We all know that it usually takes sex to make a baby, but how about sex after the baby? Yeah, it doesn’t seem so enticing, the thought of postpartum sex. As new parents, let's be real, there is just a lot to deal with: the lingering pain from delivery, raging hormones, baby blues or postpartum depression, drastic body changes, and the biggest libido-killer in the room better known as the baby monitor. Basically, you’re exhausted AF!
Sex is probably the last thing on your mind right now. I mean can we take a moment to acknowledge the fact that you spent nearly a year growing a tiny human, probably the most painful hours (or days) giving birth, and then the months following healing physically from the experience. Your body accomplished an incredible feat, but your mind is probably still trying to catch up with this new reality - a new body, new hormones, a new addition. It’s easy to see why so many postpartum birthing parents find it difficult to get the sparks flying again with their partner. Frankly, sex after birth can seem physically intimidating, having to reintroduce your partner to a part of your body that feels tender or just different from your pre-birth body.
Whether you delivered vaginally or had a C-section, it takes time for your body to recover — and that’s okay. Plus, with most of your energy focused on your newest arrival, getting back into the mood doesn’t seem like top priority. But, if you’re looking to reconnect with your partner on an intimate level that doesn’t include explosive diaper changes, let’s make a proper introduction to your new body and learn how we move forward from here after giving birth.
There is no set time for when a woman can start having sex after a baby. It is a good idea though to first get clearance from your practitioner, whom you’ll be seeing for a postpartum appointment within six weeks of giving birth. If you had a vaginal delivery, your vagina is still healing from being stretched out and also possibly from an episiotomy or tear. For those who had tears or surgical cuts, sex prior to four weeks postpartum could leave you susceptible to vaginal infection. The six weeks marker after giving birth aligns with the time when the uterus heals, which includes the surgical incision if you had a C-section, and the wound the placenta left when it detached, stops bleeding. But, does that mean you’re actually ready for sex?
While many women feel mostly recovered by 6-8 weeks, it may take longer than this to feel like yourself again. During this time, please be patient with yourself, because no matter what your delivery looked like, your body has been through trauma just the same. It’s going to take time to recover.
While the main star, thee uterus, is shifting back to size, the not so subtle hormones are adjusting as well. The placenta is responsible for many of the hormones produced during pregnancy including progesterone and estrogen, which are two steroidal hormones that are key to creating dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters in the brain that are important in feeling calm and happy. This is why a lot of women feel amazing when pregnant, pregnancy offers a surge of neurotransmitters that help you feel great. Unfortunately, immediately postpartum and the week following delivery, estrogen and progesterone will both plummet. Oxytocin surges immediately following birth to compensate for the initial drops in progesterone and estrogen. This hormone is responsible for that strong mothering instinct you'll feel, but you'll probably still experience some "baby blues" in the first few days postpartum as the oxytocin works itself out of your system. Meanwhile, prolactin increases to encourage breast milk production, but it also diminishes your sex drive. I know, it looks like you can’t catch a break.
This is because prolactin suppresses production of estrogen, which is an essential hormone when it comes to desire, libido, and even lubrication and supple vaginal tissues. Many people notice that there is some irritation with penetration after giving birth – even after physical healing is “complete” due to vaginal dryness. You can refer to our article about vaginal dryness and how to treat it postpartum. Good news though, six months postpartum is a good estimate for when your hormones will go back to normal. This is also around the time many women have their first postpartum period.
Having sex again, better yet, finding pleasure in sex again
Now, let’s talk about sex, baby...well the baby hopefully will be sound asleep or with a babysitter for this part. Remember that sexual wellness is a state of body/mind that enables you to enjoy and explore sex on your own terms and in your own time. Even though sex can be incredibly nourishing, it sometimes can feel like another thing that needs your attention, or it’s just hard to muster the energy for. Being ready to engage intimately with your partner means attending to your needs, through sufficient sleep, nourishing foods, patience for recovery, and less stress. One of the most important and Mount Everest-like essentials to do is finding some alone time. Taking time for yourself is not a luxury, but a necessity, in order to recall your identity past being someone’s partner or someone’s parent. By reassuring your peace of mind and re-centering, you are actually becoming a better partner and a better parent.
One of the best tools for connecting with your sensuality is taking those breaks, so go on and take a guilt-free nap, stroll around the block, jam out to your favorite playlist, or even better take time for some leisure masturbation, anything that gives you the sense that your body is your own, and that pleasure is an easy to access form of nourishment. Reminder, your libido is not dead – it’s just hiding. There is a kind of desire that’s underrated, but very important to know about during this postpartum period: responsive desire, which you may not feel until you’re responding to something in your environment. This might be the way your partner touches you, a sex scene in your favorite romance movie, whatever it is – it is inspired by a response to your environment, and you can use that to help you get the juices flowing. This could be a good time to explore new ways to connect with your sexual self and practice the ultimate source of intimacy with your partner - communication. The pressure to “have sex” can so often contribute to the resistance to wanting it, so sharing with your partner how you feel is essential, and then sharing some ideas about what would feel good for both of you. Here at Quanna, you know we don’t believe that penetration is the holy grail of sex acts, so please do carry onto Pt. 2 of this article series to learn more ways to enjoy intimacy after having a baby. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and to your body, you carried a baby into this world and that is nothing, but remarkable.
Prompt: Have you asked your partner how they’re feeling about your intimacy as a couple? Are they following your lead?