Vaginal Dryness and Breastfeeding
It’s no secret that the body goes through many profound changes during pregnancy and post-childbirth – particularly your vagina. For many women, once their vaginas have healed physically from the trauma of childbirth, they're saddened to discover that things aren't the same down there when it comes to lubrication. Vaginal dryness and discomfort after pregnancy is a common and natural condition that no one seems to talk about. If you’re experiencing it, don’t worry, help is at hand.
Why does vaginal dryness occur after pregnancy?
You’re probably wondering why postpartum vaginal dryness occurs. The answer is simple, the fluctuation of your hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone are to blame.
Estrogen and progesterone levels soar while you’re pregnant. In fact, during pregnancy, the uterine lining develops into a placenta and the placenta also begins producing estrogen and progesterone. After birth, estrogen and progesterone levels decline dramatically and they return to their pre-pregnancy levels within 24 hours after giving birth. In fact, your body dials down estrogen even further while you’re breastfeeding because estrogen can interfere with milk production.
Estrogen is also important for sexual arousal because it boosts the flow of blood to the genitals and increases vaginal lubrication. A lack of estrogen is responsible for many of the postpartum symptoms women experience, including hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness.
Low estrogen levels can contribute to four main issues related to your pelvic health.
- Vaginal dryness: Within a few weeks after childbirth, your vagina can start to feel very dry, and can stay this way as long as you continue to produce breast milk.
- Infection: Vaginal dryness can also create an environment favourable to infections in the genital area such as yeast or bacterial vaginosis, or even urinary tract infections.
- Lack of a period. Decreased estrogen may cause your postpartum period to not return for quite some time. If you breastfeed or pump for an extended period, your period can take anywhere from 6-9 months to return or not until you completely stop breastfeeding altogether.
Treatments for Postpartum Vaginal Dryness:
The good news is that effects of breastfeeding on your pelvic health are short term and will improve as milk production decreases and your feedings become less frequent. Having said this, there are a few simple remedies that can alleviate the problem while you are breastfeeding including:
Staying hydrated: Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day will help keep all your tissues lubricated, including those below the belt. Mucus is 90% water, so it will help the vagina stay lubricated.
Lubricants: Short-acting water-based lubricants can be used to overcome the problem during sex. Many women turn to personal lubricants to help to reduce the pain that happens during sex. The problem is that lubricants don’t provide a long-term solution, and vaginal dryness doesn’t magically disappear when you’re not having sex. The reality is that burning, swelling, and itching can bother you all day long. So, while lubricants may be adequate for the immediate sexual encounter, in all likelihood, you won’t feel like yourself until you find a solution that helps relieve your chronic dryness.
Moisturizers: For many women, postpartum vaginal dryness is a problem all the time, not just during sex and many can achieve instant relief simply by using a vaginal moisturizer. Moisturisers are designed for regular use to hydrate the vaginal tissues and can be used every day or two to three times a week. They have the major advantage, over lubricants, of providing long-lasting hydration and relief of dryness and not just during sex.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a natural antioxidant with proven benefits in preventing aging of vaginal tissue and reducing inflammation. You can apply Vitamin E oil or purchase a good quality vaginal moisturizer that already contains it as an ingredient.
Hygiene: You should maintain hygiene in the vaginal area by washing with mild soap, and then dry it completely with a towel because dryness in the vagina increases the risk of infection. Avoid using perfumed soaps, bubble baths, douches, and scented lotions to clean the vaginal area as this may further irritate your vaginal area.
Undergarments: Wear loose, soft, and absorbent cotton underwear. Avoid synthetic fabrics and tight-fitting underwear. This will worsen the condition, increase itching, and make the area sore. It is preferable to use the undergarments made of cotton.
Pelvic exercise: Pelvic exercises (also known as Kegels) can be very effective in promoting increased blood flow to the vagina, and they don't pose any risk to the pregnancy.
Exclusively breastfeeding is a great choice for your baby’s health. While there are no long-term health risks to you, the change in hormone balance can mean your vagina becomes dry, itchy, and even painful. Many new mothers are initially a little overwhelmed by their new priorities, however, this does not mean that they have to put up with the symptoms of vaginal dryness. The good news is that this is not a permanent change and is totally reversible once you stop breastfeeding and your hormones gradually return to their normal levels.
Make sure to talk with your OB-GYN or midwife if postpartum dryness persists, if your pain is intolerable, if something feels wrong with your body, or if you’re concerned in any way. Infections, diabetes, and vaginismus (involuntary contractions) can also cause painful intercourse, so it’s important to have honest conversations with your healthcare provider about what you’re experiencing and rule out these other conditions. No matter how uncomfortable you may feel about these conversations, remember that you’re not alone in what you’re going through!
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