After my first pregnancy, I got my 6-week clearance and was excited to get that part of my life back but was frustrated with the pain. I had a perineal tear and the scar tissue was causing discomfort and tension. It took months for things to feel “normal” but it took a toll on my body confidence. The more anxiety I had, the more I would tense up and I would turn away because I didn’t want gett to close if you know what I mean.
I didn’t know that there was help and I dealt with it which was lonely for me. Who was I going to talk to about this?
As I began educating myself more and more, I learned that this was common but many women still don’t know that there is help available. So, when I decided that I was going to write about something so personal, I knew exactly where to turn. The Mama’s Physio, herself!
Ibukun is a pelvic health physiotherapist in London, Ontario who provides care for women during pregnancy and postpartum. I went to Ibukun myself during my second pregnancy as well as after to make sure my pelvic floor was functioning optimally so that I didn’t have to go through that same feeling 3 years before.
I talk about the 6-week clearance and exercise all the time but I’m going to talk about the 6 week clearance and exercise of a different kind. Yep, Sex!
We spend 9 months pregnant and adapting to all of the changes that it brings on. At the end, we’re mostly uncomfortable and want the baby out ASAP so that we can feel a little like ourselves again. We wait 6 weeks, go to the doctor, get cleared and that’s our cue to resume activities like sex.
What you’re not always told is some of the changes, hormonal and physical that happen to your body after the arrival of your sweet little baby. Our bodies, mental state and hormonal profiles change which affects how we lose weight, how we sleep, how we see ourselves in the mirror, and our sex lives.
Depending on the nature of your birth, your sex life may be a little different for the first little while, for example, if you’ve had tearing, then stitched, sex can cause a bit of tension on the scar tissue and you may experience discomfort or even pain. This is common but the good news is that you don’t have to live with it! There is help and a pelvic floor physio is just the person to see. So, guess who I asked for a little advice to help you enjoy sex after baby??
Ibukun is a pelvic health physiotherapist in London, Ontario who provides care for women during pregnancy and postpartum. I personally went to Ibukun during pregnancy and after to make sure that my pelvic floor was functioning optimally and she is wonderful.
“Believe it or not, painful sex after childbirth is a thing. It’s one of those things that you would never guess because people don’t talk about it for--obvious and personal reasons. However, it’s important to be open about challenges of this nature because many other women are in the same boat.” Explains Ibukun
Unfortunately, this is something we just don’t talk about but our sexual health is important. Our bodies go through so many changes that it can be hard on how we see ourselves and if we’re having trouble within our sex lives, it can take an emotional toll and effect our body confidence. Honestly, this is something that I wish I knew after my first child was born.
I had torn during the delivery with my son and had to be stitched. When the epidural wore off, holy cow did it ever hurt! I went to the 6-week check-up and had the conversation with my doctor (who is lovely),about dryness and lube, she said I'd need a lot because I was breastfeeding and estrogen levels take a huge drop, but the fact that I had stitched and that it may be uncomfortable for a while never came up.
We were excited and when it came time, I was in so much pain, I cried. I was also confused and felt like there was something wrong with me. I felt like I wasn't healing properly. I could feel the scar tissue forming and sex was going to be out of the question. No-one wants something that was once enjoyable turn into something awful. After that, I couldn’t relax because I would anticipate the pain and the more I would anticipate it, the more tense I became. I would try on occasion, hoping that it would be better and that it would feel “normal”. It was about 6 months, a lot of confusion, embarrassment and loneliness because of my anxiety around sex. It wasn't just a physical thing for me, it was emotional. It did get better over time, but I wish that I had known then what I know now. Knowing that this is common may have made the process a little less emotional for me.
I did talk to my husband about it, maybe not in as much detail as I should, but I needed him to understand that my body was different and just dealing with the pain was not an option. He was supportive and understanding. Having that open communication made me feel more at ease and in control. If I was feeling anxious, I would let him know. I took a break from trying to have sex because the thought of it was stressful enough. I did come around when I was ready, it took a long time but I did find pleasure after the tear healed. But the emotional toll was what I had a harder time dealing with.
What’s good for you to know is that you don’t have to go it alone and you can talk about it. Here’s what Ibukun wants you to know if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort during sex.
“Upon attempting sex for the first time, it’s normal to be a little nervous and experience some initial discomfort, particularly upon penetration. However ongoing pain, or significant pain is not normal. Pain during or after intercourse can be caused by a number of things.
Hypertonic pelvic floor muscles (tight, unable to lengthen and relax)
A pelvic-abdominal container that is tight or hypertonic
Trigger points (knots) in the pelvic floor or abdominal container
Trauma due to use of instruments such as forceps or vacuum
Unhealed scar tissue – perineal or abdominal (C-section) – that is adheased
Pelvic nerve sensitivity or irritation
Pelvic organs that have shifted out of optimal position (pelvic organ prolapse
Vaginal or vulvar dryness and irritation due to hormonal changes
Post-traumatic stress disorder from birth trauma (PTSD)
Emotions, thoughts, fears, past-experiences about sex which affect the body’s ability to function
Thankfully these things can be treated and it is possible to return back to normal, pain-free and yes, even pleasurable sex!
The first piece of advice is to realize that this is a health issue. It is important to prioritize your health, which will ultimately help improve your sexual functioning, and your sexual relationship! Don’t put up with the pain and dysfunction. You deserve better!”
After my second pregnancy, I didn’t have these issue at all--but I was still a little anxious from my past experience. I better educated myself as far as birth and pelvic health. When I delivered my daughter, I was in a hands and knees position which takes the pressure off the perineum. Gravity was working in my favour. I also went to see Ibukun when I was 33 weeks pregnant and again after to assess my pelvic floor. I wanted to know that if I was experiencing anything that was mentioned above, that I was able to get treatment. It was also nice that I was in a safe place to talk and be open.
If you’re experiencing any discomfort or pain during sex, please, book an appointment with Ibukan. Knowing that you are not in this alone and having a treatment plan will not only give you peace of mind, but give you confidence in your body once again.
Ibukun herself is a proud mama of 2 and has her own practice, The Mama’s Physio here in London.
Love your baby body,
About Ibukun Afolabi, The Mama's Physio
I graduated from the University of Western Ontario with an honours degree in Kinesiology in 2005, and obtained my Master’s degree in Physiotherapy from Queen’s University in 2007. I have since worked in Ottawa and London in private and public settings, and have attended a number of national and global conferences to keep up with my knowledge base. I have also completed many post-graduate courses, including certification levels in pelvic health - and because there is so much to learn, you can always find me reading up on the most recent evidence in the world of women's health. My clinical interests include women's health, peri-natal care, pelvic health, integrated, collaborative and holistic treatment of the whole person, and global health issues. I am a 2013 graduate of the full intensive Discover Physio Postgraduate Course taught by the world renowned Diane Lee and Linda-Joy Lee which uses the Integrated Systems Model as a framework for assessment and treatment of the whole person.
Ibukan is registered with the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario and a member of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) and Ontario Physiotherapy Association. I am also a member of the Women's Health Division of the CPA and past a executive member of the Global Health Division of the CPA.
You can find Ibukun and learn more about how she helps moms just like us on her website www.themamasphysio.com