What To Expect From Postpartum Sex

Photographed by Lula Hyers.
Whether you have a vaginal delivery or a C-section, giving birth puts your body through some major changes — not to mention the changes brought on by pregnancy. And these changes, plus the presence of a newborn baby in your life, means that your sex life after childbirth might change. But change isn’t necessarily bad, and it’s very possible to have a rewarding and intimate love and sex life after having a child — it might just take some people some time to adjust and figure out what works for you now.
“There are some who come to us saying that when they have sex for the first time postpartum, it’s like having sex for the first time [ever],” says Meghan Conway, a birth and postpartum doula and co-owner of Wyld Womyn, a Beacon, NY-based business offering birth and postpartum classes and support. “Postpartum, your mindset, your spirit, your body are completely different, and even your relationship with your partner is completely different. So it’s like you’re engaging in that intimacy as if you’re in a brand new relationship,” she adds.

When Is It Safe To Have Sex After Giving Birth?

After giving birth, you’ll likely see your doctor or midwife for a six-week postpartum checkup. At that point, your doctor or midwife will either give you the go-ahead for sex or let you know if you need to wait longer to heal. This go-ahead means that you're not at risk from infection if you do have vaginal sex — but it often takes longer for vaginal sex to feel good. Alyia Cutler, a birth and postpartum doula and also a co-owner at Wyld Womyn, says, “What we find is that, anecdotally, it’s often not comfortable or enjoyable for most people for closer to six months or a year after childbirth."

The Physical Changes After Childbirth

There are both physical and emotional reasons why sex may not be enjoyable soon after childbirth. “Whether or not mentally and emotionally you feel ready, your body is just physically not in the same place it was before having a baby,” Cutler explains. Your body may be healing from vaginal tearing, abdominal surgery, and the other potential traumas that childbirth can cause. You may also have had complications during pregnancy or childbirth.
Even if you had a relatively easy pregnancy and childbirth, the changes that pregnancy and childbirth bring to your pelvic floor and vagina mean that sex may physically feel different, and possibly painful. One Irish study found that 44% of women experienced painful penetration in the first three months after giving birth (this number decreased to less than 20% by the one-year point).
“No matter what route your baby decided to come out, you have a huge wound on the inside of your uterus where the placenta was attached, so that’s also healing,” Conway says. “We always say that if we had a clear stomach and we saw what was going on in the inside of us, we’d be like whoa, whoa, whoa, we’re not ready. But because it’s happening on the inside where you can’t see it, we tend to think okay, we’re back to normal just because we’re standing, walking, and doing our regular day-to-day.”
Your hormones will also be “a little out of whack,” says Cutler, particularly if you’re breastfeeding or chestfeeding (a word some trans men and nonbinary folks prefer). Specifically, your estrogen will be lower, which is associated with a lower libido and less natural vaginal lubrication. Plus, with all the sleep deprivation and exhaustion that comes with caring for a newborn, it makes sense that your libido would be low, even if you didn’t just give birth.

The Emotional Changes After Childbirth

Then, there’s the emotional side. Parents of newborns, particularly those who are breastfeeding or chestfeeding, often feel “touched out.” “Physically, you have a baby against your body, or in your arms, or literally sucking on your body for such a long time, that by the end of the day, or at the point that someone else is ready to touch your body, it feels like ‘no more, I have nothing left to give,’” Cutler says. “We always say it feels like a raisin: I’m drained of all my nutrients, all my energy, everything I have.” If you breastfeed, you may lactate while turned on or during sex, and some people dislike that feeling. (But others like it, or don't care either way.)
Some people may feel also insecure about the changes that pregnancy and childbirth brought to their bodies (particularly with all the media attention on celebrities' "post-baby bodies"), or simply feel a sense of unfamiliarity with their bodies. All this means that it’s very, very normal for it to take some time for you to want to have sex again after having a baby.

How To Have Postpartum Sex

However, everyone's different, and some people have the desire to have sex again fairly soon after giving birth. If you do want to have sex, there are some steps you can take to make things more comfortable. First, lube is extra important for vaginal sex because of your lower estrogen levels. “Postpartum is the perfect time to experiment with personal lubricants,” Conway says, and Wyld Women has developed a lubricant designed for people having sex after childbirth and anyone else who has vaginal dryness.
In a similar vein, drinking a lot of water will “keep your body hydrated and give it a little support,” says Cutler. If you do have a sex drive, masturbation “can be a great way to experiment and exercise the muscle of your libido,” Conway adds, and it can help you learn what feels good.
On the other hand, don’t feel like you need to have vaginal sex if it doesn’t feel good. “If you have a sex drive, but it’s not comfortable vaginally, we always say to try different types of sex and intimacy,” says Cutler. “Maybe it means oral sex, maybe it means anal sex, maybe it means making out above the hips.” (As always, you'll want to use lube for anal sex, too.) "Testing the waters" by having sex every once in a while to see how it feels is a common tactic, she says. It may take time for your sex drive to return and for sex to feel enjoyable, so be patient and kind to yourself and your body.

How To Create Intimacy

If you don’t have much of a sex drive (or any), there are other ways to create intimacy and connection with your partner. “We always talk about the power of eye gazing or holding hands or trying to be intimate in ways that have nothing to do with physical touch: taking a walk together, engaging in deep conversation. There's also cuddling and massage,” Cutler says.
Many people feel pressure to have sex soon after giving birth, even if they’re not feeling ready, she adds. “It’s not always a partner guilting them; a lot of people feel like they’re not doing right by their partner by not offering that up. We hear a lot of ‘they already went 10 months without sex, I never wanted to have sex while I was pregnant, I feel like I owe them, I feel like it’s about time.’” Friends and society at large can also be a source of pressure.
“Really finding a way to be honest with your partner and be honest with yourself” about what you need is important, Cutler says. Ask yourself: “Am I looking for connection? Am I looking for physical pleasure? If we’re feeling unfulfilled, what are some other ways that we can fill each other up?”
“It’s cheesy, but the word ‘intimacy’ — I’ve seen these images on social media breaking it down to into me, I see,’’ Conway adds. “You can ask yourself that — into me I see, and you fill in the blank, and you check in with yourself.” Whether you need sex, a nourishing meal, verbal affirmation from your partner, cuddling, a few minutes by yourself, or anything else, “that can really fill a huge void and bring back elements of intimacy.”

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