became increasingly less painful. “Honestly, by the third, it felt like my husband had just gone on vacation for a couple weeks and I was getting used to him again.” She dealt with dryness and discomfort by adding lube and foreplay — pro-tips even for those of us who haven’t recently given birth.
Noyes agrees: “After my C-section, I believe I waited about 6 weeks to get back in the saddle, so to speak. After my VBAC, since the recovery took so much longer than I expected, it was more like 8-10 weeks...possibly even longer. Oddly enough, however, I found that sex after my VBAC was pretty immediately comfortable for me; whereas, after my C-section, I still felt residual pain for quite some time.”
As far as permanent changes in size and shape go, most women do notice a difference but, many agree with Joy: “the width of my vagina has changed after giving birth vaginally, but, in my opinion, it’s definitely not a concern.”
"The width of my vagina has changed after giving birth vaginally, but, in my opinion, it’s definitely not a concern.”
Even after being barely able to sit or walk for weeks after her second vaginal birth, and ongoing occasional aches in her perineal area to this day, Noyes says “I have no complaints about how my vagina looks or feels – and I believe my husband would agree. Other than the aching I occasionally get as mentioned above, it’s perhaps even better than it was!”
[ READ FROM THE BEGINNING: WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS TO YOUR VAGINA BEFORE YOU GIVE BIRTH? ]
Katherine Schreiber is a contributor to the Public Goods Blog, a publication about health, sustainability and people making an impact. Check it out for a wide range of topics: everything from product reviews and pesticides to watch out for to interior design and non-gmo foods.