Sex after childbirth is a topic that most couples gloss over, but it’s an important one to face with your partner. Talking about your expectations, feelings and fears can help you both find a way to move the sexual side of your relationship forwards.
After having a baby, it’s inevitable that your relationship is going to have to adjust to a new dynamic, accommodating the needs of a whole new person. Very often the frequency of intimacy and your feelings about sex can look quite different to your pre-baby lives, but what’s normal and how can you make sure your sex life doesn’t become neglected?
A new-found respect
Pregnancy and childbirth challenge and push your body to new physical limits and can often lead to a new found respect for your body. The fact you have grown and birthed a child can leave you feeling protective, thankful and in awe of what your body has achieved and your partner will usually feel the same.
Seeing your body go through pregnancy and labour and breastfeeding highlights the capabilities of your body in different ways. They’ll see the strength, softness and endurance your body can withstand, which are all quite different to seeing your body purely in terms of sexual desire.
In any case, becoming a mother and going through these physical travails usually means that the relationship most women have with their bodies and consequently, their sexual appetite, goes through a period of huge transformation.
Taking your time
Readjusting to your new ‘normal’ body after pregnancy takes some time and many women need to abstain from sex for a few weeks after pregnancy in order to heal from labour and recover from any stitches from tears, episiotomies or C-sections, not to mention post-partum bleeding. With a newborn baby to feed and care for, and an intense period of adjustment, sex with a partner can come very low on the priority list.
Hormonal highs and lows
Women have a lot of hormonal highs and lows to deal with once they have had a baby, so it’s natural to feel low in mood, tired and teary – hardly the emotions that put you in the mood for sex.
It’s worth noting that stress hormones will always take priority over sex hormones and having a newborn baby is often a time of stress as you both adjust. Regulating your postpartum diet can also help to regulate your hormones. To eat well and feel more balanced, try to ensure every meal includes protein, healthy fats and fibre. While sugar highs are tempting (especially when you’re sleep deprived), if you can avoid getting onto the sugar rollercoaster it will help you feel more energetic and more positive, and the happier you feel, the more likely you are to want to engage in intimacy with your partner.
Accept that if sex seems like a very remote possibility that this is probably just a phase as you get used to your responsibilities as a mother, and your body regulates its hormones. Remember that you’re dealing with a lot less sleep and a lot of emotional and physical demands, all while navigating a new lifestyle and adjusting to being a mum. Getting to grips with these elements takes time. Once you feel more secure in your new role, you may surprise yourself when your libido comes back with plenty of bite.
No such thing as normal
Every couple is different and every individual has different sexual needs and expectations. The key to finding the right time to try to have sex after birth, is to talk to each other. Some couples like to try sex just a few weeks after childbirth where as half usually try after the first six weeks, while others prefer to wait six months. There shouldn’t be any pressure, just open honesty about each of your wishes. The focus should be on both feeling comfortable with your roles as parents, secure in your relationship and close to each other. In any case, feeling understood and supported really are the most vital ingredients to feel turned on.
Your new body
It’s very rare that a woman won’t have concerns of some sort after having a baby. Your body changes physically so much in such a short space of time that it’s important to allow yourself time to heal and also to get comfortable with your body before you start having sex again.
Many women can worry whether their partner will still find them attractive or will feel self-conscious about intimacy. Explaining your insecurities to your partner can actually offer a good opportunity for reassurance and intimacy and you’ll soon realise that they don’t see your body with the same critical eyes that you may do.
Whether you feel proud of your body, protective, insecure about it or disconnected from it, all these feelings are normal after having a baby. Allowing time for the rollercoaster of emotions and thoughts to settle down will mean you’re in a much better place to recommence the intimate side of your relationship.
How partners feel about sex after you’ve had a baby
While you have had the lion’s share of changes to deal with, don’t forget that your partner will have gone through a lot of mental and emotional changes too in order to prepare for parenthood.
Very often partners can suffer from a lower sex drive when welcoming a new baby to the family. Seeing your body with different eyes – as a mother – may be one part of it, but factor in stress, worry and exhaustion and a sky high libido is pretty unlikely.
Your partner may be concerned about hurting you, waking the baby or even getting you pregnant when you’ve just been through so much. The only way to know how your partner is feeling is to talk to them.
On the other hand they may feel sexually frustrated or rejected if you’re not interested in sex any more. While it may sound like a cliché, talking really is the best medicine in these scenarios so you can be mindful of each other’s perspective.
Getting intimate again
I’ve seen a lot of couples feel overwhelmed by parenting and life with a baby, who end up feeling isolated from each other as life is very much about surviving on broken sleep and catering to the demands of the baby. Feeling disconnected from your partner can be a very easy trap to fall into during early parenthood – so whether or not you feel able to have full sex, putting a focus on finding moments of intimacy together is so important to feel strong in your relationship.
Putting aside time to simply snuggle, remembering to kiss each other goodnight or goodbye, having a quick embrace when they get in from work or giving each other a shoulder massage or foot rub mean that you’re still physically connecting with each other. This allows for sexual intimacy to become more possible and more natural.
A new dynamic
From now on, sex will have to be something that works around the demands of parenthood – when the baby is sleeping or staying at a grandparent’s house. Having children means sex becomes less spontaneous but it doesn’t have to be boring.
Having a night (or two!) designated for sex can do wonders to get you both excited for that evening each week – by prioritising intimacy as an important part of your life together you’ll allow your relationship the time and space to thrive in amongst the craziness of childrearing.
How to get the most out of your sex life after pregnancy and birth.
Don’t rush into it
While you may feel that having sex is something that you just need to ‘get over and done with’ it’s important to feel emotionally and physically ready first.
Keep in touch
Touching each other, kisses, cuddles and mutual affection can be just as important as regular sex. Feeling close physically in these ways can mean that neither of you feels rejected.
Having sex for the first time after childbirth may feel uncomfortable or even painful. Wait for another week or so before trying again and see if there is any improvement. If you find that every time you try it is too painful to enjoy then be sure to raise this with your midwife, doctor or women’s health physio so they can advise.
Arousal is really important for pleasurable sex. Take your time over it and make sure you’re feeling relaxed and in the mood instead of anxious. If you start to feel tense, tell your partner and you can change your position or your foreplay to allow for you to feel more comfortable.
Quick and easy
With a baby who demands attention all night it can sometimes be easier to have a spontaneous, short session together when your baby is napping. These moments of surprise intimacy can make you feel closer and allow you to take advantage of your baby’s good behaviour!
Exercises for life
Almost everyone knows pelvic floor exercises are important to do after giving birth, in order to negate stress incontinence, but what’s not so well-known is that a strong pelvic floor can also help with the experience of sex. After giving birth, you may feel disconnected to your pelvic floor and core and you may need some help to get that connection back. Discuss your pelvic floor with your midwife or doctor at your 6-week postnatal check and remember that if you are struggling with a new-found weakness, a few appointments with a women’s health physiotherapist may be all you need. You could even end up with a pelvic floor and core that’s in a better condition than ever before. Now that is something worth investing in.
It’s hard to remember to consciously engage your pelvic floor when life is so busy but if you can remind yourself to do a few each day when washing up or cleaning your teeth, you can multi-task for greater sexual satisfaction in the long run. It’s a win-win.
For advice on how to prepare for parenthood and life with a baby, check out HATCH, Urban Hatch’s online antenatal preparation course.
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