Having Pain During Sex? Here's Help

A whopping 9 out of 10 new moms report having pain during sex the first time they get busy after baby, according to a new study. Here's what you need to know.

Help for Pain During Sex Adrianna Williams/Corbis

Lots of scary firsts follow childbirth: Your first poop. Your first time driving with the baby in the backseat. Your first day home alone with a helpless miniature humanoid that looks like a (cute) alien-monkey and needs you every waking second.

And of course, your first time having sex after baby. It makes sense that your inaugural postpartum romp might be a bit uncomfortable, primarily because you A) Just pushed something the size of a pineapple out of an opening the size of bagel or B) Just had your uterus surgically opened and stapled shut. So perhaps it's not all that surprising that a new Australian study found a whopping nine out of 10 women experience pain when having intercourse for the first time after delivery. But what is unexpected are the researchers' findings that a quarter of women still have painful sex 18 months after childbirth, and that women who delivered via c-section were twice as likely to have pain than their natural vaginal childbirth counterparts.

"Even if the baby doesn't exit vaginally, your pelvic floor muscles are still incredibly taxed after carrying a baby for nine months," explains Jill Hoefs, MPT, founder of Body Align Physical Therapy in New York City and co-author of Your Best Pregnancy: The Ultimate Guide to Easing the Aches, Pains, and Uncomfortable Side Effects During Each Stage of Your Pregnancy. (The pelvic floor is a network of muscles, ligaments, nerves and connective tissues that acts like a hammock to support the uterus, bladder and rectum.) "Plus, a C-section is major abdominal surgery, and the muscles and nerves may take a long time to recover." Toss in plummeting estrogen levels—thanks to delivery and nursing—which cause thinning of the vaginal tissues and uncomfortable dryness, and c-section patients are dealing with a painful sex triple whammy.

Whether your baby exited through your V or through a C, though, Hoefs says no woman should settle for uncomfortable sex, especially 18 months postpartum. Don't be embarrassed to broach the topic with your physician; you're not the only new mom with Like a Virgin playing in her mind while attempting to get down. Try Hoefs' tips to ease the ache and switch the soundtrack to Sexual Healing:

  1. Lube up: A prescription topical estrogen cream can significantly alleviate dryness and burning. (Bonus: It's safe for breastfeeding.) And use tons of water-based lubricant during sex—whatever you think is enough, use more.
  2. Get on top: Your first few times back in the saddle, try the woman-on-top position; this gives you the chance to control penetration.
  3. Be prepared: Haven't gotten to D-day yet? Hoefs says daily perineal stretching starting at 34 weeks gestation may reduce your odds of tearing during childbirth, thus cutting your odds of postpartum pain. All you need are clean hands and some lubricant: Basically, you'll be inserting both thumbs into your vagina and pressing down towards your tush until you feel a minor tingling or burn, then holding it until the sensation passes. Your OB can give you detailed instructions.
  4. See a pro: A women's physical therapist can help break down episiotomy and C-section scars, reduce painful vaginal muscle spasms and teach you other helpful manual therapy techniques. Visit the APTA or the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute and search for a Women's Physical Therapist in your area.

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