Giving birth is a painful process that leaves women with scars, tears, hemorrhoids, and pain. It also precipitates the arrival of a baby, who wages war on nipples and sleep. No wonder many new mothers don’t feel sexy for a while after bringing a new life into the world. Though most OBGYN’s recommend a roughly six-week sexual hiatus, the post-birth sex drought can stretch on longer if a woman isn’t feeling it or is anxious about letting anyone near her nether regions again.
For new fathers, it’s important to understand that the rekindling of sexual relationships can take a while and require both literal and figurative delicacy. It starts with empathy and understanding. It starts, most of the time, with a conversation. In recognition of that fact, we spoke to five mothers about how and when they got excited again.
When is it safe to have sex after giving birth?
You can have sex as soon as you feel ready after having a baby. Some experts advise waiting until after any bleeding has stopped, to reduce the risk of infection while your womb (uterus) is healing, but ultimately it’s up to you.
A mother said
“The first time I had sex after giving birth was uncomfortable, and even slightly painful. I still felt pretty sore, tender, and hurt, even after waiting an extra week past the recommended six-week recovery window. I felt a bit frustrated with my own body. I wanted to be able to do more, faster. Sex was definitely less of a pleasure at first, and more of a reminder of what my vagina had been through. Sex didn’t feel normal again until around four months after giving birth. I later learned that it shouldn’t hurt much past the six week mark, and that if I had gone to see a pelvic floor specialist, I could’ve recovered faster.” — Natalie, 32
You may be feeling sore from a tear, episiotomy or stitches. Even if you haven’t had an episiotomy or a tear, the area around your vagina can feel bruised and sensitive for a while.
If you had a caesarean, you will still be recovering from a major operation. Your scar should heal by the time your stitches come out, which might be the time to start thinking about sex again if you want to.
Feeling pain, and having a tight or dry vagina are among the most common worries about sex for new mums. For most women, these sexual issues get better after a few months. But one in five women continue to have painful sex up to a year and a half after giving birth, so if this happens you’re not alone.
Help is available if sexual issues are making you unhappy. In the early weeks after you’ve given birth, your midwife should ask how you’re healing and give you a chance to ask about sex. If problems with sex are worrying you at any stage, talk to your midwife or GP. She can help, for example, by referring you to an obstetric physiotherapist.
Feeling low, or suffering from postnatal depression, can make you feel less like having sex. Talk to your GP, midwife or health visitor if you think this is a problem for you. It can sometimes feel a bit awkward to talk about sexual issues with healthcare professionals, but remember that they’ve seen it all before. Nothing you can say will shock or surprise them, and they’d far rather you said something than suffer in silence.
Your perception of your own body may have changed. You may need time to recover before you feel like yourself again. You may feel proud of the changes that pregnancy has made to your body, or find it hard to deal with these changes. All of these feelings are understandable and normal. If you’re worried that your partner doesn’t find you attractive any more, talk about it. You will probably be pleasantly surprised to hear what they say.
Lisa V., Mother of Two Said
There was a lot of apprehension, because I just I hadn’t felt normal or the same. I didn’t know if it was going to hurt, I didn’t know if it was going to feel uncomfortable. I didn’t know if I was going to feel different. There was actually a lot of anxiety leading up to it. Anxiety and sex are not a good combination.
It was fine when I got past that hurdle, which I really think was more mental than anything. Once I realized that it wasn’t going to hurt or I wasn’t going to spontaneously start bleeding or something gross, it was fine.
With my second kid, my ex-husband and I never re-connected physically. My body had changed, I had just gone through a divorce. But I had sex with an old partner after I got separated. He and I are still really close friends, so I always joke with him that he was my Stella Got Her Groove Back experience. Being with him really helped me bust through all of that, because even though I had stretch marks and was heavier, he didn’t treat me any differently.
Another Mom shared her experience
“I had a tough pregnancy with an unplanned c-section and the only time I was ever grateful for it was during our first sex session after baby. We had abstained for my entire third trimester because I had complications and was on bed rest. When we finally had sex vaginalIy, 10 weeks after the c-section, it was long awaited. My husband felt huge because we had abstained for so long!”—Danielle, 35
Are there any self-help tips for sex after the birth?
- Try just cuddling and being intimate at first, so you gradually become used to being touched in a sexual way again.
- Take it slowly. Enjoy each other’s bodies, and go for plenty of foreplay without expecting it to lead to penetrative sex.
- After having a baby, your vagina may be drier than it was before, so try using lubrication to make things more comfortable. Don’t use an oil-based lubricant if you use condoms, as it could cause them to leak.
- If you’re worried sex will hurt, you could try exploring your vagina on your own first. Use your fingers and go gently, with lubrication if that helps.
- When you do feel ready, try not to rush things. It should feel natural, and you should both feel ready and fully aroused. Try a position that doesn’t put too much pressure on wherever you are feeling sensitive. Beginning with you on top means that you can control the rate and depth of penetration.
- If things become sensitive or uncomfortable, ask your partner to stop for a while. He could instead try gently touching your clitoris. Once you do feel aroused, you can try again.
- If tiredness is your biggest barrier, try having sex during your baby’s nap time, so you’re not too exhausted to enjoy it. Your baby is bound to wake up at the most inconvenient time, but just try to laugh it off and wait until the next opportunity presents itself. Be patient, as things will get easier when your baby starts sleeping through the night.
- Keep doing pelvic floor exercises, to help bring back muscular tone to your vagina. Not only is this a great way of helping your healing, it can actually improve your sex life, too!
- Eat well, drink plenty of fluids, and rest whenever you can. Looking after a new baby is extremely demanding. To have energy left, you also need to look after yourself.