Intimacy in relationships is important. But if you just had a baby, intimacy, especially sex, may be the furthest from your mind. Right now, all your attention – and possibly even your body – is devoted to your newborn—not getting it on with your partner.
Have no fear though. Postpartum sex is a challenge most couples face. Although it may seem in this moment in time that you’ll never have sex again, this won’t be the case forever.
Here are four things to know about having sex after pregnancy and ways you can rekindle intimacy in your relationship.
Wait for the “green light” to resume sexual activity
Most health care providers recommend waiting to resume sex until several weeks later to allow your body time to heal. The risk of having a complication after delivery is highest during the first couple weeks after delivery.
You’ll typically see your provider for a postpartum check between four and six weeks after delivery, so they can see how you’re healing, if you’re still bleeding (postpartum discharge) and if you have any concerns. If you had stitches from a tear or episiotomy, your provider will examine them to ensure you’re healed enough for sex to be safe and comfortable.
However, don’t be concerned if you’ll have to pump the breaks on sex for a little bit longer. It’s not uncommon to still have barriers and issues that may delay sexual activity. “Although the majority of women (nearly 89%) rcan start having sex within six weeks after childbirth, the prevalence of sexual dysfunction at 2-3 months postpartum can vary from 41% to 83%, to 64% at 6 months postpartum,” said Debra Wickman, MD, an OBGYN and sexual medicine specialist with Banner – University Medicine Women’s Clinic. “Some studies indicate that even at a span of more than 18 months after their baby is born, women may have markedly lower levels of sexual pleasure and emotional satisfaction compared to their pre-pregnancy experience.”
These statistics highlight that there really is no “normal” standard to hold up as a guide for when to initiate, so just take it slow.
There are many reasons you have no sex drive
Pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum involve a tremendous shift of hormones, which are aimed at supporting the growing fetus and then producing milk for lactation.
“The hormone progesterone shifts into high gear to help accomplish this and can reduce a woman’s sexual desire, because they are focused on the baby primarily and not their mate,” Dr. Wickman said. “You may feel so overstimulated by the demands of breastfeeding and fatigued from disturbed or lack of sleep that the last thing you can tolerate is your partner wanting to be intimate.”
Your body image can also impact your sexual desire. You might still be carrying some extra weight, have sore breasts and possibly even a C-section scar, so you can be self-conscious about this and even feel shame.
“A woman’s body and psyche cannot adapt to these changes quickly, and hormonal shifts can last the whole time one breastfeeds,” Dr. Wickman said. “It can take some time for hormone levels to readjust to a pre-pregnancy state.”
If you’re still struggling, be aware of the signs of postpartum depression, such as mood swings, feelings of sadness, loss of appetite, social withdrawal, low self-worth and thoughts of harm to you or the baby. If you’re experiencing any of these signs, talk to your health care provider immediately.
Sex after birth might feel uncomfortable
Hormone shifts also commonly create vaginal atrophy, where the walls of your vagina become thin, dry, sore and inflamed. This can cause irritation, burning and pain during sex. “It can feel like a knife is penetrating the first time a couple attempts to have sex,” Dr. Wickman said.
If you had an episiotomy or a vaginal or perineal tear from childbirth, you might also experience pain during sex as your scars are healing.
To ease discomfort, use foreplay, keep lubricant on hand for vaginal dryness and let your partner know if you need some time before you feel ready.
Vaginal childbirth can sometimes stress your pelvic floor muscles, potentially leading to a condition called pelvic organ prolapse. This can be seen as urinary incontinence or lack of sensation in the vagina. To tone your pelvic floor muscles, try Kegel exercises. In some instances you may also want to consider pelvic floor therapy.
If symptoms persist, don’t hesitate to talk to your health care provider.
Don’t forget contraception
Even when you’ve just had a baby, it’s possible to get pregnant again soon after giving birth—even if you’re breastfeeding. Using birth control, such as condoms, IUDs (intrauterine devices) and prescription pills, ensures you don’t get pregnant again too quickly. Conceiving too early may increase the risk of complications, illness and death.
“A consensus is that the optimal time between giving birth and getting pregnant again is 18 months, with a range of 12 to 24 months,” Dr. Wickman said.
Talk to your health care provider during your postpartum visit about birth control options.
Tips for rebuilding intimacy in the bedroom
There’s a lot of stress around adding the responsibilities of a new baby to your family – even though you wanted the child very much. You and your partner are adjusting to the new roles of being parents and how that relates to one another.
It’s easy for intimacy to take a back seat, but there are ways to rekindle that flame.
“The foundation of rebuilding intimacy in a relationship is mutual appreciation, empathy, teamwork and respect,” Dr. Wickman said. “Despite the challenges parents face, connecting with your partner – sexually and otherwise – contributes to personal and relationship fulfillment.”
Here are some tips to help return to intimacy:
1. Spend time together without the baby. This can be more of a challenge when you’re new parents, but it’s still important. Go for a walk or have dinner together and reconnect.
2. Compliment your partner. “Active appreciation for each other can easily start with reminding one another why you were attracted in the first place,” Dr. Wickman said. “Reminisce about meaningful times in your past together.”
3. Get plenty of rest. This too might be a challenge, but Dr. Wickman said that sleeping just one hour more each night makes a person 14% more likely to engage in sex with their partner the next day.
4. Touch the non-erotic parts of the body. A neck rub or back massage is a stress-reliever and relays caring and nurturing, which can lead to more responsive intimacy, especially for you—a tired mom.
“It’s important to remember that when it comes to sexual desire men and women are wired differently,” Dr. Wickman said. “Men tend to have spontaneous desire, where they seek sex because they need to ‘de-stress’ or just feel aroused. Women, on the other hand, tend to have more responsive desire, where it’s not foremost on the mind, but if suggested and in the right context, they think it’s a great idea.”
5. Talk to your partner. Communication is a key tenet of any relationship and talking about your feelings is much better than assuming your partner knows how you feel.
“Having a new baby changes the couple dynamic to a family dynamic—or to a larger family if there are already siblings,” Dr. Wickman said. “Even positive change can be stressful, and the best way to deal with this new stress is through communication and placing priority on the relationship to help it thrive.”
6. Talk to your health care provider. Seek help from a trusted medical provider if there is any distress or pain building up, if orgasms become difficult or desire doesn’t build like it did in the past.
“Pain is the greatest barrier to desire,” Dr. Wickman said. “Pain is never something to normalize, and if it persists, it only gets more difficult to treat as the body begins to compensate for it and become conditioned to it.”
If you don’t get helpful answers from your health care provider, please ask for a referral to a specialist.
Sex again after delivering a baby can feel daunting and stressful. Go at your own pace, talk to your partner about how you are feeling and be patient with one another. Soon enough you’ll have your groove back in your sex life.