Painful Post-Partum Sex

After giving birth, it's natural for sex to be less comfortable at first.

Q. Ever since our baby was born this year, my husband and I can't find the time or energy to make love more than once a month. Each time, it seems like my vagina is tighter and penetration is more uncomfortable. It's almost to the point where I don't want to have sex anymore! What's going on?

Ow. Nobody could blame you for wanting to throw away your lingerie if sex hurts, but please don't accept that pain as inevitable or permanent. You just need to find out why it hurts -- a process that might involve addressing both physical and psychological factors.

  • Type of delivery: "You can expect more pain following a vaginal birth than a cesarean, and even more if you had an episiotomy or tearing during delivery," explains Sanford Tisherman, MD, an ob-gyn and coauthor of Pregnancy Sucks: What to Do When Your Miracle Makes You Miserable (Adams Media).
  • Vaginal dryness: This is a common condition after childbirth, especially while breastfeeding. "Nursing results in a significant drop in estrogen levels, which causes vaginal wall dryness, thinning, and discomfort due to lowered lubrication," says Dr. Tisherman. At the four-month mark of nursing, your estrogen levels should be sufficient enough to make intercourse a lot more comfortable. See your healthcare provider immediately to be sure that you've healed properly, and in the meantime, use a water-based vaginal lubricant to ease things along.

Smooth Transition

Finally, remember that fatigue and resentment are also big libido bruisers. Raising a brand-new baby is wonderful -- but "exhausting, draining, and very time-consuming too," acknowledges Dr. Tisherman. If you can't get a moment to yourself, you're bound to feel pretty resentful and withdraw from him physically.

Schedule regular dates to see friends and exercise. Arrange nights out with your husband at least twice a month, too, even if you have to enlist family and friends as babysitters. "You don't want this problem to evolve into a permanent state of unhappiness," notes Dr. Tisherman. Instead, focus on appreciating each other and on remembering the love and friendship that first brought you together.

Holly Robinson, a mother of three, is a writer who lives outside of Boston.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2005.

American Baby

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