For new mamas, the thought of sex after giving birth can evoke a lot of feelings, including fear and anxiety. Pregnancy and birthing are rigorous processes! Recovery, both physical and mental, is often a longer journey than expected. After having a baby, getting back to your sexual physicality can almost feel like a journey of its own.
Postpartum sex is not just sex, it’s intimacy – you’re not only learning how to have sex again, you’re rediscovering intimacy with your partner. You are also finding your way back to your intimate self after carrying your child for so many months and bringing them into the world.
If you are struggling with intimacy postpartum, here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Medical clearance does not equal personal clearance
Typically, postpartum visits are around the six week mark. This is when women are often “cleared” for sex at this time. However, six weeks is not long at all, considering how long your pregnancy was (and the birth of your child, which may or may not have been difficult for you). Whether you had a Cesarean or Vaginal Birth, it is recommended that you wait until you see your doctor for this postpartum checkup to make sure that you are healed, both outside and inside. Postpartum bleeding and discharge (Lochia) can last days to weeks after the birth while your uterus heals itself. This, as well as many other factors, can mean that you may not be ready for sex until well after this “medical clearance.”
My personal experience is a great example. With my first birth, I had a lot of tearing. I was cleared at six weeks, and tried to have intercourse at eight weeks. It was extremely painful. With my second birth, I was cleared at four weeks. Although I felt like my body healed much faster the second time around, I did not feel comfortable even attempting intercourse until much later than eight weeks.
It’s okay if you don’t feel like jumping right back into bed for a romp. You’ve been growing a human for 40 weeks (approximately)! Give your body and mind the time and space to heal.
2) Intimacy is the goal
Speaking of jumping right back into bed for a romp, let’s be honest: this is not going to happen. Once you decide to try again, you may be scared to wake up the baby. You may be exhausted from having a newborn that is up every two hours, or cluster feeding for hours during the night. Considering all the new parts of parenting, you will most likely not have the energy to full on “romp.”
And as I said before, I like to refer to the intimacy you will be building again. It’s not all about sex. Take the time to cuddle, hug, kiss, and touch in other ways, before you jump right back into the sex.
3) You may feel like you are dating again
After having a baby, it’s easy to be all about the baby and forget about being part of a couple. During this period of postpartum, it will be like starting your courtship all over again. Take some time for date nights. Even if that means sitting on the couch with a bowl of ice cream, watching television after the baby goes to sleep. Eventually, you will hopefully be able to step out for a few hours to your favourite dinner spot or take a walk under the stars.
4) Take it slow
So far, I’ve mentioned many ways to “take it slow” – don’t jump right into intercourse, learn intimacy again, take time to date again, etc. But this time when I say take it slow, I mean that once you decide to have vaginal sex again, literally take it slow. I think this is a given, but maybe not. You might be so excited to try it again that you don’t think about all the healing that has occurred on your precious parts.
Take it slow, feel it out, and decide how and what you need to proceed. It’s okay if you only feel comfortable enough for ten seconds, thirty seconds, a minute, and so on. Go slowly, and stop if you aren’t comfortable or if it is hurting.
5) Lots of lube
Lube is your new best friend! A lot has happened down below, and a good water-based lube will help make things more comfortable. Not only are your hormones in the process of balancing out (which can cause dryness), but if you are breastfeeding, it may feel like a desert down there. Lube will help. Don’t try anything without it! Keep it nearby and use as much as you need to use.
6) Everyone is different
It can be so easy to compare yourself to others. Maybe your sister said she had sex right after she was cleared. Perhaps your friend was surprisingly pregnant by her first postpartum OB visit (it happens). Maybe your cousin said she couldn’t have sex for a year after her child was born.
Remember that none of these people are you. You are the only one who knows what is best for you. You can be medically and physically healed on the outside, but you may need more time before you are mentally and emotionally ready. This is okay! Be kind to yourself.
7) Don’t forget the birth control
Keep in mind that you can get pregnant even if you have not gotten your cycle back. And yes, you can also get pregnant while you’re breastfeeding. Breastfeeding often impacts ovulation hormones, but not all the time. It can depend on your body, the number of times you nurse per day, and more. Everyone is different!
If you are not ready to have another child, don’t forget the form of birth control that works best for you. Some women want to have another right away, while some women would rather space their children out by years. If you do not want to have one soon, don’t let prevention fall by the wayside.
About the Author: S. Jolene Hui, LCSW, DONA Trained Doula
S. Jolene Hui, LCSW is a clinical social worker as well as a writer who has been published by such print newspapers as the Boise Weekly and The Idaho Statesman as well as the San Diego newspaper Asia: The Journal of Culture and Commerce. She’s been a regular contributor to Good Vibrations Magazine and Inside Hockey. And she’s had both literary and erotic fiction published by numerous publishers including Tonto Books and Cleis Press. Hui graduated with her MSW from the Luskin School of Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is Director of Membership for the National Association of Social Workers, California Chapter (NASW-CA). She is also adjunct faculty in the MSW program at California State University, Dominguez Hills and is a practicing licensed clinical social worker specializing in maternal mental health in Long Beach, California. She’s also a trained birth doula, has two lovely children, and enjoys running all year round in the southern CA sun.