Everything You Need to Know About Sex After Childbirth
Chances are, sex might not be at the top of your “to do” list after having a baby. It’s natural to feel apprehensive about intimacy after being pregnant and giving birth. After all, you’re likely to have plenty to contend with: postpartum pain and discomfort, sleep deprivation and a variety of mood killers (baby sick on your bed sheets and mountains of laundry at the foot of the bed for starters). And that’s not to mention the little person who has come into your life to demand every waking — and possibly sleeping — moment of your time.
Above all, you need to know that feeling apprehensive about sex after childbirth is completely normal. Also, everyone is different — just because your doc gives you the green light to have sex six weeks after baby is born doesn’t mean you have to get down to it without delay. Be kind to yourself, accept that your life is a lot different than it was pre-baby and take advantage of these expert tips to make jumping back between the sheets — for something other than some well-deserved shut-eye — a little easier.
There’s No Need to Rush
Before you start having postpartum sexual intercourse, get the OK from your health provider. “I ask my clients to wait at least six weeks postpartum to have intercourse,” says Midwife Risa Klein. “Sometimes, it will take a woman more than six weeks after birth to be ready for sex, whether she had vaginal delivery or a C-section.”
If you had a vaginal delivery, having sex too quickly could lead to a vaginal infection, and if you had a C-section, it’s important to give your incision time to heal. “Each woman has her own recovery time, both physically and emotionally, even if she didn’t have any tears or an episiotomy,” adds Klein.
So, even if your doc says it’s fine to have sex, it’s also fine to wait a few more weeks (or longer) if you don’t feel up to it yet. Never let anyone pressure you into having sex.
Don’t Forget Contraception
It’s a myth that you can’t get pregnant right after childbirth. “You can be ovulating and not menstruating,” warns Klein.
Talk to your healthcare provider about your birth control options before you give birth and again during your postpartum visit. The mini (progestin-only) pill and Depo-Provera, which don’t contain estrogen, are the most commonly used pills for breastfeeding moms. (Speaking of which, don’t assume breastfeeding is an effective birth control method either!)
If you’re not breastfeeding, hormonal birth controls like the pill, ring or patch are options, and an IUD is safe whether you’re nursing or not.
Keep Doing Your Kegels
Hopefully, you were doing your kegels (pelvic floor exercises) during pregnancy to increase blood flow, help with delivery and tone your pelvic floor muscles, which can weaken during pregnancy and childbirth. It’s important to keep doing this exercise postpartum because these muscles support the womb, bowels and bladder — and it will help your sex life, too. “Strong vaginal muscles means more pleasure for both partners,” says Klein.
Aim to do 10 repetitions of your Kegels, three times a day, tensing the muscles for a count of three then relaxing them for a count of three to begin with, and building up to holding for a count of 10. If you’re not sure if you’re doing them properly, speak to your gynecologist. When you get the go-ahead to exercise, Pilates can also help you tighten your pelvic floor.
Hormones Call the Shots
Many new moms underestimate the power of postpartum hormones. “Being pregnant for nine months and then suddenly not being pregnant causes your hormones to go crazy, and can take weeks to level out,” explains Labor and Delivery Nurse Liesel Teen.
This means that even after you’ve been cleared for sex, the hormones that cause your brain to want to have sex again may not have completely stabilized. All you can do is wait it out, and don’t beat yourself up about it. On top of the hormonal changes, babies are hard work, so you’re naturally tired and worn out. Knowing that there’s a reason you’re feeling this way helps you keep things in perspective. Try to go with the flow, and give everything time to settle down after the life-changing experiences of pregnancy and childbirth.
Pay Attention to Your Mental Health
If issues around postpartum sex are making you feel low, talk to your healthcare provider, and don’t be embarrassed — talking about sexual issues is part of their job, and they’ve heard it all before.
If you’ve been experiencing persistent feelings of extreme sadness or anxiety, or are doubting your ability to care for yourself or your baby, you may have postpartum depression, a mental health condition that is estimated to affect 15 percent of new moms. Again, talk to your healthcare provider — help is out there!
Recovery From Trauma Takes Time
If you’ve had a traumatic pregnancy or birth experience — maybe you had a forceps or vacuum delivery, multiple painful cervical exams or simply felt like you weren’t treated right during your birth experience — sex may be more difficult, says Teen. Give yourself plenty of time to heal physically, and consider therapy if you think it would help with emotional issues.
Remember, sex doesn’t have to mean full penetration. You and your partner can show each other affection through words and cuddles, which helps to maintain intimacy until you’re ready to have sex again.
Have Realistic Expectations
The first time you have sex after pregnancy and childbirth is highly unlikely to be the best sex of your life. It’s possible that it will be painful, regardless of delivery method and how long you’ve waited. So, set your expectations low to stop you fixating on having “perfect” sex from the outset.
“I usually tell my patients that the first time you have sex after you have a baby is going to be very similar to the first time you had sex ever. Lots of lubrication, take it extra slow, and it might not be sunshine and roses,” advises Teen. “It might hurt a little bit, and you may even bleed a little bit. It should get easier and easier.”
Foreplay is really important to help you feel ready and fully aroused, so take your time! A sense of humor will help you get through it: Laughing together about leaky boobs, passing gas and your baby waking up at the most inconvenient time will help you bond as new parents.
Try Different Positions
This is a good time to experiment with different sex positions. Woman-on-top or side-to-side are both good options. They allow you to control the rate and depth of penetration, but ultimately you should go for a position that doesn’t put too much pressure on wherever you are feeling particularly sensitive or uncomfortable, such as where your stitches are. And make sure you take it slowly.
If sex becomes too painful or uncomfortable, and switching positions doesn’t help, stop for a while. Ask your partner to gently touch your clitoris, and when you are fully aroused again, give it another go.
Lubrication Is Your Friend
Your vagina may be drier than it was before having a baby, which can increase discomfort during sex. Breastfeeding can also cause vaginal dryness. Until your own natural secretions return, help keep discomfort and pain to a minimum with liberal amounts of lubricant, such as K-Y jelly or Astroglide. If you experienced perineal tearing during childbirth, sex may irritate the area that was torn. “My best advice is to use lots of lubrication the first few times you have sex, and take it extra slow!” says Teen.
Remember, don’t use an oil-based lubricant if you use condoms, as it could cause them to leak. If you’re really worried about postpartum penetration, explore your vagina on your own, with lubricant on your fingers.
Breastfeeding Can Affect Sex
Breastfeeding doesn’t only have the potential to cause vaginal dryness. It can also affect sex by causing vaginal tissue atrophy and releasing oxytocin, a hormone that triggers loving feelings toward the baby but also suppresses your libido. Additionally, nursing can impact how you perceive your body and make you more tired — nobody else can meet your baby’s hungry demands! So, if you are breastfeeding, be patient with yourself. Get intimacy back on track with cuddling and kissing, so that you gradually get used to being touched in a sexual way.
Nursing your baby before sex can help your breasts feel more comfortable during the act (and give you one less distraction), and wearing a supportive bra avoids any milk-leaking surprises. And if your breasts are out of bounds during sex while you’re nursing, so be it — there are plenty of other places you can be touched!
Sex After C-sections Can Be Painful, Too
Just because you had a C-section birth doesn't mean similar issues won't arise. In fact, most healthcare providers advise having the same expectations. For one, all moms experience lochia (the discharge of leftover blood and uterine tissue) for a few weeks after giving birth.
“C-section moms may find sex to be easier to ease into than moms who had vaginal births,” says Teen. “However, a mom who has had a C-section after going through labor (as opposed to a scheduled C-section) may experience the same issues as a mom who had a vaginal birth.”
You probably won’t expect to enjoy postpartum sex more than you did before, but being a parent can force you to be a bit more creative in the bedroom! If you’re too exhausted at bedtime to do anything other than sleep, use your baby’s daytime naps as a chance to bond with your partner (if your baby wakes up, just laugh it off and try again later). And if a relative or friend offers to take your little one out for a walk, take advantage of a child-free house!
It’s true that parenthood changes your sex life, but there’s no reason it can’t be a change for the better, by encouraging you to be more creative and playful. Great sex doesn’t have to be spontaneous, either. If you’re finding postpartum sex a challenge due to your baby’s feeding/sleeping schedules, work and other commitments, make a “date” with each other every week to help keep that intimacy alive. Plus, the anticipation of some precious alone time together might help you get in the mood.
Talking Always Helps
Whatever your concerns are about postpartum sex, it helps to talk to your partner about them. Honest communication helps you understand one another’s needs and feelings, and helps to alleviate any anxieties. And when you do start to get intimate, keep talking! Tell your partner if anything hurts — and what feels good.
“I usually say the more you talk about it, the easier it’s going to be,” says Klein. “See a therapist if you believe you are not feeling the desire to be intimate for an extended period of time with your partner, and it is causing stress in the relationship.”
Remember, your partner may also have worries about postpartum sex. Share your fears and work through them together.
Look After Yourself
Caring for a baby is all-consuming, but it’s important not to neglect yourself. Figuring out how to look after yourself as well as your child (and meet all the other responsibilities in your life) can be daunting and difficult. Start off by keeping it simple: Eat well, drink plenty of fluids and get as much rest as possible to keep your energy levels up.
When you’re settled into your new role as a mother, you can start to think about carving out more time to yourself to do something you find enjoyable and relaxing on a regular basis. By sneaking in some self care, you’ll feel happier and more able to cope with whatever parenthood throws at you — and more likely to want (and enjoy) intimacy with your partner.