Sex and Intimacy After Childbirth

Intimacy is vital to many relationships, after having a baby, many parents wonder when they can engage in sexual activity again. If you are unsure about whether or not it is safe to resume sexual activity, you can ask your doctor. In addition to medical advice, make sure to communicate with your partner to ensure that you both feel ready. There are many reasons why a new mother may feel she needs more time before resuming sexual activity. In this case, there are a variety of alternative activities to maintain a strong relationship and foster intimacy.

 

Intimacy After Childbirth

Most medical physicians advise that couples wait four to six weeks before resuming coitus, depending on various situations.1 This allows time for the cervix to fully close and any tears or lacerations to heal.2 Give your body ample time to heal, and to cease the discharge of leftover blood and uterine tissue has ceased.3 Medical professionals will most likely advise females that have had an episiotomy, C-section, or other procedure to wait longer before engaging in penetrative sex as these females will often continue to experience discomfort at six weeks.1

The mutual physical and emotional readiness of both partners is the most important factor in determining when sexual activity is appropriate post-birth is you and your partner’s reciprocal physical and emotional readiness. Having the "okay" from your doctor does not necessarily mean that you and your partner will want to resume sexual activities immediately. The decision to begin sexual intercourse after childbirth should be mutual. Both partners should be patient and communicative with each other. While some couples may be enthusiastic to resume sex, others may not be as eager. Changes in hormone levels both after childbirth and during breastfeeding may impact a female’s sexual desire.3

Recovery time varies among females, and despite the doctor’s medical clearance, penetration may still be uncomfortable and painful. When beginning to resume sexual activity, be sure to move slowly and gently to avoid pain. If penetrative sexual activities are too painful, it may be helpful to begin with other activities such as manual stimulation and oral sex may be a better place to begin. Additionally, you can consider taking baths together or massaging each other. Talk to your partner about what you are both comfortable with, and be sure to make time to relax together. These activities may help to increase intimacy as well as sexual desire.

 

Common Worries and Concerns

Both men and women may have worries that affect sex after childbirth. Some common fears include becoming pregnant again, feeling less attractive, and inflicting or experiencing pain. Many new parents feel fatigued and exhausted from taking care of their baby, and may not want to have sex.2

Many females worry about their vaginal elasticity. While the vagina does stretch after childbirth, it will start to regain muscle tone within a week or so of delivery. While the vagina will shrink, it may or may not return to its pre-birth state. Many factors affect the degree to which the vagina will shrink, such as genetics, number of births the woman has had, the amount the vagina was stretched, and regularity of kegel exercises.5

One very common concern that could affect one’s sex life is the possibility of another pregnancy. Discuss with your partner and your doctor about proper forms of birth control after giving birth. Many people believe that breastfeeding is an effective birth control method; however, while breastfeeding does tend to stop ovulation, it is not a reliable form of birth control. If you are breastfeeding, hormonal birth control methods such as combination birth control pills, a vaginal ring, or monthly shots should not be used as the baby may ingest hormones that transfer into the breastmilk. While breastfeeding, some acceptable forms of birth control include condoms, spermicidal creams, IUDs, diaphragms, cervical caps, progesterone-only birth control pills, and shots of progesterone.4 These methods vary in how effective they are at preventing pregnancy. Please take a look at the contraception portion of our website for a description of the different methods of birth control.

Some females worry that their bodies are no longer attractive after giving birth, which can hinder efforts to be intimate. Reassurance and support from a partner can help new mothers feel more comfortable with their bodies.

These are only a few of the many concerns partners may have. The best way to deal with these worries is to communicate between partners any feelings and discomforts. This will improve not only one’s sex life but will also uncover any newly discovered anxieties related to life changes.

 

Benefits of Sex After Childbirth

Hormones like oxytocin and endorphins are released during sex which have been shown to reduce pain and activate feelings of love.2 As long as both partners are physically and emotionally ready, it is highly encouraged to have sex after childbirth. Not only does having sex maintain romance in the relationship, but it also helps foster intimacy.

 

Sex Tips

If you and your partner mutually agree to have sex, consider these tips that may make your sex life more satisfying:

  • Use a water-based lubricant. Changes in hormone levels after childbirth often decrease vaginal lubrication, using a lubricant can help reduce friction and discomfort.2
  • Find time to be alone for sex! If possible, plan to have sex during your baby's naptime or arrange to leave your baby with a family member or babysitter for a couple hours. You and your partner can work around your baby's schedule in order to have private time together without interruptions.

  • Practice regular pelvic (Kegel) exercises to improve and regain vaginal strength. If you are worried about the function and elasticity of your reproductive track after childbirth, pelvic exercises can help keep your sexual organs toned.3 Kegel exercises can help strengthen pubococcygeal muscles (PC muscles), which contract during orgasm. Strengthening these muscles can lead to stronger and more intense orgasms. To correctly identify the PC muscles, insert a finger in the vagina and try squeezing. If the muscles tighten around your finger while squeezing, then you are clenching the correct muscles. To strengthen this muscle, squeeze two times quickly, clench the muscle for ten seconds, and repeat. Do not squeeze or tense other muscles groups at the same time.
  • Stay intimate. Take a bath together or hire a babysitter for a night and go out to dinner. Spending time alone together (even if not engaging in sexual activities) is extremely important for a healthy relationship. Intimacy is something many couples tend to lose after childbirth; this loss of intimacy can be easily fixed with communication and quality time spent together.
  • Talk to your partner before sex. Your partner may be afraid to discuss their concerns. It is common for partners to be shocked by both the pain females experience during childbirth and the bodily changes females experience after pregnancy.2 Encourage your partner to ask questions.
  • Talk to your partner during sex. It is important for partners to communicate how they feel during sexual intercourse. Do not be afraid to tell your partner if you experience pain or discomfort.
  • Try out new sex positions to see what is most comfortable. Utilize positions that don't put pressure on the female’s stomach or other sore areas. If the female is on top, she may have better control over what feels good and can avoid what does not. Another position that allows for less pressure is side-by-side.
  • Boost each other’s self-esteem. Tell your partner that you still find them sexy. Many females have a low sex drive because they are uncomfortable with their bodies and how they have changed after giving birth.1

If you and your partner do choose to resume sexual activity, doing kegel exercises, communicating, and boosting each other’s self-esteem can greatly improve your sex life.

 

Concluding Remarks

Having a newborn can be an exciting and busy time. Although you and your partner are adjusting to a new set of responsibilities, it is important to put effort into maintaining your strong connection. Doctors generally recommend waiting four to six weeks after giving birth before resuming penetrative sex, but ask your doctor to be sure. Although there are many positive benefits to resuming sex, if either partner feels unready, the other partner should respect this decision. Be patient with your partner, and give them time to adjust to all the changes that come with having a baby. There are many alternatives to having sex including oral sex, manual stimulation, or spending quality time alone together. When you and your partner are ready, communicate and try out different sex positions to greatly improve you and your partner’s sex life.

 

References

  1. American Baby. “How to Have Great Postpartum Sex.” Parents, Parents, 16 Oct. 2015.
  2. “Sex after Pregnancy: Set Your Own Timeline.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2 July 2015.
  3. BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board. “Let's Talk about Sex: After the Baby.” BabyCenter, 3 Apr. 2018.
  4.  “Sex and Birth Control After Childbirth.” Atlantic OB-GYN.
  5. “What Really Happens to Your Vagina After Birth.” What to Expect, What to Expect, 18 Jan. 2018.

Last Updated: 15 May 2018.

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