After nine months of waiting, your baby is finally here. You’re probably feeling a lot of different things – overjoyed, freaked out, and everything in between. On one hand, you made a person! On the other hand, your postpartum body may feel unfamiliar. You’re probably tired and still in some pain. And if you had a vaginal birth? Well, your vagina may look and feel like a stranger.
Common issues after giving birth include vaginal bleeding (lochia), soreness, and discharge, as well as incontinence and even a few leftover contractions. Another common postpartum condition is vaginal itching. Postpartum itch can happen for a variety of reasons, including vaginal dryness from changing hormonal levels and the healing of stitches after an episiotomy.
Facts & Statistics About Postpartum Itch
Postpartum vaginal issues are incredibly common. According to a Canadian study, fully 92% of women reported pain in the genital area after giving birth, and 61% were still feeling pain a week later. Even if you get through labor without a C-section, your vagina doesn’t just go back to normal right away. You just pushed a baby through there; it’s going to take some time to heal.
In addition to pain, many women experience postpartum vaginal dryness, which can cause itching. Another contributing factor to postpartum itching is the healing of stitches following vaginal tearing. In first-time moms, the risk of some sort of vaginal tear is as high as 95%. While these tears can usually be stitched up immediately following delivery, the stitches are left in to heal and dissolve on their own. These tears take one to three weeks to heal, and while they are healing you may experience some itchiness.
Why Does This Happen After Birth?
Vaginal itching is a common side effect of vaginal dryness. Within hours to days after birth, a woman’s hormone levels drastically change. In particular, the drop of estrogen back to pre-pregnancy levels can greatly contribute to the feeling of vaginal dryness. If you choose to breastfeed, your levels of estrogen will drop even lower.
Another common reason for vaginal itching after birth is the healing of any stitches you may have received post-labor. Since it is very common, especially for first-time moms, to tear during labor, they often receive stitches immediately following the birth. Depending on the severity of the tear, more or fewer stitches may be necessary. The stitches dissolve on their own as the tears heal, but as this happens they dry up and can be another cause of postpartum vaginal itching.
Let’s take a closer look at both of these common reasons for postpartum itching.
Lower Estrogen Levels
Right after birth, the very high hormone levels that you experienced during pregnancy plummet. Two of the primary hormones, progesterone and estrogen, fall within a few days after birth to levels normally associated with menopause.
Furthermore, while low estrogen affects all women who have recently given birth for at least a couple of months, breastfeeding women in particular experience even lower levels of estrogen as long as they are breastfeeding.
The consequences of these low hormone levels include vaginal dryness and postpartum itching.
Once you stop breastfeeding, your hormone levels should self-regulate and your dryness should go away. In either situation, we recommend using a high-quality vaginal moisturizer, such as Good Clean Love’s Restore® Moisturizing Vaginal Gel, to help moisturize the sensitive tissue and alleviate any itching or dryness.
Tearing and Stitches After Birth
Another common cause of postpartum vaginal itching is the healing of post-birth stitches. Giving birth requires a certain amount of stretching, and sometimes that stretching can cause tears in the vagina or perineum (the area just between the vagina and the anus).
Most women experience just first- or second-degree tearing, which can easily be stitched up in the delivery room. However, some women may experience more extreme third- or fourth-degree tearing, which usually requires treatment in an operating room. Women who are most at risk for tearing include:
- First-time moms
- Moms who give birth to babies of higher birth weight
- Moms who have an induced labor
Another reason you might receive stitches after a birth is an episiotomy, which is an incision your doctor or midwife makes at the perineum to give the baby’s head more room. These are not done as often as they were in the past, but if you do have one, your medical practitioner will stitch up the incision after birth.
While this area of the body tends to heal quickly, the stitches can itch as they dry up and disintegrate. That itch might be maddening, but the good news is it probably means you’re healing.
How Postpartum Itching Affects Intimacy
Most doctors recommend waiting at least six weeks before having sex again after your baby is born. While some women feel up to jumping back in the sack sooner than that, most find that getting back to a great sex life takes some work.
According to one study, 83 percent of women experience sexual problems in the first three months after giving birth. Between the lack of sleep, adjusting to your changed body, and other postpartum issues you might be having, you might not be feeling particularly sexy – and that’s okay!
In particular, if you’re suffering from postpartum vaginal itching or dryness, you may not feel ready to be intimate with your partner because of the discomfort you’re experiencing. Postpartum vaginal itching often comes from vaginal dryness, and that dryness can also cause burning, soreness, and painful intercourse. Moreover, you may be experiencing additional vaginal itching as your stitches heal, as well as soreness and tenderness around the opening of the vagina as scar tissue forms.
When you are in the middle of all this, it may be hard to feel interested in intimacy with your partner. But as you ease back into sex, remember that intimacy does not always have to mean penetration - or even climaxing. You can take it at your own pace by experimenting with non-penetrative activities such as oral sex, touching and stroking, kissing, massage, or simply cuddling with one another.
If you are feeling ready to try penetrative sex, we recommend using a vaginal moisturizer such as our Restore® Vaginal Moisturizer on a regular basis, since lack of moisture can inflame any remaining vaginal itching. In addition, during this delicate time it’s even more important than usual to have a good water-based personal lubricant handy, such as our Almost Naked® Organic Personal Lubricant. For extra-sensitive vaginal tissues, or if you are still a little irritated down there, try our BioNude Ultra Sensitive Personal Lubricant.
How Long Does It Last?
You can rest a little easier knowing that postpartum itching is common and probably nothing to worry about – but that doesn’t make the itching any better! How long it will last depends on the specific reasons for your itching. If it’s a matter of stitches located anywhere between the vagina and the perineum, healing can take two to four weeks. However, the time it takes depends on the individual; some women may not feel any discomfort after a week, while others might take longer to heal.
If you’re experiencing postpartum itching due to vaginal dryness, its duration is even more dependent on your specific situation. If you’re breastfeeding, dryness might last longer due to lower estrogen levels. Once breastfeeding becomes less frequent, estrogen levels will return to pre-pregnancy levels and you are less likely to experience vaginal dryness and postpartum itching.
How to Relieve Postpartum Itch
Postpartum vaginal dryness and itching can be very uncomfortable. While these issues are normal for new moms, they’re still something that you don’t want to be dealing with. Ashley Todd, Certified Doula and Placenta Encapsulation Specialist from Heart of Texas Placental Services, recommends a few things. “Always stay really well hydrated, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Avoid using soap in your vaginal region and make sure you’re clean down there.” She also recommends the use of a natural vaginal moisturizer, like Restore® Moisturizing Vaginal Gel, to help alleviate some of the dryness and itching.
During this time of healing and recovery, it’s particularly important to avoid any vaginal products that contain:
- Harsh detergents
These ingredients can not only irritate the already sensitive vulvar tissues, but also disrupt the delicate vaginal ecosystem that is already vulnerable because of all the hormonal changes you’re experiencing. Make sure any moisturizer or wash you use is natural, pH-balanced, and free of any of these ingredients listed above. Once you get the all-clear from your medical provider to have sex again, make sure your personal lubricant is natural and water-based as well.
When to See Your Doctor
While postpartum vaginal dryness and itching are both very common after giving birth, it’s still a good idea to keep in touch with your doctor during the postpartum period to make sure there aren’t any dangerous conditions that may be causing your symptoms. If you continue to feel pain, dryness, or soreness during sex after you get cleared for sexual intimacy, or if you try adding in a lubricant and you are still noticing symptoms, contact your primary care provider.
Giving birth is one of the great miracles of life, but it can do a number on your body. Whether it’s because of plunging hormone levels or just the natural healing process - especially if you have stitches in a vaginal or perineal tear - you might experience vaginal dryness and postpartum itching. While this is common and usually not dangerous, it’s still uncomfortable.
To alleviate discomfort, use an natural vaginal moisturizer like Restore® Moisturizing Vaginal Gel on a regular basis, as well as a water-based natural personal lubricant when you start having sex again. In addition, make sure you stay well hydrated, and avoid irritating the area any further with fragrances or harsh detergents.
If you want a gentle wash to help clean your vulva (you should never clean inside your vagina), we recommend Balance Moisturizing Wash.
It’s always a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider if your itching doesn’t seem to be going away, or if you’re still experiencing pain or discomfort with sex. But the good news is that, although it might be irritating right now, most postpartum itching will clear up on its own after hormones regulate and/or when your stitches are all healed up.