The arrival of a new baby brings a lot of changes to the household— there are new routines to be established, dirty diapers to be disposed of, bottles to clean, and tears to wipe away.
Of course, you were prepared for all of that, right? (Don’t worry, we won’t tell). One of the unexpected changes you may not have thought to prepare for, though, is to your sex life. Postpartum sex can be a bit daunting, and it comes with its own unique set of challenges.
First thing’s first: You can – and will be able to – have sex again after baby. It may just take a little while to get there. If you think about it, having sex for the first time after giving birth is kind of like your first time all over again. It might be awkward, it might hurt a little, and you might not want your partner to linger with a cuddling session afterward.
Just remember that while sex after having a baby is different for everyone – both emotionally and physically. Just because your friend experienced pain doesn’t mean that you will, too. On the flip side, just because every mom you know had no problem jumping back into bed with their partner, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you if you need more time.
Just listen to your body, move at your own pace, and don’t let frustration get the best of you.
So, what can you expect?
Patience Is a Virtue
Most healthcare providers will advise you to wait at least six weeks after giving birth before you even try to engage in sexual intercourse. Typically, this is around the same time your first postpartum check-up with your OB will occur, and he/she will do an exam to make sure that you’re healing correctly and everything is looking like it’s going back to your own version of normal.
But, just because you are given this guidance, it doesn’t mean you need to feel pressured to be ready right at six weeks. You may need more time mentally. Or, your body may not be ready. Or, heck, you may just not have the energy for it.
Patience, in this case, is key.
You have to remember that you just gave birth to another human being. Post-delivery, women may experience a myriad of side effects, including vaginal bleeding, constipation, and soreness. For women who had a cesarean delivery, it may still take time for their bodies to heal and go back to normal. Plus, the area around the incision site might be tender.
Your Partner Needs to Be Patient, Too
It’s not just you who’s going to need to play the waiting game, your partner is going to need to be patient, too.
If you’re not the one who just physically birthed a child, it can be hard to understand what could be holding you back from feeling comfortable enough to resume your sex life. You may have multiple reasons why you just aren’t ready— the exhaustion, the emotions, the potential discomfort, the lack of confidence in your body, and more.
There are two things to remember here. First: it’s OK to be honest and say no (for more on this subject, check out our post on what to do when your partner wants sex and you don’t). Second: There are still plenty of ways to be intimate and to reconnect with each other outside of traditional intercourse.
Expect Some Discomfort
It’s possible that the first time you have sex after having a baby could be painful. While some women experience no pain at all, know that some pain or discomfort is par for the course.
Some reasons for pain after baby may be that your cervix may be lower than it used to be, or it may not be healed completely, or you could have scar tissue from a tear that’s made your vaginal opening sore. Women who don’t have any tearing may still experience pain from any muscles or nerves that were aggravated during pregnancy and/or in the rigor of labor in general.
When going through pregnancy and labor, your body goes through a lot. So a little discomfort the first time (or even, first few times) you try intercourse is not totally unwarranted.
If you have more than a little discomfort, or the pain doesn’t pass after a few months, though, then you definitely want to make sure that you’re checking in with your healthcare provider for a full assessment.
Breastfeeding May Affect Intercourse
When a woman is lactating, she may experience vaginal dryness due to the lowered levels of estrogen, so pain may occur during intercourse. To counteract this, you may want to consider having a silicone-based lubricant on hand or speak with your doctor about vaginal estrogen therapy.
Additionally, be prepared for possible leakage of breast milk from the nipples, which can be caused by orgasm.
Finally, if you decide to nurse your baby, you may also experience mixed feelings when it comes to the sexual nature of your breasts during intimate times with your partner and the biological one during feeding times with your baby. Your breasts may be tender, or you may just not feel comfortable having them touched at all. It’s normal to feel this way, and you should be open with your partner about your needs.
Make Sure You’re Emotionally Ready
Giving birth floods your body with hormones. And then, when you bring baby home, you’re dealing with feeding them, lack of sleep, and all kinds of new adventures. It’s an emotional rollercoaster.
Plus, your body changed drastically – both with pregnancy and then again after giving birth. So you’re probably a little unsure of how to feel when you look at yourself in the mirror. You may not feel desirable yet, but it’s ok to be flustered by all of the changes you’re going through.
The key to not letting your negative thoughts take over is to make sure that you are communicating openly with your partner. If you’re not in the right headspace to have postpartum sex for the first time, then help them understand why.
Watch Out for Something Bigger
Even if you take the entire checklist above into account, your level of desire for sex may just still not feel right. If that happens, there is help.
Postpartum changes in your body could potentially be hiding behind a bigger issue. Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) is the most common type of sexual dysfunction in women, and it’s something to look into if you notice a significant change in your libido and don’t know why.
Symptoms of HSDD include the following:
- Your level of sexual desire or interest in sex has decreased
- You were satisfied in the past with your level of sexual desire or interest in sex, but no longer are
- You experience low sexual desire no matter the type of sexual activity
- Your lower sexual desire or lower interest in sex is bothering you
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, then you may be suffering from HSDD. You should speak to your healthcare provider about your experience. There are also other resources, including our website, to help.