A woman’s body undergoes a number of changes during pregnancy in a bid to compensate for the growth of an entire new human being. Most of these changes regress and recover in the period following birth, called the postpartum period, usually within a few weeks to few months.
Changes in Vaginal Anatomy
- The vaginal epithelium is usually lined by a number of rugae or folds that not only make it convenient for stretching and expanding to house a baby, but also provide the right environment for the vaginal microbiome. This rugae are obliterated during the time of delivery.
- The vaginal epithelium also undergoes a certain degree of atrophy due to the hormonal changes, specifically lowered oestrogen levels in the body
- At the time of delivery, despite the body’s best compensatory effects, sometimes, injuries might occur in the vaginal lining, near the vaginal opening and in the perineal region. Episiotomy (a small cut near the birth canal) is a common procedure done during delivery to prevent lacerations and to mitigate the risk of prolapse.
- The uterus is usually retroverted in the abdominal cavity and lies on top of the bladder. As the sac expands with pregnancy, it exerts pressure on the bladder which can lead to incontinence. The bigger issue however, is the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles that results due to the growing sac. This means that even after delivery, the incontinence (both urinary and flatulence) can continue for some time. There is also a greater tendency for urinary retention.
Impact on Sex Life
- The absence of rugae and vaginal epithelial atrophy, both result in reduced lubrication of the canal during intimate moments. Without lubrication, pain and discomfort can increase not just for the person who has been pregnant, but also for their partner. This change might also make the vagina feel “stretched” or “loose”- all terms I don’t like- however, it’s also until the uterine involution takes place and the vagina regains its natural contorted walls.
- Furthermore, the changes in the vaginal microbiome due to the obliteration of rugae can result in a higher risk of contracting infections.
- Lubrication is also affected by the reduction in the oestrogen levels in the pregnant body. These levels can take a few weeks to a few months to recover, and are also affected by whether the mother is breastfeeding (maintains low oestrogen levels and acts, to some extent, as a natural contraceptive) or not.
- The incidence of tears or lacerations, the healing process of an episiotomy procedure are another set of reasons which can cause pain for the once-pregnant partner. There might be some oedema (swelling) of the perineal region too, which can make sexual intimacy uncomfortable.
- While I don’t need to elaborate on how urinary incontinence, especially as a result of any stress (such as a sneeze, cough or an orgasm) can be unpleasant, the fact that there’s also a higher tendency for urinary retention (due to weakening of the pelvic floor muscles), means that the person is at a higher risk of contracting urinary tract infections (UTI). The female body is by default at a higher risk of contracting UTI, especially following sex, due to shorter urinary passages, and the postpartum circumstances increase this risk even more.
Add to all of this, the stress of being a new mother, being up all hours of the day and night and having a baby suckling on your sore nipples, well, your desire might not be for sex as much as for a good night of rest.
Tips for a Healthy Postpartum Sex Life
- Abstain for some time- at least for 6-8 weeks to give the body time to recover.
- Be gentle. Explore with self-examination, with a finger, something smaller before going for any phallic penetration
- Urinate before and after sex and even better, shower before and after sex. However, avoid using the marketed female hygiene products that are supposed to “fix” your PH or make you smell “good”. Just wash with lukewarm water and dry with a soft towel.
- Invest in water-based lubricants during sex to avoid unnecessary friction and pain.
- Use condoms.
- Keep in close touch with your OBGYN and your Sexologist and don’t hesitate to reach out.
In conclusion, the postpartum period is a time of significant physical and emotional changes for both new parents. Understanding and acknowledging the unique challenges that the once-pregnant partner faces during this time is crucial for maintaining a healthy, loving relationship. Open communication and support from both partners play a vital role in navigating the complexities of postpartum intimacy and sexual health. By being patient, gentle, and attentive to each other’s needs, couples can rekindle the flame and rediscover their sexual connection.
It is essential for couples to prioritize their well-being by following practical tips such as waiting for the body to recover, using water-based lubricants, practicing good hygiene, and seeking guidance from healthcare professionals when needed. Ultimately, the journey of parenthood brings with it an opportunity for couples to grow closer and forge deeper bonds, not only as parents but also as intimate partners. Embracing the postpartum period with empathy, understanding, and a sense of humor can help couples overcome challenges and enjoy a fulfilling sex life as they embark on the exciting new adventure of parenthood.
Author Bio: Anoush Gomes, a trailblazing writer and healthcare advocate at Allo Health, combines empathy, wit, and charisma to create engaging content that simplifies complex medical concepts and inspires readers to prioritize their well-being. With a background in Biomedical Sciences and journalism, Anoush has contributed to various health publications, becoming a beloved storyteller with a loyal following. Their passion for preventive medicine and holistic wellness drives them to empower individuals through informative and entertaining articles. Anoush Gomes is a force to be reckoned with in the health writing community, consistently breaking barriers and redefining the role of health writers in the modern age.