Sex After Childbirth: What You Should Know

Sex After Childbirth

It’s hard to say how you’ll feel about sex after childbirth. Regardless of whether you have a vaginal or cesarean birth, things can be really different—both in your body and in your life—after baby arrives. In this blog post, we’ll talk about what to expect in your postpartum sex life.

Your body after baby

There is a lot going on with your postpartum body. After birth, you may bleed for up to six weeks, regardless of how your baby was born. This discharge, called lochia, is made up of blood, your uterine lining, and mucus. If you delivered vaginally, you could have tearing, healing stiches, and soreness. If your baby was born via cesarean section, you had major abdominal surgery, plus your body likely prepared for vaginal birth so things could still feel different in your vagina and vulva. Plus, hormones from having a baby and breastfeeding can do all kinds of things to your libido and to the lubrication you’re used to during sex. Couple these changes with the possibility of birth injuries and ongoing incontinence, and you may not be feeling much like having sex, even if your care provider gives you the go ahead at your six week postpartum check up.

The important thing to remember is that the first few months to years after a baby can be really tough on your body, but this time won’t last forever. If you have problems with incontinence or pain, ask your care provider for a referral to pelvic floor physical therapy. Physical therapists who specialize in the pelvic floor can help you strengthen your body and treat symptoms like incontinence and pelvic, hip, and back pain. Pain and incontinence are common, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t evidence-based treatments that can help.

In terms of your hormones, it might take a while for things to get back to normal, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Cut yourself some slack and don’t expect that everything will come back right away. You have a new reality now, but it can still be a great one—even where your sex life is concerned.

Your relationship after baby

If you’re in a committed partnership and are co-parenting with your partner or spouse, expect that you’re going to have an adjustment period after baby in most relationship areas, especially sex. While you likely won’t be cleared for any penetrative sexual activity by your care provider until six weeks (or more!) after your baby is born, you may not feel like engaging in sexual intimacy for much longer and that’s absolutely okay. The emotion of becoming parents, the logistics of trying to help your new baby thrive, and the challenges of navigating the changes in your partnership can be a lot to manage.

The key is to try and communicate about everything—including sex—with as much understanding and kindness as you can. Perhaps you’re more interested in sex than your partner or vice versa. Try to approach your partner’s and your own needs with honesty, while also acknowledging that things might be tough. Whatever rough patches you hit aren’t going to last forever.

If there are imbalances in your and your partner’s sexual desires, talk openly about possible compromises. Some great options if one partner isn’t up for intercourse include mutual masturbation or one person receiving oral sex or a hand job. If one partner wants no part of sex for a while, that’s also okay; maybe the partner who is interested can please themself. It’s important—especially in the delicate time after baby is born—that consent is at the core of your sexual relationship.

When you’re ready

If you do feel ready to try sex, particularly of the penis-in-vagina or toy-in-vagina variety, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Have your birth control strategy in place. Even if your period hasn’t come back, you can still get pregnant. There are plenty of great birth control options that are safe if you’re breastfeeding. Keep in mind that if you’re still healing, condoms might not feel amazing.
  • Communicate openly in advance of and throughout the intimate encounter. If something doesn’t feel right to either person, be prepared to stop. The sex will probably be less spontaneous, but you can be sure it’ll be more pleasurable for both people.
  • Manage your expectations. If you can go into the experience with good humor and knowing that things will probably be different than before baby, you’re less likely to be disappointed. Strange noises and a bit of awkwardness can be a shared laugh instead of a terrible tragedy.
  • Be prepared with lubrication. As discussed above, birth, hormones, and breastfeeding can really change your body’s natural lubrication. Dry sex can be painful, so it’s a great idea to have a water-based lubricant on hand. Use it liberally and don’t be afraid to reapply.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, take a break and try again later, if you want. Maybe something’s really painful and you have to stop. Maybe your baby starts screaming partway through. Maybe you’re just not as into it as you thought you’d be. A different time, position, or mood can all mean more success later. Just because something’s tough now, doesn’t mean it always will be.
Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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