Is it Normal to Experience Painful Intercourse After Childbirth?
There are many different reasons why a woman might experience painful sex, even if she hasn't recently given birth. There are several medical conditions that might be identified when sex is painful, and some sexual pain that doesn't have such obvious causes.
Pain during intercourse is known as dyspareunia. It's frequently referred to when women are suffering painful penetration, but it can also happen during other types of sexual stimulation, and it can affect men too. Deep dyspareunia occurs inside the vagina, while external pain is known as superficial dyspareunia.
Many women experience dyspareunia at some point in their lives, and one of the most common times is following childbirth.
In fact, most women feel discomfort during sex after giving birth. A study shows that almost all women have pain the first time they have sex after childbirth. As many as 60% of women find sex painful up to seven weeks postpartum. And even six months later, 30% of women report painful intercourse.
In this article we will look at what causes painful sex in women as well as dyspareunia treatment, and we'll consider the specific relationship between sexual intercourse dysfunction and childbirth.
What causes painful sex?
Reasons that women find sex painful vary widely. There might be physical problems, or it might be a mental health issue.
For one thing, it's been found that many women will experience pain at least partly because they are afraid of that pain. Another psychological cause for dyspareunia is trauma—either current or in the past. It's not uncommon for women who have been subjected to domestic and/or sexual abuse to experience painful intercourse.
Common Reasons for Painful Sex
Sometimes this condition is caused by medical problems such as:
- Vaginal dryness
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Ovarian cysts or fibroids
- Insufficient lubrication
- Intact hymen or congenital abnormalities
- Pelvic floor dysfunction
Without any specifically identified medical condition, following childbirth is still one of the most common times for painful sex.
Sex After Childbirth
‘How soon after having a baby?’ is something that women’s health physiotherapists, midwives and GPs hear a lot.
Women are often advised to wait four to six weeks after delivery before starting to have sex again. But the truth is that there's no hard-and-fast rule.
When women find sex painful after childbirth, there are a number of causes that could be at fault. One common reason for sexual pain postpartum is vaginal dryness as a result of hormonal changes. This is especially common when you're breastfeeding. Another possibility for discomfort during intercourse is scar tissue from episiotomy or tearing.
The Number One Reason for Painful Sex After Childbirth
By far the most common reason that women suffer pain after having a baby is because of pelvic floor dysfunction. Whether you have a vaginal birth or a c-section, carrying a baby and giving birth give the pelvic floor muscles quite a battering. The impact can be mild or severe and cause a wide range of symptoms, including pain.
Some of the common postpartum problems that cause pain include:
- Bladder and/or bowel incontinence
- Pelvic organ prolapse
- Excessive weakness or tightness
- Symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), commonly called pelvic girdle pain or PGP
Pelvic floor problems are treatable, and a Mummy MOT conducted by a qualified women's health physiotherapist will diagnose any problems you're having and give you effective, practical treatment.
If there’s no rule, how do you know when to have sex after childbirth?
The most important thing to do is to listen to your body. In all likelihood, you'll be too tired in the days and weeks following the birth of your new baby to even think about having sex.
It could even be quite some time before you feel ready, so don’t be scared to communicate this to your partner. There's no reason why you can’t carry on being loving and affectionate in other ways in the meantime.
When you do feel ready, follow these tips to ensure it’s a pleasurable experience and minimise the chance of experiencing discomfort.
Stop if you feel pain
Pain is your biggest indicator that your body might not be ready for intercourse yet. If you experience pain during penetration, don’t feel you have to force yourself to continue. Being intimate with your partner should be a pleasurable experience, and it won’t be if you're sore. Takes things at your own pace and talk openly to your partner about how you're feeling.
Take things slowly
Your hormones lead to a whole host of changes after birth—one of them being that you will possibly experience more vaginal dryness than usual. Now is not the time for acrobatics; be kind to yourself and get to know your new postpartum body. If you find you're suffering from a lack of lubrication, try using a water-based lube.
Make time for your partner
Dyspareunia can sometimes be caused by mental anxiety as well as resulting from physical factors. Make sure you find time to spend with your partner being intimate outside the bedroom too. This will help keep you focused on each other and more in the mood for physical intimacy. When you have a new baby, it can be tricky to allocate time to each other, but it's important to look after yourselves and your relationship too.
Getting Help for Painful Sex
Remember that it can take weeks or even months to start to get back to normal sexually after having a baby. While you might not have experienced painful intercourse before, it's very common after childbirth. It's important to know that you're certainly not the first person to go through it.
Don't be afraid to ask for professional help. A women’s health physiotherapist can make sure everything is ok physically. You'll get supportive understanding as well as treatment and advice to speed up the healing process. A women's physio really can help to get you feeling more like your old self quickly.
Period After Childbirth
One thing that's worth bearing in mind is that just because you have recently given birth, it doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant again. In fact, you can conceive again as soon as 3 weeks postpartum, even if you haven't had a period.
You might have heard that you can't get pregnant while you're breastfeeding, but that's not strictly true. Breastfeeding does inhibit ovulation to a degree, but it's not foolproof. What's more, you have to be exclusively breastfeeding in order to benefit from this form of birth control—that means no pumping or formula-feeding.
So unless you're ready to raise two babies at the same time, it's important to ensure that your contraception is up to date.
PelviCare Women's Health Physiotherapy is located in Greenwich, London, serving women across South London, East London, Essex, Kent and beyond.