Wildwood Birth Collective is birth doula team in Portland, Oregon. They fight for equitable and just communities as a larger part of the movement of birth workers around the country working to bring awareness around and eliminate racial and racist disparities in birth and maternal outcomes.
Postpartum Vaginal Dryness
Our bodies go through profound processes of change during pregnancy, labor, childbirth and the postpartum period.
If you’ve recently given birth or are preparing to deliver your little one, you’re probably aware that the healing process takes time and impacts many areas of your life. And this includes your sex life. Many people experience reduced interest in sex, discomfort during penetration, and/or vaginal dryness in the weeks and months after giving birth.
Keep reading to learn about the causes of postpartum vaginal dryness, ways to alleviate any discomfort you’re dealing with, and how long you can expect it to last.
Is vaginal dryness after childbirth normal?
Postpartum vaginal dryness is extremely common and perfectly normal. According to a 2018 study, about 43% of new parents experience vaginal dryness six months after giving birth.
For many, vaginal dryness causes painful or uncomfortable intercourse. Given that many people also experience a natural (usually temporary) decrease in libido, it’s perfectly normal for parents to become less satisfied with their sex lives after pregnancy.
What causes postpartum vaginal dryness?
During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone levels increase dramatically. In general, these hormones are primarily produced in the ovaries. But during pregnancy, the placenta also produces them. After you give birth and the placenta is no longer in your body, levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease rapidly, often returning to pre-pregnancy levels within 24 hours of delivery.
This rapid change in hormone levels, particularly concerning estrogen, can have a big impact on both your emotions and physiology. Estrogen is responsible for helping to boost the flow of blood to the genitals, increasing vaginal lubrication. Lower levels of estrogen after giving birth and during breastfeeding is the most common cause of postpartum vaginal dryness.
In some cases, postpartum vaginal dryness is caused by inflammation of the thyroid gland after labor and delivery. This condition is known as postpartum thyroiditis, and only affects about 3-8% of people after giving birth.
Those with type 1 diabetes and a personal or family history of thyroid problems are more likely to develop the condition. In addition to vaginal dryness, common symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irritability and depression
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Sensitivity to extreme temperatures
Normal thyroid functioning resumes within 12-18 months for about 80% of people suffering from postpartum thyroiditis. Your medical provider can also help you determine the right treatments or symptom-management strategies for your situation.
What To Do About Vaginal Dryness
For the majority of people, vaginal dryness will resolve on its own with no persisting issues. However, vaginal lubrication helps to maintain the microbiome in the vagina by clearing away harmful bacteria.
This means that, in some cases, extreme dryness may impact the bacterial makeup of the vagina, which can increase your risk of vaginal conditions such as urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis.
How long does it last?
Generally speaking, vaginal dryness should subside within a few months of giving birth, if not before. For the majority of people, vaginal dryness primarily causes symptoms relating to sexual functioning in the early postpartum period, with these symptoms decreasing around the same time that pre-labor libido returns.
However, because breastfeeding keeps your estrogen levels lower, vaginal dryness can persist until you’re no longer producing breast milk.
Ways to help alleviate vaginal dryness
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to potentially improve symptoms of postpartum vaginal dryness and painful sex. Effective methods include:
- Using a lubricant during intercourse
- Communicating honestly with your partner about what you’re experiencing and making adjustments to your sexual activities
- Experimenting with different sex positions
- Focusing on foreplay before intercourse
- Taking an estrogen supplement or other vitamins to balance hormones*
- Applying a vaginal moisturizer**
- Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
When To See a Doctor
In the majority of cases, postpartum vaginal dryness will resolve on its own without medical intervention, and the strategies discussed above can help reduce the unpleasant symptoms you may be dealing with.
However, there are medical interventions that you can pursue. If your postpartum vaginal dryness is impacting your sex life or daily comfort in a negative way or if symptoms persist, it’s a good idea to reach out to your doctor.
Some people choose to take an estrogen supplement to help combat the hormonal changes that contribute to the condition. If your vaginal dryness is caused by postpartum thyroiditis, your doctor may prescribe beta-blockers or hormone replacement therapy to improve your symptoms.
Your provider may also recommend over-the-counter vitamins to help alleviate dryness. It’s important to discuss all the potential risks and drawbacks of any treatments with your doctor, and find out how these treatments may impact breastfeeding.
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