Ask any new mom what s*x was like once her doctor gave her the go-ahead to get back in the saddle (typically about six weeks after birth), and she’ll probably cop to it not being the best ever—due to new-mom fatigue, perhaps, or vaginal dryness caused by breastfeeding-induced hormone changes.
But for some women, painful intercourse continues for several months after getting the all-clear. And a new study suggests that the mode of delivery may explain why, finding that women who underwent either a C-section or a vaginal delivery requiring vacuum extraction had higher odds of experiencing painful s*x even 18 months following birth.
The study, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, was designed to shed light on the factors leaving some new moms feeling pain during intercourse—a condition medically known as dyspareunia. The research team looked at 1,244 pregnant women, asking them to answer questionnaires about their relationship with their partner and their s*x life. The participants filled out the questionnaires before giving birth and then at the three-, six-, 12-, and 18-month marks after delivery.
The results showed that women who had a C-section or a vaginal delivery with vacuum extraction (a device that helps guide the baby’s head out of the birth canal) were twice as likely to report painful s*x 18 months after giving birth. “Almost all women experience some pain during s*xual intercourse following childbirth,” wrote the study authors. “Our findings show that the extent to which women report dyspareunia at six and 18 months postpartum is influenced by events at labor and birth.”
So is hot s*x a thing of the past if you need a cesarean or if you see a vacuum extractor coming your way in the delivery room? No way. First, the study only found a link; it didn’t prove that these procedures actually made intercourse hurt. The study also determined that some of the women who had painful post-baby s*x had painful s*x before getting pregnant, says Robert Atlas, M.D., chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. (Atlas was not part of the study). Postnatal fatigue and being a victim of intimate partner violence also were linked to higher odds of dyspareunia, according to the study. But it’s not clear how any these factors may have influenced the results.
Bottom line: It’s completely normal to not see stars once you resume your s*x life, no matter how your offspring came out of your body, says Atlas. And the mode of delivery you go with should be based on what’s best for you and your baby’s health. “But if you hit the six-month point and things still feel painful, let your doctor know,” he says. In the meantime, use a store-bought lube, and take heart in knowing that your body will likely bounce back when its ready.