Sex. The thing that got you to where you are today, and the thing that has been lingering in your mind during the first few weeks postpartum. Becoming physically intimate with your partner again after giving birth can be an intimidating, unnerving, and exhilarating experience. There are lots of questions that may come to mind regarding sex after pregnancy, and we’re here to guide you and ensure that you feel completely comfortable about your body, your intimacy, and your sexuality during this period.
Sexuality - your capacity for sexual feelings - and sex are a part of health that are often overlooked. However, it is important to be knowledgeable and understand your own sexuality and your partner’s. Whether you’re already feeling ready to have another child or you’re just ready to spend some quality time with your partner, it is necessary to pause and assess the logistics and limitations that might accrue after having a child, by considering various circumstances of the birth that affect your condition.
To begin: what type of birth did you have? Both vaginal births and c-sections can affect sex, but there are many misconceptions regarding sex during this intimate time. Anna Targonskaya, an OB/GYN Medical Advisor for Flo Health, addresses these misconceptions about sex postpartum--one of the big ones being that if you had a c-section, you can have sex right after birth. Well, not exactly, she says. Targonskaya recommends holding off on having sex after a c-section for six weeks. While there wasn’t a direct impact on your vagina, having sex too early may lead to infection, cause bleeding, and may just be a little bit uncomfortable. It is important to let your body heal. With regards to vaginal births, waiting four to six weeks is also recommended. The vagina is a powerful muscle that begins to heal after birth, but it doesn’t mean that sex won’t hurt--in fact, it is pretty common that it will. The best thing to do in both scenarios is being attentive to how you’re feeling as you decide to have sex again. You’ll know when you’re ready.
The second aspect to consider is whether you’ve chosen to breastfeed. If yes, sex may be a different experience than it was before. The National Childbirth Trust notes that after birth and during breastfeeding, your hormones estrogen and progesterone drop. With these lowering levels, your vagina may feel dryer than it normally is, and your usual libido will likely decrease as well. Alongside this, the oxytocin that is released during breastfeeding (read more about this here) is also released during sex. Since you are constantly breastfeeding your baby, the need for sex is likely lower than you’d expect due to your consistent release of this hormone. Whether you are breastfeeding or not, consider that your breasts may feel different than they did before you got pregnant. During sex, be sure to communicate with your partner if you are feeling any discomfort or pain.
Let’s say that you’ve already accounted for these factors and you’re finally ready to sex after giving birth a little over six weeks ago, but you’re still nervous about what might happen in the heat of the moment. Flo Health recommends that the best position to be in for first-time sex after pregnancy are positions where you are on top. This way, you will truly have control, and you can make the experience comfortable and feel good for you. Note, it may be beneficial for mothers who had C-sections to avoid positions that would cause pressure or pain on their scars. In any situation, experiment with different positions to see what works best for you and your partner. If pain or discomfort is felt, stop and reposition yourselves--this is a time of trust and love, so don’t sacrifice your well-being for the sake of sex.
Lastly, don’t forget the condoms! Or, well, any form of contraceptive. Unless you’re attempting to have another child, do not overlook the fact that a form of birth control should be utilized while engaging in sex. The recent child you had or the fact that you may be breastfeeding isn’t a sufficient form of contraceptive. The National Center on Biotechnology Information recommends that education on forms of contraceptives and the possibility of postpartum sex should be included in discussions with doctors and counselors. Before you engage in sexual activity, discuss with your partner and your doctor which type of birth control will be best for you as you are recovering from birth.
It’s important to note that intimacy doesn’t just come in the form of sex or even physical touch, for that matter. Don’t feel pressured to rush back into sex just to satisfy your or your partner’s desires. There are other ways to keep the passion alive in a relationship without the need to engage in an activity you’re not quite ready for. Be patient, be mindful, and be comfortable with yourself and with your partner.
Intimacy after birth can be a scary, daunting, and emotional thing. But, sexual health is a part of your overall health. So, prepare yourself for this time with your partner. Before you engage in physical intimacy, you may want to ask yourself these ten questions suggested by the National Childbirth Trust and truthfully respond to what they are asking to gauge whether you’re truly ready. Then, if you are inclined, enjoy this new chapter of intimacy with your partner!
1. Do I feel ready for sex? Whether you decide to wait six weeks or three months or a whole year, the choice is up to you and whether you and your body are ready. Don’t dive in too soon, and listen to your gut.
2. Am I worried that my partner wants to have sex? If this question crosses your mind, talk with your partner, and assure them that waiting to have sex again does not signify anything other than the fact that you’re just not ready. Remind them that your love remains, but it may take some time before you become intimate again.
3. Am I worried about having sex post-baby? A baby developed inside of your uterus for 40 weeks and then you gave birth--sex might feel a little different. But do not fret, this is common. Easing into sex, and even exploring yourself first may help you navigate this new experience.
4. Am I rushing into post-baby sex because I am worried I’ll lose closeness with my partner? As mentioned above, intimacy isn’t always about sex. Closeness with your partner could be shared through other experiences such as reading a book to one another, cuddling up next to a fire, and even giving each other massages. Find those ways that you and your partner can be intimate, without the need for the physicality of sex.
5. How will the type of birth I had affect sex? Pain or irritation can occur whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or a caesarean section. Wait until your body has time to heal and you feel ready.
6.Will my tear or cut (episiotomy) affect sex? Recovery, recovery, recovery. Tears and episiotomies can affect sex, so it is super important to make sure that you have healed before engaging sex again. Even after time has passed, take things slow and easy.
7. Will how I am feeding my baby affect sex? Due to the release of oxytocin, breastfeeding may cause a decrease in libido and dryness in the vaginal area. Be aware of this, and let your partner know if you need to stop or incorporate lube.
8. Have I thought about contraception? You can still get pregnant after having a baby. Don’t disregard this step unless you’re ready to give birth again!
9. Am I putting it off as I am worried about my baby being in the room? Your baby is new to this world and will likely spend a lot of time sleeping. The noises you and your partner make during sex won’t upset your little one. Just be sure they are well fed and in their own crib during this time.
10. Am I ready to be honest? There are many reasons why sex may feel different post-birth. The most important thing is to speak up if it does. Don’t leave your partner out of the loop, and don’t let yourself experience pain or discomfort for the sake of sex--be honest.