When you give birth, the baby travels through the cervix and out through the vagina, called the birth canal. The entrance to the vagina stretches to allow the baby through. Sometimes the skin between the vagina and anus might tear or be cut by a doctor to allow the baby out. This is called an episiotomy.
After having a baby, it’s not unusual for women to feel their vagina is more loose or dry than usual, and have pain during sex.
A few of the changes you might notice, tips on how to deal with them and the ways you can help speed up recovery.
Your vagina might look wider, can feel looser, softer and more open than it did before. It may also look and feel bruised or swollen. This is normal and the swelling and openness should start to reduce a few days after your baby is born.
Though your vagina will probably not return completely to its pre-birth shape, this shouldn’t be a problem. Kegel exercises or pelvic floor exercises are recommended to help tone the vaginal muscles and your pelvic floor muscles.
This will help prevent incontinence or urine leaking and can help your vagina feel firmer. It’s not uncommon for women to experience incontinence after childbirth, but pelvic floor exercises can help limit this. They can also help sex feel better.
You can do pelvic floor exercises anywhere and at any time, either sitting or standing up:
- squeeze and draw in your anus at the same time, and close up and draw your vagina upwards
- do it quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles immediately
- then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can, but no more than 10 seconds, before you relax
- repeat each exercise 10 times, four to six times a day
It helps to imagine you’re stopping a bowel movement, holding in a tampon, or stopping yourself urinating.
Dryness in The Vagina
It’s normal for the vagina to feel drier than usual after childbirth. This is linked to the lower levels of oestrogen in your body compared to when you were pregnant.
For breastfeeding mothers, levels of oestrogen are lower than in those who aren’t breastfeeding, and the dryness can be more marked.
Once you stop breastfeeding and your periods have returned, the levels of oestrogen revert to pre-pregnancy levels and if you’ve noticed dryness, it should improve.
If you’ve started having sex again and the dryness is causing problems, you can use a lubricant. You can buy lubricant in pharmacies, supermarkets or online.
If you’re using latex or polyisoprene condoms, make sure the lubricant is water-based, because oil-based products such as moisturiser and lotion can make these condoms tear or rip.
Try to talk about this with your partner if it’s causing problems in your sex life. That way, you can deal with it together rather than worrying about it on your own.
If the dryness continues to bother you, talk to your doctor.
Soreness and Stitches in The Perineum
The vaginal area can feel painful or sore in the immediate period after childbirth though this improves within 6 to 12 weeks after the birth. Your perineum can feel sore, especially if your skin tore or you needed stitches to repair a tear or episiotomy after giving birth. Painkillers can help but talk to your doctor to prescribe medication especially if you’re breastfeeding.
It’s important to keep the perineal area clean, so always wash your hands before and after changing your sanitary pads, and make sure you change them as soon as you need to. Have a bath or shower every day to keep your perineum clean.
If you’re worried about how your stitches are healing, talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you have a lot of pain or discomfort, or you notice a smell.
Depending on the size of the wound, you might have a scar when the tear or cut is healed.
Pain During Sex
There’s no right or wrong time to start having sex again after you’ve had a baby. Don’t rush into it. If sex hurts, it won’t be pleasurable. If your vagina feels dry, try a lubricant during sex to see if that helps.
If you have discomfort around your perineum, you may want the doctor to check if it’s healing in the right way.
It’s not unusual to feel less like having sex than you used to as you’ve given birth and looking after a tiny baby must be tiring you out.
It’s important to talk about this with your partner, rather than just avoiding sex. If you both know what the situation is, you can deal with it together.
Don’t forget to think about contraception after having a baby as it’s possible to get pregnant three weeks after giving birth.