When you’re a parent welcoming a new baby to the family, your whole world revolves around your bundle of joy. You’re probably getting little or no sleep, changing diapers every hour, oohing and ahhing over each facial expression, and wondering if you’re getting this whole “parenting” thing right.
Needless to say, that might not leave much time for your physical relationship with your partner. (And hey, it can be hard to feel sexy with spit up on the T-shirt you’ve been wearing for three days and the scent of dirty diapers wafting in from the bathroom.) When a new baby is in the house, both of your sexual needs can get put on the back-burner.
Everyone’s postpartum experience is unique to them. While some might have zero interest in another person coming within 50 feet of their genitals, others might be extremely eager to resume having sex. However, tearing or bleeding from delivery can require time to heal before sex becomes safe and comfortable again.
We spoke with two women’s health experts who gave us the following six tips to help you re-navigate the world of sex after childbirth.
Get the ‘go ahead’ from a doc
During the standard six-week postpartum doctor’s appointment, your provider can best evaluate when you can safely and comfortably return to being sexually active.
It’s important that a postpartum person wait a few weeks to have sex to decrease the risk of infection and prevent further bleeding (note that some postpartum bleeding is normal). “During labor and delivery, the cervix dilates,” says Dr. Donna Crowe, an OBGYN in Nashville. “This cervical opening allows bacteria that normally live in the vagina to ascend into the normally sterile uterus. After delivery, you want to give adequate time for the cervix to completely close before introducing external bacteria into the vagina.” Dr. Crowe adds that you can tell the cervix has closed once the bleeding has stopped.
The amount of time you hold off on having sex can differ based on what type of birth you experienced. C-sections, for example, are a type of major surgery. Dr. Crowe says that women who had C-sections or complicated vaginal deliveries that required many stitches may benefit from waiting longer than six weeks.
When you’re ready, grab a bottle of lube
Estrogen is the hormone largely responsible for lubricating the vagina, but those levels drop immediately after giving birth, and further decline if you’re breastfeeding. This can mimic symptoms of menopause, like vaginal dryness. “Once a new mother wants to enjoy manual vaginal stimulation or intercourse, we encourage her to have lubricant on hand,” says Dr. Crowe. Lubricant can make sex less painful and more enjoyable, especially as you’re easing back into things.
Take it slow and don’t push it
According to Dr. Kelley Johnson, a clinical sexologist in Asheville, it’s important to carefully build up to intercourse and make sure you’re prioritizing your needs. “I recommend my clients masturbate or start very slowly to see what it’s like to be sexually aroused again,” she says. “Take some time to build self-confidence. You don’t want someone to push themselves through pain or say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do this for my partner.’ This creates a negative feedback loop around sex that’s difficult to break.”
Keep in mind that sex may be different
But “different” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Having a new baby can cause you to fall in love with your partner all over again,” says Dr. Johnson. “Seeing your partner as a parent can be really sexy. The two of you as a couple are falling in love with your child — this is intimate and life-changing.”
But of course, physical and emotional pain from birth can change sex. Depending on what the birth experience was like, the postpartum person may be extremely sore, and the idea of having sex can be frightening. “It can take some time to get over this,” says Dr. Johnson. “If the birth was not what the person desired or was traumatic, they may need to work through this emotionally.” Seeking support from an OBGYN or a mental health professional who specializes in postpartum issues can help.
Partners: be patient and check in
Speaking of support, there should be zero pressure to be sexual. “Partners can be most helpful by letting the mother initiate sex,” says Dr. Crowe. “Mothers also feel most comfortable when their partners allow them to choose the position and tempo. Questions like, ‘Does this feel OK?’ invite an honest answer. But if the answer is ‘no,’ then stop. Reassure the mother that you care about how she feels and that you love her and her body exactly as they are.”
Have the contraception conversation
Dr. Crowe always discusses contraception with her patients during their six-week checkup. This is because — despite what you may have heard — it’s absolutely possible to get pregnant shortly after delivery. “Every obstetrician has a story of the woman who is pregnant at her six-week postpartum visit,” says Dr. Crowe. “But having two babies less than a year apart is extremely difficult, so using an effective form of contraception is critical.”
It’s also important to keep in mind that breastfeeding is not a reliable form of birth control (though as we mentioned, it can cause symptoms of menopause). Dr. Crowe says that while breastfeeding often suppresses ovulation, it doesn’t do so reliably.