Sex after pregnancy might be the last thing on your mind…or maybe not? Either way, it’s a hot topic that we should talk about. At some point before or after the baby comes, you may start thinking about what sex is going to be like postpartum. The idea of having sex after childbirth, whether vaginally or via C-section, is sometimes hard to wrap your mind around. After all, you did just stretch your vagina to the max bringing your darling baby into the world. It’s only natural to wonder if “things will ever return to normal?”
Sex after birth is about more than just physical intimacy. It’s also about the mental and emotional readiness of both partners. Welcoming a newborn into your family will certainly change the dynamics, especially as you adjust and heal during the first few months. Sleep deprivation, fluctuating hormones, lingering birth trauma, and possibly postpartum depression are all mood killers in the bedroom.
Understanding what to expect in the sex department after childbirth can help you navigate the big changes and feelings you’re experiencing. There’s no right or wrong way to go about having postpartum sex. There’s only what’s right for you and your partner.
How long after birth can you have sex?
Most healthcare providers will advise you to wait at least 4-6 weeks after giving birth before engaging in penetrative sex. This is because, by six weeks, most women will have had their first follow-up appointment. At this appointment there’s usually an internal exam performed to make sure you’ve healed properly.
This timeline, however, is not set in stone. Everyone’s body and mind don’t just miraculously heal at that six week mark. Having a C-section, episiotomies or lacerations, prolapses, and postpartum depression can all change your personal healing process.
While some women may not feel ready to have sex for a while after birth, others may wonder if they really have to wait that long. So do you have to wait six weeks after birth to have sex? The short answer is no. The six-week wait is completely random.
You should have sex when you’re physically and mentally ready for it. Your body does need some time to recuperate after birth but for some women that time may be less than the “magic” 6-week mark. For others, six months may feel more like enough time. Each person is different, and so will their readiness for intimacy again.
If you want to get frisky again before you’ve had a follow-up with your healthcare provider, it’s best to call them and see if they can fit you in sooner. Sex too soon after birth raises your risk for complications and infections, especially if you had any tears. Having them check you out and give you the thumbs up beforehand is not a bad idea.
Does sex feel different after giving birth?
Initially, sex after birth may feel different. But different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Your body has been through a lot, so give yourself some grace when that first sexual encounter rolls around. Lots of factors play a role in how sex might feel those first few times:
- Vaginal dryness
- Perineal tears or episiotomy
- Loose muscle tone
- Soreness, pain
- Pelvic floor prolapses
- Healing C-section incision
Your hormones play a large part in your sexual drive after birth. Shortly after delivery, estrogen levels drop down to pre-pregnancy levels or lower. Low estrogen leads to vaginal dryness, which can cause pain during sex. This is one of the most common postpartum sex complaints. One tip to help ease dryness and pain: buy a good bottle of lubricant.
Kegel exercises can help restore muscle tone in your pelvic floor. During delivery, the vagina is stretched to accommodate the baby. Try doing sets of Kegels at least three times a day to get your pelvic floor back in shape.
What does pain mean during sex?
It’s not uncommon to experience some pain the first few times you have sex after birth. A lot has gone on down in that area, and pain during postpartum sex can mean many different things. The most common reason is your hormones are causing vaginal dryness.
It can also signify that you’re not fully healed from childbirth. You may need more time to heal if you have had any tears or an episiotomy. Pelvic floor issues can also cause pain and discomfort.
If the pain continues or becomes severe, let your healthcare provider know. You’ll want to ensure there’s no infection or underlying issues that need treatment.
Does breastfeeding affect sex?
Breastfeeding can certainly impact your desire to have sex. There are two hormones responsible for milk production, prolactin, and oxytocin. Prolactin keeps your estrogen levels low. And what do we know about low estrogen levels? It can cause vaginal dryness and painful sex. Oxytocin, on the other hand, might cause milk to leak from your breasts during sex since it’s also released during an orgasm. Not so sexy, right?
Breastfeeding can also lower your levels of testosterone. Both men and women have testosterone, which is responsible for your sex drive. Breastfeeding keeps testosterone, and therefore your libido, very low.
Lastly, breastfeeding can make some women feel “touched out.” When you have a newborn grabbing and pulling at your breasts and body all hours of the day, the last thing you want is another person doing the same thing. You’re giving all you physically can to your baby, and you might not have anything left to offer to your partner.
What if having a baby lowered my sex drive?
Besides the actual changes to your body, there’s also been a physical change to your life at home with a newborn. And did I mention the severe lack of sleep? It’s no surprise that having a baby can lower your sex drive. The good news is that most women's desire for sex returns to normal within several months of giving birth. There’s no set timeline for when you should have your libido back because every woman’s postpartum experience is different.
Communication will be an important tool when it comes to feeling comfortable having sex again. Being able to talk to your partner about how your feeling physically and mentally allows the both of you to work together towards an enjoyable experience. Don’t rush into sex - take it slow. You might have to explore alternatives to penetrative sex if you desire intimacy but aren’t fully recovered yet. And keep in mind that breastfeeding can decrease your libido too. Most women’s sex drives returned after they stopped breastfeeding, and their hormones returned to their pre-pregnancy levels.
If you’re struggling to have sex, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Professionals are available to help you work through your physical and mental concerns. If you notice signs of postpartum depression - like severe mood swings, loss of appetite, and uncontrollable crying – call your provider right away. If left untreated, postpartum depression can hang around for months and interfere with your ability to care for yourself and your baby. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as your physical wellbeing.