Postnatal sex giving you Valentine's blues?

Postnatal sex giving you Valentine’s blues?

When you are busy with a newborn baby, sex can drop quite low on your ‘to do’ list.  If it isn’t even comfortable when you do find the moment, it is all too easy to lose the intimacy in your adult relationship.  There are some simple but effective things you can do yourself, straight away, to improve your comfort and enjoyment.

Pelvic floor exercises improve sexual health too

First, commit to a couple of weeks of daily pelvic floor exercises to bring about proper change in these muscles.  The pelvic floor muscles play an important role in giving you a sense of closure around your partner as well as support and friction to create your own pleasurable sensations.  Taking time out to deliberately exercise the pelvic floor muscles will bring blood flow to the area, tone and tighten the muscles and improve your ability to feel the walls of the vagina during sex.  Many women report they are able to reach orgasm more easily, and that their orgasms are more powerful, after focusing on pelvic floor muscle exercises

There is an excellent booklet “Pelvic Floor Exercises (for women)” published by the POGP, my professional physiotherapy network, giving clear guidance.  Download a free pdf booklet here.

Pelvic Floor Muscle training TIPS for busy mums

Pelvic floor exercises while you brush your teethMulti-task your morning rituals.   A great time to remember to do pelvic floor exercises is when you clean your teeth.  Even busy new mothers, who might not have brushed their hair or had a shower, remember to clean their teeth! 

Stand still and focus on the pelvic floor muscles.  These are the soft muscular tissues around the opening of the bladder, bowel and vagina.  A pelvic floor squeeze is when you pull up around the back passage (like stopping wind) as well as the vaginal/bladder opening (like stopping a wee). First concentrate on 10 really good strong squeezes of the pelvic floor muscles in a row, focusing on making every squeeze a good one.  Remember to RELAX the pelvic floor properly between each contraction.  It is possible to overwork the muscles causing tension and tightness in the pelvic floor.  Some people experience pain and discomfort during sex because they find it difficult to relax their muscles. Make sure you notice what both a contraction and a relaxation feel like.   

Then try to sustain a medium hold of your pelvic floor muscles while you are cleaning your teeth Perfect mum-multitasking!  You will find you can only hold the pelvic floor contraction for a few seconds to start but with practice you might manage to clean the whole  top row of teeth before you fatigue!

Exercises after a Caesarean led by a specialist physiotherapistFollow a video.  Do you keep meaning to do your pelvic floor exercises but get distracted?  Are you better with supervision?  – join me for an exercise session straight from your computer. I will keep reminding you to focus on your pelvic floor throughout!  You can follow the  “Pilates for your pelvic floor” sequence through online exercise host pactster.com  Use the code PhysioPostnatal to access all their videos free for a month (try HIIT workouts from the team at & Breathe Postnatal too) .

pelvic floor reminder apps, exercise & tracker devices can be really usefulTap into tech.  If you are a gadget kind of girl, you might enjoy working with a  reminder app on your phone, or a pelvic floor exerciser or tracker device.   The Squeezy app is a simple reminder device with lovely visuals to help you focus when you practice.   Biofeedback, stimulation and tracker devices typically include a probe that goes in the vagina then attach to a handheld device which monitors your squeezes before your eyes.  Great for stopping you getting distracted from the task in hand, keeping track of your exercise sessions and boosting your confidence as you see yourself improving at the tasks you can read more about gadgets for pelvic floor here

Pelvic floor exercises not working for you?

If you feel that you are not making progress with your pelvic floor exercises by yourself, do ask your GP to refer you for a full assessment, examination and guidance with a specialist pelvic floor physiotherapist.  She will help you establish whether pelvic floor weakness or tightness is your main concern, as well as explore other factors like pelvic alignment and joint issues which could be making achieving the positions needed for sex difficult.   Read more about how to find a specialist physiotherapist on our resources page.

Personal Lubricant can be essential too

Do also consider adding a personal lubricant to your bedside table drawer. The inventors deserve Nobel Prizes!  The hormone changes of pregnancy and breastfeeding can leave your body surprisingly dry at the vaginal opening and deeper inside.  When you are trying to grab a quick sexy moment, with maybe less time than usual to get in the mood, your body may not produce enough natural lubrication.  This can make penetration painful or  the movement of your partner inside you can feel like a friction burn.  Using a personal lubricant during your foreplay (it works best if you put it on both of you) can make a magical transformation to your comfort and enjoyment.

Personal lubricants sometimes require a sense of humour in their application but there are now many nicer options than the medical stuff you come across at a smear test.   Look for a product with natural and organic ingredients, like Sylk or Yes.  It is important to ensure that they are pH balanced to the normal vaginal pH of between 3.8pH and 4.5pH.  Lubricants with a higher pH are too alkaline and can lead to UTIs, Thrush and Bacterial Vaginosis.  Lubricants can be water-based or oil-based (read more here) . You might try a sample of each to see which you and your partner enjoy the feel of best, though do be aware that only water-based lubricants can be used with condoms.  Online shopping means you don’t need to be embarrassed to ask for them in a chemist, try Boots online or trusted online pharmacy White Pharmacy.

If you are still experiencing discomfort after boosting your pelvic floor muscles and trying a personal lubricant don’t hesitate to talk to your GP.  They will be sympathetic and impressed that you have already tried these first steps.  Your GP  can organise referral to a specialist physiotherapist to give you personal 1:1 assessment and guidance,  and they will be able to move on to other investigations of the possible causes of your pain. You can and will enjoy comfortable sex again – but you must be brave to let them know that you are suffering.    

Inventors of personal lubricants should get nobel prizes

Nobel prizes for the inventors of personal lubricants?

Truly, the inventors of personal lubricants should be honoured for services to postnatal women and their intimate relationships.

Painful sex?  Might it be because of lack of lubrication?   Don’t be embarrassed.  We’ve all been there.  You might even actually want this to be the problem because it is the easiest problem in the world to fix!

WHEN YOU HAVE A BABY YOUR BODY CHANGES IN WAYS YOU NEVER EVEN THOUGHT OF 

With all the hormonal changes of pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding, you may be surprised to find that your body may no longer make enough natural lubricating secretions for the vagina opening and the  vaginal tube.  Sex without enough lubrication in this area can distort and drag against your delicate female skin creating a friction burn, pain and discomfort.

You can battle through, women are so good like that, but it will be ‘grin and bear it’ kind of sex.  Not much fun for you.  And over time this can escalate into a bigger problem of avoiding sex because it hurts.

THANK GOODNESS FOR SCIENTISTS!

We are so lucky to live in an age where people in laboratories spend hours developing products to improve and enhance the natural functions of the body.    Even better, with trends in the cosmetic and food industries to keep products natural, organic and good for us there has been a growth in the development of products which should not be harmful to the body and even put good stuff in.

NOT ALL Personal LUBRICANTS ARE THE SAME

Not all lubricants are the same.  You may be alarmed to read the ingredients in some and it is important to ensure that they are pH balanced to the normal vaginal pH of between 3.8pH and 4.5pH.  Lubricants with a higher pH are too alkaline and can lead to UTIs, Thrush and Bacterial Vaginosis  Further, they can be water-based or oil-based. If you are not sure which is best for you do read the related post about the difference between them.

I think packaging is important too.  Who wants a big tube of ‘lube’ on their beside table?  Try explaining that to your 5 year old…?    It is so pleasing to see the brands taking women’s sensitivities into account and producing thoughtfully packaged products that look like quality cosmetics.  Thank you from all of us!

Below are links to the UK brands my clients have found helpful.   They have informative websites and offer free samples too.   

As usual you get what you pay for.   You only need a little bit each time and your intimate relationships are invaluable.  Treat yourself to something made for the purpose, in nice packaging and never run out!   

Please do let our Supported Mums readers know your preferences below and share any advice?  If you have come across a product that you think I should include in this list please let me know your recommendations?

YES®  www.yesyesyes.org

SYLK   www.sylk.co.uk

Boots own brand lubricating jelly    www.boots.com   

What is the difference between water-based and oil-based lubricants? Specialist Physiotherapist Amanda Savage explains

What is the difference between water-based & oil-based lubricants?

If sex is painful, personal lubricant could be life-changing.  It is useful to understand the difference between water-based lubricants and oil-based lubricants.

If you have you have never tried a personal lubricant you might not realise what you have been missing. Those inventors should get Nobel Prizes!  Forget teen movie references to ‘lube and gloves.   And pity our poor grandmothers with probably only vaseline as an option.  Personal lubricants have come an enormously long way in their formulation, effectiveness and packaging.  I hope for the sake of these unsung heroes of our intimate lives that they get a better reputation soon.

IF SEX IS PAINFUL BOTH WATER-BASED Lubricants AND OIL-BASED PERSONAL LUBRICANTS ARE WONDERFUL!

There are some reasons why you might need to use one type over another, such as if you want to use condoms (the lubricant needs to be safe with latex), or you want to use an electricity based pelvic floor gadget (which need a water-based product).  But if you are just experimenting to improve your comfort I would recommend getting some samples of both types from several manufacturers and seeing what suits you and your partner best.

Below I have explained the key differences between water-based and oil-based and there are links to the websites of some of the brands my physiotherapy clients have liked.   

WATER-BASED LUBRICANTS

  • You will probably have come across the water-based lubricants in your ‘medical’ journey.  These are used in gynaecology clinics and smear tests.
  • If you want to use one of the pelvic floor enhancing gadgets (see Gadget Girl!) then you will need to use a water-based lubricant to create a connection between the pelvic floor and the gadget.     Think of how they smeared your belly with gel to do your ultrasounds during your pregnancy. The equipment will need the same kind of contact.
  • A water-based lubricant also works well to help insert a tampon, without interfering with its absorbency.
  • You can use water-based lubricants with condoms and sex toys
  • Many people feel that water-based lubricants feel more natural, “wet”, with a realistic texture and they have no smell or taste.  They leave skin clean and residue free.
  • You can use them for instant topical relief of a dry and itchy feeling vagina and perineal area.  I have known clients keep theirs in the fridge for extra-soothingness!
  • Water-based lubricants can be effective in reducing vaginal dryness over the longer term by rehydrating the tissues (just like a facial moisturiser would do).

THINGS TO CONSIDER?

  • The most well known is the brand KY Jelly but it contains parabens and research1 has shown that the formulation of KY can irritate the sensitive vaginal tissue It can also feel sticky due to the high glycerine content.  Most chemists offer an own-brand version.  These might be well suited to a short examination procedure, or  to use with a pelvic floor exercising gadget, however for intimacy you might find that with the lower quality products can turn a bit ‘sticky’ and you should check the list of ingredients carefully avoiding glycerine, propylene glycol and parabens. 
  • They can be a bit of a devil to get from the tube to the needed body part without dripping. Related post (?!)  “applying personal lubricants without losing your momentum/dignity/sense of humour!

OIL-BASED LUBRICANTS

  • Oil-based lubricants should be formulated with natural plant-oil
  • Products made from mineral oil which is a petroleum bi-product are not suitable for vaginal use
  • Natural plant-oil based lubricants are longer lasting and can nourish dry tissue and make sex much more comfortable
  • They can be used as all-over massage oils as well as personal lubricants so their application to yours, and your partners, important bits can feel more like a natural and enjoyable part of foreplay.
  • Like the cosmetic equivalent face oils, they can protect and feed dry, intimate tissues but they cannot be re-hydrating as they do not contain water.  They can be just as soothing as water-based products and may be more comfortable if you suffer with vulvodynia or other vulval conditions

THINGS TO CONSIDER?

  • All oil based products including Vaseline, Baby Oil and Mineral Oil can affect latex and are not safe to use with condoms
  • They are not the right product to use with pelvic floor gadgets such as stimulation and biofeedback machines (these need a water-based lubricant to conduct electricity between you and the gadget).  When you are using a ‘gadget’ for exercise rather than ‘pleasure’ you may find a cheaper chemist own-brand water-based lubricant perfectly satisfactory for the purpose depending on your personal position about ingredients.
  • Water and oil-based lubricants are suitable for use with silicone toys
  • Silicone is a synthetic product which can offer longer lasting lubrication but doesn’t feel natural and cannot easily be removed with water. Silicone lubricants cannot be used with silicone sex toys but are safe to use with condoms.  They are usually well-tolerated but some people prefer to source a completely non-synthetic product, like the ones made with plant oils.
  • When trying a new lubricant it is always wise to do a patch test on the inside of your arm or wrist.

NOT ALL LUBRICANTS ARE THE SAME

As usual you get what you pay for.   The more expensive products have given attention to the quality of the ingredients and spared a thought for the packaging.  You only need a little bit each time and your intimate relationships are invaluable.  Treat yourself to something made for the purpose, in nice packaging and never run out!   

Please do let our Supported Mums readers know your preferences below and share any advice?  If you have come across a product that you think I should include in this list please let me know your recommendations?

YES®  www.yesyesyes.org

SYLK   www.sylk.co.uk

Boots own brand lubricating jelly    www.boots.com   

References:

11D. Edwards & N. Panay (2015): Treating vulvovaginal atrophy/genitourinary syndrome of menopause: how important is vaginal lubricant and moisturizer composition? Climacteric, DOI: 10.3109/13697137.2015.1124259

2World Health Organization. Use and procurement of additional lubricants for male and female condoms: WHO/UNFPA/FHI360 advisory note 2012 [7 July 2015]. Available from: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/76580/1/WHO_RHR_12.33_eng.pdf