How do you feel about sex after giving birth? How are you finding your life as a new mum, and does this conflict with your sexual wellness? Let’s break the taboo around postnatal sex and find solutions to restore intimacy within your relationship
Much of our time as new parents is shaped by the demands of giving ourselves over to look after this tiny being. And it really can feel like an entire ‘handing over’ of ourselves. The few weeks after giving birth to my first baby felt like an inconceivable mix of intoxicating love for my newborn coupled with the piercing demands of prioritising something so utterly helpless. A two-day labour and a chronic lack of sleep meant my body was entirely depleted. And yet my mind was on high alert with anxious questions such as, “Am I actually any good at this?” and “Do I know what I’m doing here?” repeatedly whirling through my consciousness.
It seemed to take me the best part of the day to even get out of the house; consumed with feeding, changing nappies, tidying up, and a (quite literal) 20-second shower while the baby (eventually) napped. The tiredness I felt after having children was crushing. With floods of cortisol running through my body to just get through to the end of the day, a wild night in the sheets was the last thing on my mind in those early days. Many new mums I chatted to at the time felt too tired for sex.
Social media influencer and lifestyle expert, Chessie King commented on her Instagram, “For the first six weeks, sex was number 123 on my list of 124 things. I couldn’t even change my own giant pads myself let alone contort my sawn-in-half body into any page of the karma sutra.”
So, in the midst of getting to grips with this life-changing experience, how on earth do we get time to shoehorn sex into the new routine? And how long after birth can we have sex, anyway?
How long after giving birth can I have sex?
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to having sex after a baby, but the general guidelines are to wait six weeks as your body will be healing during this time. If you had a vaginal birth which included tearing or an episiotomy, having sex too soon may result in an infection.
If you had a c-section, the incision may take a few weeks to heal so it’s best to hold off until you’ve been to your six-week checkup with the GP. It’s also important that you avoid positions that may cause unnecessary pressure on the scar. Six weeks is also the average time it takes for the cervix to close and for the uterus to return to its natural size.
Sometimes the impact of giving birth can have more repercussions than expected, including pelvic floor-related issues, numbness in the pelvic area, painful sex, and scar tension, so it’s important to speak to your GP or seek a recommended women’s health physiotherapist who will be able to give you a more in-depth analysis of any health-related birthing problems. But what happens if you’re physically ready to have sex, but need longer to feel emotionally comfortable?
How to build sexual intimacy
I’m a true believer in intimacy being one of the most wonderful ways to connect with your partner, but only in a way that’s both realistic and authentic. My children are now a bit older so I have the benefit of hindsight and the luxury of more time. This gap has given me time to think. And I now believe it’s really OK to prioritise others in the context of family and prioritise yourself in the context of pleasure.
It can be a tricky thing for first-time parents to have these two realities running side-by-side as identities can easily change. But they don’t have to feel quite so opposing, and it may even call for a new version of intimacy - a scary but potentially exciting change! So, let’s dig into the concept of desire and work out a way to rebuild postnatal intimacy.
How do I feel about sex?
Now I’m aware journaling may feel like a tough proposition when you’ve got so much going on. So, instead, it may be worth getting to know your feelings about sex with some gentle curiosity; you could even ask your partner to share their thoughts. Questions such as:
- How does sex (or the thought of having sex) make me feel?
- How do I feel about being a parent and a sexual being?
- What motivates me to have sex? And what stops me from wanting sex?
- Are there any words or gestures that feel sexy to me?
- How do I like to be shown love?
- How do I communicate my needs with my partner?
- What kind of intimacy feels good at the moment?
If sex is currently off the table, you can try building emotional intimacy as a way of connecting with each other as a great first step.
Get to know each other’s bodies again
Having a baby can change our bodies, and the toxic ‘bounce back’ culture fuelled by social media puts unnecessary pressure on new mums to snap back to a pre-pregnancy body. This can not only lead to feelings of inadequacy but also physical injury to pelvic floor muscles. It might be showing your new body some love after the miraculous and empowering journey is a tender way to reconnect with yourself again. If you wanted to involve your partner, you could invite them to touch the stress-relieving areas of your body that feel comfortable and pleasurable, such as the neck or feet as a starting point.
Taking some time to listen to your postpartum body can help you find new paths to pleasure. And satisfaction can take many forms, so it’s all about finding the right way forward for your unique circumstances. Working together on your postpartum sex journey by showing mutual compassion and being communicative will do wonders when it comes to rekindling your relationship with both yourself and your partner.
If you are ready to slip back into the sheets, planning sex in advance can be a practical (and potentially sexy) way to reconnect. It may not be spontaneous, but setting a time to be intimate when you’re at your least exhausted makes the whole thing feel more realistic. An expanding sleep debt can really get in the way of accessing desire so try planning a date night (or afternoon!) with the help of a trusted babysitter. Just remember sex may feel and look different than before, but different doesn’t mean ‘bad’, it means there’s space for change… and transformation.
If one thing does lead to another, it may be worth using lubrication due to changes in hormone levels, and as it’s possible to fall pregnant soon after giving birth, it’s important to use a reliable form of contraception. Go slow at first and try going back to basics before spicing things up again.
Counselling and postnatal sex
Working with a sex therapist can be a rewarding process for many new parents experiencing problems relating to sex or intimacy, helping them work through any fear, guilt, or anxiety. Alternatively, some couples prefer sex coaching as a way to achieve good intimacy. A sex therapist is more centred on understanding the root causes of the issue to move forward, whereas sex coaching is a solution-focused modality, helping couples set and achieve their goals.
In her article, The sexual relationship after childbirth, psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member Anna Aitken (M.A. MBACP Accred.) talks about sexual relationships after childbirth, in particular, the experience of painful sex and loss of desire. She highlights the value of psychosexual therapy as a way to take the pressure off the whole experience.
Becoming parents is an exciting time in a relationship, but it can also be stressful. You are both coping with tiredness, lack of time for each other and sometimes sexual difficulties. Problems in the general relationship or sexual difficulties can lead to depression. Couples must seek help early on for any difficulties they may be experiencing.
However you decide to restore intimacy, it’s important to keep up open and honest conversations. Feeling heard gives us the reassurance that our vulnerable experiences are validated and supported. Only then can we make waves for change. If you're new to the parenting world or had a child a while ago, it’s never too late to revamp your reality around sex.