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Sex After Birth: Resuming Sexual Intimacy After Having a Baby

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A young woman breastfeeds her infant son as her husband smiles at the baby

After a woman has a baby, she goes through a transformation – physical, psychologically and emotionally. After giving birth, your full attention will most likely be devoted to caring for your newborn – and sex might be the furthest thing from your mind.

But as you begin to settle into your new life, you will start to think about whether you are ready to resume sexual intimacy with your partner.

Postpartum sexuality involves considerably more than the physical act of sex – and depends on more than just physical recovery from pregnancy and childbirth,” said Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD, chief of the OB/GYN Division of Behavioral Health at University Hospitals.

According to Dr. Kingsberg, postpartum sexuality also depends on factors such as:

  • The woman’s sexual drive (appetite for sexual activity) and motivation
  • Her general state of health and quality of life
  • Her emotional readiness to resume sexual intimacy with a partner
  • Her adaptation to the maternal role and ability to balance her identity as a mother with her identity as a sexual being
  • Her relationship with her partner

Every woman’s pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum experience is unique. Therefore, there is a wide range of what is normal in terms of readiness for sexual activity. Each woman needs to take into account her own physical and emotional health and make a decision that feels best for her.

When Can You Have Sex After Birth?

There are currently no evidence-based policies about the ideal amount of time postpartum to abstain from sexual activity. It is routinely recommended to avoid sex for about four to six weeks postpartum, mostly to prevent uterine infection or disrupting any stitches from an episiotomy, and giving the body some time to heal. However, more recent research shows that a woman can resume penetrative sexual activity as early as two weeks postpartum based on her own comfort level and desire.

Low Sex Drive is Not Unusual

Even if a woman is physically recovered enough to resume sexual activity without pain or risk of injury and has been cleared by her obstetrician or midwife, there are a lot of other variables that may influence her decision, including her desire to have sex, says Dr. Kingsberg.

Factors that can influence sex drive in the postpartum period include:

  • Hormonal changes, particularly if breast feeding
  • Fatigue/lack of sleep
  • Postpartum depression
  • Vulvar and vaginal pain related to tearing during delivery and decreased vaginal estrogen levels
  • Breastfeeding and the disconnect between breasts as erotic versus breasts for feeding one’s baby
  • Quality of a woman’s relationship with her partner
  • Childbirth trauma
  • Body image

Resuming Sex After Baby

The first sexual encounter after childbirth can be an important step for couples to reclaim their intimate relationship, Dr. Kingsberg says. But there is no timeline when it comes to postpartum sex; it should happen when you feel ready and comfortable.

If you are concerned about sex being painful, you can seek out pain relief options before having sex, such as a warm bath or an over-the-counter pain reliever. Using a lubricant is also recommended to combat vaginal dryness and make sex more comfortable. Relax, take it slow and communicate with your partner what does and does not feel good in order to make the experience a positive one. You can also consider other forms of sexual intimacy – such as massage or oral sex – as alternatives to vaginal intercourse.

It’s also important to keep in mind that there is more to intimacy than just sex. Have open and honest discussions with your partner if you are feeling nervous or uncomfortable about sex and come up with other ways to strengthen your relationship, even if it is simply enjoying time together without the baby.

If you are struggling, talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns. They will be able to address your specific problems and help to troubleshoot – whether it is providing tips for making sex physically more comfortable or a referral to a sexual health expert, or suggesting counseling or therapy to address PPD or relationship problems.

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