You might have expected to experience some vaginal discomfort while you were recovering from childbirth. But postpartum vaginal dryness may not have been on your radar.
It's not uncommon for new moms to experience vaginal or vulvar dryness in the weeks and months after giving birth, especially for those who are breastfeeding.1 This more persistent vaginal dryness often translates to painful sex, which affects up to 60% of new moms at six to seven weeks postpartum and up to 17% at three to six months postpartum.2
The good news? Discomfort won't last forever. The even better news? There are things you can do to find relief from vaginal dryness as your body adjusts to life post-pregnancy.
Why Does Vaginal Dryness Happen During Postpartum?
Vaginal and vulvar dryness experienced after giving birth is most often the result of shifting hormones. Levels of the hormone estrogen fall after giving birth, and if you choose to breastfeed, these levels can stay low until you stop nursing.3 These types of hormonal changes happen for women who have given birth vaginally or via c-section, as hormone fluctuations are involved, regardless.4 Low estrogen levels may be experienced until the return of ovulation, which may also be suppressed if you’re currently nursing.
Estrogen plays a key role in helping the vagina's tissue remain lubricated and elastic. When production of this hormone drops, the tissues in the vaginal canal and around the vulva (the external female genitals) become thinner, dryer, and inflamed. This is the same process that happens during menopause, except during the postpartum phase, it's temporary.5
The vaginal dryness experienced during the postpartum period can translate to painful sex, that is, if your healthcare provider has given permission for you to resume intercourse. An increase in dryness can make your vulva more sensitive too. Your external genitals might feel irritated or uncomfortable when you put on underwear or snug-fitting bottoms, for instance.
Other challenges can compound the problem of painful sex following childbirth. It's harder to become aroused when you're exhausted or stressed from caring for your newborn, further exacerbating vaginal and vulvar dryness. You may also be experiencing perineal pain from tearing sustained during childbirth.6
How to Treat Postpartum Vaginal Dryness
Vaginal dryness after childbirth will go away as your hormones gradually return to their pre-pregnancy levels. This can take longer, however, if you're breastfeeding: Often, breastfeeding moms find that the dryness doesn't fully dissipate until they're done nursing, and hormone levels even back out.7
No matter your body's timeline, there are things you can do to restore moisture to your vaginal and vulvar tissues and ease your discomfort as your estrogen levels readjust. Some strategies that may help:
Talk With Your Healthcare Provider
Many new moms may experience postpartum vaginal dryness and painful sex, but research shows, that the problem is still underdiagnosed and undertreated.8 If you're experiencing symptoms, bring them up with your healthcare provider at your postpartum checkup. They can suggest treatment options for managing the dryness and/or pain you may be experiencing. They can also check to see whether other issues might be contributing to painful sex or vaginal irritation, like tears, that perhaps aren't healing properly.
Try a Vaginal Moisturizer or Lubricant
Consider applying a vaginal moisturizer several times a week and use a lubricant right before having sex. Vaginal moisturizers contain ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, which work to rehydrate your vaginal tissues and help them retain moisture. Using one regularly can help stave off vaginal dryness, just as proactively using a moisturizer for other parts of your body or your face, can help retain the skin’s moisture and maintain elasticity.
Vaginal lubricants can reduce friction and discomfort during sex. Be sure to look for dedicated vaginal lubricants; and use caution if considering petroleum-based lubricants, which may increase the risk of certain infections, like bacterial vaginosis.9 Choose water- or silicone-based lubricants over oil or petroleum-based ones - the latter can irritate skin and cause condoms to break down.10, 11
Bonafide's Natural Remedy for Vaginal Atrophy and Painful Sex
Revaree® is a hormone-free solution designed to treat vaginal atrophy and associated symptoms of dryness, burning, irritation and pain with sex.
*Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider about contraception options in the event you’re not trying to get pregnant, as Revaree is not compatible with natural rubber latex, polyurethane, or polyisoprene condoms. As with many vaginal moisturizers, if Revaree comes into contact with any of these condom types, it may weaken their integrity.
Talk to Your Partner and Try Alternatives
Let your partner know how you're feeling if you’re struggling with dryness or pain with sex. You may need more time to ease into sex in order for it to feel comfortable. You can also experiment with non-penetrative activities like oral sex, masturbation, or massage.
Make Time for Intimacy
Life with a newborn can be hectic and tiring. Right now, your sex life probably won't look the same as it did before the baby was born. That's not unusual. But intimacy is more likely to happen when you carve out space for it, even if that means planning for sex during nap time.
Don't Worry About Timelines
There's no set number of days or weeks after birth when you'll feel fully back to normal, so try not to stress about it. Postpartum vaginal dryness and sexual discomfort are not usually a long-term problem. With time, your sex life and vaginal health will get back on track.