It's no surprise that your sex life will change after you have a baby. But the findings of a recent study might be cause for pause: After bringing home a bundle of joy, many women report sex becomes painful and unsatisfactory.
Researchers with Trinity College Dublin surveyed nearly 1,500 women, and discovered that the number of women affected by painful penetration almost doubled three months after giving birth. Yikes.
Not only that, but the researchers also found that whether in pain or not, sex wasn't as satisfactory for these women post-pregnancy as it was pre-birth. While half of the women surveyed said they were very happy with their sex lives before they had a baby, just 25 percent said the same thing after they brought the baby home. And while 54 percent of the women surveyed reported they had sex one to two times a week pre-pregnancy, only 41 percent said they still got it on that often after they gave birth.
"Regardless of whether a woman delivers vaginally or by C-section, they can expect their sex lives to go through a period of transition as the woman's body readjusts hormonally," explains Madeleine Castellanos, M.D., sex expert and author of Wanting to Want: What Kills Your Sex Life and How to Keep It Alive. "After giving birth, a woman experiences a large shift in hormones, which results in dryness, irritation, and discomfort with sex. This takes several weeks — or even months in some women — to resolve."
But the good news is that sex post-baby doesn't have to be bad. (And it doesn't have to be painful, either.) And the first step to better post-baby sex, Castellanos says, may be simply waiting long enough for your body to get back into sex shape.
"When estrogen levels drop significantly after delivery, a woman's body must readjust to a normal non-pregnant level of estrogen, which takes at least six weeks," she explains. "Until her body has readjusted, the tissues of the vagina will respond as if they are estrogen-deprived, resulting in a burning pain during penetration. And that's uncomfortable enough that many women would not want to have any penetration during this time."
Even after your body begins producing adequate vaginal moisture, though, it might be smart to add a lubricant into your regular sex routine, Castellanos says. "Women often benefit from using a good-quality silicone lubricant to make penetration more comfortable and pleasurable," she says. "And as always, lots of foreplay and sexy thoughts help boost arousal."
When it comes to sexual satisfaction, Castellanos says, "it's no mystery that women with new babies are usually exhausted and more anxious, which make them less likely to feel like getting busy with their partner." But with work, in the form of creating both physical and psychological space for the erotic in your life, you can make sex more than satisfying once again. "Only by setting aside some protected time for a couple to be alone with each other will they have an opportunity to fall back into a natural sexual rhythm without trying to force it, which can just bring frustration and resentment," Castellanos says.
Finally, Castellanos says, "in order to get back to pleasurable sex post-baby, I recommend anything that helps the woman feel like her sexual-self rather than her mommy-self. This might be anything from hot baths, to erotic massage, or even dancing. The important aspect here is to take a break from being the one giving all the care, to just being able to receive that pleasure and attention from her partner."