As if nine months of pregnancy-related body weirdness isn't enough, Mother Nature has more surprises in store for new moms.
Life changes after you have a baby. How could it not? You brought another human being into the world. But while everyone warns you to expect less sleep and more stress once you have a newborn to care for, no one mentions another change: what happens to your lady bits.
“Every woman is going to experience some [vaginal] changes after childbirth, and nobody is going to be exactly the same as they were before being pregnant,” says Alyssa Dweck, MD, New York–based ob-gyn and co-author of The Complete A to Z for Your V.
But here's the upside. Though it's totally normal for things to look and feel different down below, most of these changes subside as your hormone production and other body functions return to their regular pre-pregnancy levels, says Dr. Dweck. Plus, there are some things you can do (hi, kegels!) to make the transformation shorter and less intense. Here's what to expect when you're no longer expecting.
Your vagina can feel looser
After pushing out something the size of a watermelon, it’s normal for a woman's pelvic floor muscles to relax and lose a little tone. That can make the vagina feel looser, especially in the first year after delivery. "They may also feel like it’s more airy down there as they walk around,” says Dr. Dweck.
How much roomier your vagina will feel depends on many factors, including how long you were in labor and how big your newborn was. (This is one change women who deliver via C-section are unlikely to experience, since the baby didn't exit through the vagina.)
If the looseness bothers you, you can take steps to tighten things up. Doing Kegel exercises regularly can help you go back to feeling pretty normal over time, adds Dr. Dweck. Maintaining a healthy weight and taking care of your health overall will also help your vagina return to its usual size and feel.
It might go dry
Vaginal dryness is one of the most common complaints from new moms who are nursing. Breastfeeding causes estrogen levels to plunge, and the lack of estrogen can leave some women feeling like the Sahara down below.
Since it's tied to breastfeeding, vaginal dryness is typically a temporary thing. “Usually as soon as you stop nursing and resume your period, your estrogen levels boost up, you’re ovulating again, and things tend to get back to normal,” says Dr. Dweck.
So if you're ready to resume having sex again but dryness is making things difficult, it's time to hit the lubricant aisle of your local pharmacy. “A lubricant is going to be vital for this,” says Dr. Dweck. If lube doesn’t help you get back in the groove, ask your gynecologist for a prescription estrogen vaginal cream, suggests Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetric, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine.
It can feel pretty sore
Delivering a baby can be so rough on the vagina, the surrounding tissue can tear, says Dr. Minkin. Tears are typically sewn up with dissolvable stitches immediately after the baby comes out. But actually recovering from the pain and trauma may take some time, especially if the tear involves not just skin but muscle as well.
“This area can feel fairly uncomfortable for some time, though it does get better within a few weeks,” says Dr. Minkin. “We always encourage women to sit in a warm tub or a sitz bath to help keep swelling and pain down.” Over the counter pain medication containing ibuprofen or naproxen can ease the discomfort too.
The color could change
Don’t be alarmed if your vulva—the area just outside the vaginal canal that includes the labia, clitoris, and the perineum (the skin between the vagina and rectum)—changes shades after delivery.
“These areas are subject to pigment changes not only due to hormone changes during pregnancy, but also because of scarring or tearing [surgical] repairs after childbirth,” explains Dr. Dweck. Generally speaking, the color gets darker. “Unless something looks scary like a dark mole you’d be alarmed by anywhere else on your body, there’s no need for concern.”
Color changes that are hormone-driven can affect women who have had C-sections too. Whether they happen after a vaginal delivery or Ceasarean, they may fade over time, but they usually don’t go away for good.
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You'll have bloody discharge
A story about vaginal changes wouldn't be complete without mentioning discharge, right? Whether you have a C-section or deliver vaginally, the vagina will excrete something from the uterus called lochia, a combination of blood, mucus, and fluid. “Lochia will change color and consistency as the weeks go on,” says Dr. Dweck. “And usually by six weeks post-partum, it’s finished.”
There's no reason to be alarmed by lochia unless it’s accompanied by a foul odor, pain, or itching. According to Dr. Dweck, once you start ovulating again and your period resumes, you'll start seeing your usual day-to-day discharge.