Sex and intimacy after childbirth
Sex. After. Childbirth. If those three words make you screw up your face like you’ve just eaten a lemon then don’t worry, you’re not alone!
Many women are nervous about intimacy after childbirth and so are their partners. But it doesn’t need to be such a nerve-wracking experience. Knowing what to expect and accepting that your feelings are totally natural and normal, will help both of you get back to your pre-baby bedroom selves in no time.
Serena Cauchi, clinical psychologist and obstetrics nurse, believes that couples are often unprepared for the disruption to their sexual lives after a baby is born. “They simply think sex will return to normal,” she says. “Instead, problems such as fatigue, disrupted sleep, lack of routine, painful sex, breastfeeding and body image issues can all affect even the most loving and robust relationships.”
So what can you do to help nudge things along in the right direction? Firstly, follow your doctor’s advice. Whether you give birth vaginally or by C-section, your body will need time to heal. Waiting four to six weeks after childbirth will allow time for your cervix to close, uterus to shrink and episiotomy or C-section wounds to heal.
The other important timeline is your own. Some women feel ready to have sex a few weeks of giving birth, while others need a lot longer. Whatever your preference, there are a few ways to overcome the usual hurdles.
“Fatigue, common in new mothers, is the big passion killer,” says Serena. “Given the choice between sex and sleep, sleep wins out almost every time. Fathers can help by shouldering some of the domestic burden and helping with the baby and older children.”
Low libido in the postnatal period is also extremely common, particularly in breastfeeding women who experience hormonal changes such as lowered testosterone and increased prolactin levels. On the flip side, the hormones after birth can leave women feeling incredibly empowered and more confident in their own abilities and their sexuality so many women find their sex life is better after birth!
The key is to communicate your feelings with your partner so they know where you sit on this scale. If you’re on the lower end, remember that there’s more to an intimate relationship than sex, especially when you’re adjusting to life with a new baby. Try maintaining intimacy in other ways such as spending time together without the baby, having your partner give you a massage or sharing loving text messages throughout the day. Hopefully the spark that brought you together in the first place should rekindle your sex life.
Pain during intercourse is also quite common in breastfeeding women as they have low levels of oestrogen and the vaginal lining becomes dry and fragile with reduced lubrication. “Use of a lubricant such as “Sylk Natural Lubricant” can help, but if the problem is severe then topical therapy with oestrogen pessaries or cream can make a huge difference,” says Serena. “If you are experiencing pain or discomfort during intercourse consult your gynaecologist or general practitioner. If your episiotomy scar is still painful after six months see your gynaecologist for advice as it should be painless by then.”
It will take time for a mother’s body to adjust after childbirth, and there may be changes that are permanent such as vaginal stretching. However, once baby has arrived, doing everyone’s favorite sexercise, Kegels, will continue to be your best friend in regards to getting things back to normal down there.
Sex therapist and author Jacqueline Hellyer explains how to do them. “The three key exercises are: squeeze and relax slowly and rhythmically; squeeze and hold for three seconds then relax; squeeze, squeeze a bit more, squeeze a bit more, and a bit more, then relax,” she advises. “For more advanced work imagine you’ve got a pen in your vagina and write: “I am one hell of a sexy mama!”.
Also remember that sex after pregnancy requires a reliable method of birth control — even if you’re breast-feeding. Experts generally advise that it is OK to begin using birth control pills six weeks after childbirth but talk to your health care provider during your postpartum visit about your options.
Overall, when it comes to your first time, make it as gentle and romantic as possible. Try not to focus on all the ‘what ifs’ and instead see sex as a celebration of your love and your body for creating a gorgeous baby. What could be more sensuous than that?