Sex after having a baby
Many women feel a mixture of emotions as you think about the transformation that your life has undergone: pride and happiness for the baby that you have but also possibly some sadness for the loss of the previous you and the life you had before your pregnancy.
Resuming your sex-life may take time – you may feel ready within weeks or you may not be ready for love-making for months. Every woman is different, so do not feel pressurised or worry that you are not normal.
This is a time of huge readjustment as you learn to live with, and tune into, your new baby’s needs so it is completely normal if sex isn’t high on your agenda. Exhaustion is common due to broken sleep and the increased demands on your time, which can have a huge impact on how “in the mood” you feel.
If you do feel ready, you don't have to wait until after your six-week check. It is advisable to wait until the post-birth bleeding has stopped (often between 10–14 days, but it can continue for several weeks). This is because your uterus is still healing and if you have sex before the bleeding has stopped there’s a possibility that you could introduce an infection.
How different births affect you
The time taken to recover from labour and get back to having sex depends on the type of birth you had.
With stitches following a cut (episiotomy) or a tear you’ll feel sore. Stitches should dissolve after 10 days and by two weeks healing should be well underway, and the soreness should have reduced. If you do have stitches, you may want to try positions that limit penetration or reduce the pressure on the stitched area and remember to take it slowly and gently when you feel ready for sex.
If you had a natural birth, you may just feel tired and uncomfortable. With no tear or cut healing will be swifter and you may feel ready for sex earlier, although if you feel bruised or have some grazing (which may sting) you may want to take it gently.
If you have had a caesarean you may be worried about the scar but it should be well healed by the time your stitches come out. If it is still sensitive you may prefer to find positions that do not put pressure on the scar.
Tiredness, fear of pain, or other fears generally, such as any vaginal or scar tissue reopening, may all play a part in your feelings of readiness to resume sex. Talking to your partner initially may help, as worries around sex can delay arousal or sexual feelings. Spending time on foreplay and not feeling that you have to proceed to penetrative sex may also help. Using lubrication during sex can be helpful too.
If you're breastfeeding
While you’re breastfeeding, levels of oestrogen stay low to prevent you ovulating and falling pregnant (your body's way of preventing another pregnancy too soon after birth). One effect can be vaginal dryness. If this is the case, you may want to use some lubrication and take it slowly. Low oestrogen levels may also reduce desire for some women and they may find that they have a less sensitive clitoris too. Levels of testosterone (the hormone that boosts libido) also fall, and prolactin (the milk-supply hormone) rises.
Oxytocin is the hormone that makes your milk flow and is released during sex, so you may spurt milk when you orgasm. Some couples enjoy this and others don’t. If you don’t, feed your baby before you have sex so your breasts aren’t so full, or wear pads inside a bra. Let your partner know how breastfeeding affects your sexuality, and that you may not want your tender, sensitive breasts to be touched. If you are happy to be touched though, there’s no reason not to. Just remember a couple of things:
- If your partner sucks on your nipples, you may release milk which may take them by surprise. Unlike the milk of other mammals, such as cows, human milk tastes sweet because of its high lactose (natural milk sugar) content.
- Your partner should also avoid going straight from oral sex to nipple-sucking as they may transfer thrush.
Your body after childbirth
After your baby is born, your body won’t instantly return to its pre-pregnancy shape and size. Your post-birth body may never return to how it was before and avoiding unrealistic expectations can help make you more comfortable.
- Your abdomen will be larger and looser (you may still need maternity wear for the first couple of months) and you’ll probably carry extra weight elsewhere too.
- While you’re breastfeeding, your breasts may be big and tender with visible veins.
- You may have purple stretchmarks on your belly, breasts, thighs, and bottom (these will fade to silvery streaks).
- The linea nigra – the dark line some women develop down their stomachs – can take several months to fade.
Some new mothers are relaxed about their post-birth body, seeing the changes as proud badges of motherhood. Others find it difficult. If you are one of the latter give yourself a break; it can take months or more to lose the pounds so take your time. Small, nutritious meals help to keep up your energy levels, however you are feeding your baby; this isn’t a good time for crash dieting.
Take your time
If you’re not ready for sex, don’t feel pressured, many women report having sex after pregnancy before they were ready with the main reasons being:
- feeling pressured by their partner or feeling they were neglecting their partner
- wanting to ‘get it over with’
- feeling other women had already resumed sex.
It’s important to make your feelings the priority. Don’t compare yourself to other mothers – they may not be admitting their true situation anyway. Crucially, try not to feel under pressure from your partner. Instead share your feelings with your partner and explain the big changes that pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for a new baby bring about. If you do feel under pressure and are worried, talk to your health visitor or GP.
How partners can help
A new baby can mean little time for anything else – including your relationship. That, plus tiredness and stress, can put strain on you and your partner.
To keep a loving relationship alive, communication and a mutual understanding of each other's needs are crucial. Let your partner know that when you’re coping with the demands of a newborn, him asking for sex may just be too much. But make it clear that, although your focus is on your baby, this doesn’t mean you don’t love him or are pushing him away. Likewise, your partner’s desire for sex is probably not intended to be demanding but a way of him expressing his love and affection for you.
The best way for your partner not to feel sidelined is to join in. He can help with bathing the baby, dressing, nappy changes, cuddling, but perhaps most importantly, housework. Taking a lead in looking after the house without being nagged can reduce the fatigue that many women feel and show that the partnership is supportive and adaptive.
A potentially scary aspect of family life is that total privacy disappears. Many parents feel inhibited by their baby’s presence if they want to make love. But don’t be embarrassed if your baby’s in the room. He’s used to your body’s gurgles from inside. Hearing them from outside won’t upset him, and he won’t care what you’re doing. If he’s in your bed be careful, or put him in his crib. You may get interrupted if he wakes for a feed, but he won’t be judging you. And very soon you’ll get your privacy back.
- To combat exhaustion, accept all offers of help with your baby and the house so that you can rest. Once you’re rested you may feel sexier.
- Choose a time when you’re least likely to be disturbed by your baby – after a feed, for example.
- Talk to your partner about how you feel about the changes to your body and the ways in which you might like – or not like – to be touched.
- Gently explore your vagina with your fingers so that you can discover if there is any pain or change for yourself first.
- Don’t go straight for full penetration. Oral sex or mutual masturbation may be easier to begin with.
- Use a lubricant and make sure you are fully aroused before penetration.
- Try positions that limit penetration (see section on ‘How different births affect you’ above).
- Discuss any pain with your GP.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.