For most, having a baby is an amazing experience. Admittedly, labor is hard work, and your life is forever changed. However, after your baby is born, these life changes don’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to resume your normal activities—exercising and work, for example. It’s just a matter of time.
The guidelines for returning to normal activities are different depending on if you had your baby vaginally or by Caesarean section. Lindsay Allen, MD, an OBGYN at Banner Health Center in Arizona says there are a lot of factors behind recovering from having a baby.
“Everyone is different, and every delivery is different,” Dr. Allen said. “So, do not expect that you will be able to do exactly what your mom or your friends say they did.”
Recovery from vaginal birth
According to Dr. Allen, recovery time can vary greatly depending on the woman and the birth itself. She says women having their first baby may take between 2 and 12 weeks to fully recover. If the delivery caused a large laceration or the woman needed an episiotomy, the perineum is typically very sore, limiting recovery.
Women who have already had one baby will usually feel better in 2 to 4 weeks, according to Dr. Allen. Still, that doesn’t mean women should rush right back into the daily routine.
Dr. Allen says women who have had babies before and have no complications can resume exercise at 2 weeks. However, women with large tears or episiotomies will likely have limited activity for 4 to 6 weeks. If a woman chooses to breastfeed, Dr. Allen recommends taking at least 6 weeks off from work to establish effective breastfeeding, and she says 12 weeks is ideal for good bonding with the baby.
“There are studies that show the earlier a new mom has to go back to work the greater the chance they will develop postpartum depression,” Dr. Allen said.
Sex after vaginal birth
What about having sex again after a vaginal birth? When the mood strikes, you don’t want to have to worry about it being too soon. These guidelines can help.
Dr. Allen says the main guideline for having sex again after a baby is to follow your doctor’s recommendations. If there were no complications, such as a laceration, then you could resume sexual intercourse 4-6 weeks after having your baby.
However, if you had a laceration that needed stitching or an episiotomy, you will likely need to wait until after 6-8 weeks after having your baby. Dr. Allen says you could experience pain and may find waiting longer more beneficial.
Typically, pain is the major reason a woman will need to wait, and it’s important to remember that people heal at different speeds. Dr. Allen notes, while a small tear in the vagina heals quickly, a tear into the rectum or rectal muscles will be very painful for a lot longer.
Additionally, after a vaginal birth, women may have postpartum bleeding for 6-8 weeks. Because women should not use a tampon, they will need to use a pad to control the bleeding. Dr. Allen says the continual use of a pad can irritate the woman’s skin, and if this happens, you can use baby’s diaper ointment on the any irritation of the perineum.
The other major issue is vaginal dryness. If the mother is breastfeeding, it can cause low estrogen levels, which can lead many women to have dryness. This, of course, can cause pain. Dr. Allen recommends using 100% vegetable oil—coconut, olive or canola—as a lubricant because it is generally safer than other commercial lubricants. The commercial options often have alcohol or fragrances that can irritate the skin.
Finally, not waiting long enough to have sex can cause a lot of pain because you can tear open the stitches used from repairing a laceration, according to Dr. Allen. However, these heal with time, and the reason they are needed is to prevent bleeding.
So, what happens after you give yourself time to heal and you feel ready to have sex again? Dr. Allen says you should take things slowly. Foreplay will help, and you should use adequate lubrication. And, be ready to change positions—or plans—if pain occurs.
Most importantly, Dr. Allen says to keep an open dialog with your doctor and be sure to give yourself time to heal at your own pace.
“This is time for you to bond with your baby and to recover,” she said. “Do not let unrealistic expectations set you back.”