Our bodies undergo considerable changes during pregnancy. As our hormones rise and fall, however, it can be a challenge to identify what’s a normal experience and what might warrant a call to your OB-GYN. Vaginal dryness is one such uncomfortable experience that can develop during pregnancy and postpartum. Why does it happen and what are some safe ways to find relief?
Hormonal changes and imbalances impact your vaginal health. Your vagina requires a sufficient amount of the hormone estrogen to produce the slightly acidic discharge that keeps your vaginal environment healthy and lubricated. During pregnancy, your estrogen levels increase to support your changing reproductive organs and to prepare for childbirth. It’s less common that hormonal changes during pregnancy cause vaginal dryness, but changing hormones aren’t the only culprits.
Your body requires ample water to maintain a healthy vagina, even more so during pregnancy. The more dehydrated your body becomes, the drier your skin, including the skin surrounding your vagina. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to up your water intake during pregnancy.
Stress can also result in a dry vagina. At no other time does your body undergo such changes as it does during pregnancy, which can have a profound effect on both your physical and mental health. As cortisol, the stress hormone, increases, it can interfere with the estrogen production essential for vaginal lubrication.
Without sufficient estrogen, your body cannot produce the discharge that protects your vagina from dryness and other harmful bacteria, such as yeast infections. During pregnancy, women are more susceptible to yeast infections during their second and third trimesters and are 10% more likely to develop an infection. Signs you may have a yeast infection include itchiness, inflammation, or unusual discharge besides vaginal dryness.
Postpartum, the twelve weeks post-childbirth often considered the ‘fourth trimester,’ prompts further hormonal changes. Estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones that surge during pregnancy to help your body prepare for birth, plummet. In their place rises the hormone prolactin, which helps your body produce milk for breastfeeding.
High levels of prolactin can inhibit estrogen production, which increases a woman’s risk of developing vaginal dryness during the postpartum period. Remember, any hormonal changes can disrupt your vaginal environment.
If you notice increasing vaginal dryness postpartum, you’re in good company. According to the journal BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth, up to 43% of women experience a lack of vaginal lubrication six months after giving birth. In particular, researchers noted the correlation between vaginal dryness and breastfeeding, as prolactin can suppress estrogen production. How long it takes for your hormones to return to normal levels varies per woman and often depends on how long you plan to breastfeed.
Though vaginal dryness can be a normal symptom of fluctuating hormones during pregnancy and postpartum, it is not something you need to endure. Finding relief from vaginal dryness, whether from hormones, infection, or stress, is all a part of helping women navigate their changing bodies both during and after pregnancy.
Vaginal moisturizers remain one of the best options to relieve vaginal dryness. Keep in mind that you need to select a vaginal moisturizer that does not contain hormones both during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Some vaginal moisturizer brands (and lubricants) include hormones that can put your baby’s health and development at risk.
Look for a vaginal moisturizer that includes either hyaluronic acid or sodium hyaluronate for maximum benefit to help your vagina retain moisture. Our Mia Vita Gel, an intimate skin moisturizer, is safe for everyday use and contains no hormones.
Common soaps and perfumes often include fragrance, an ingredient that can further irritate your already sensitive and dry skin. Look at the labels of your beauty and household products and do your best to avoid those with added fragrance.
Find time to focus on your mental wellbeing. Stress can interfere with your hormones and contribute to vaginal dryness, so it’s important to prioritize your mental health along with your physical health. Five-minute meditations, yoga, taking a quick walk outside, and making an appointment to talk with a therapist can all help improve your mental health.
Schedule a time to talk with your OB-GYN about any symptoms of vaginal dryness during pregnancy and postpartum. At your appointment, your OB-GYN can perform an examination and run tests to determine the cause of your vaginal dryness and make additional recommendations for relief. Vaginal dryness during pregnancy and postpartum can be a normal experience, but not one you need to tolerate.