With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it seems sex is everywhere. The aisles of every store are packed with red roses, lingerie, and heart-shaped everything. The radio ads reminding you that ‘if you love her, you’ll buy her diamonds’ are frequent. It seems every direction you turn, everything is adorned in pink and red, the socially-accepted colors of love.
With a new baby in the mix, sex might seem too big a feat right now, but you would like to begin making time for some intimacy. Or perhaps you would like to return to a healthy sex life as soon as possible, but you don’t know what to expect. Read on for our best tips and tricks for returning to a healthy sex life postpartum. And don’t forget to mark your calendars for a live webinar on postpartum sexual health on March 6th!
6 Tips for Sexual Health After Childbirth
1. Nourish your body.
Now is absolutely the time to fill your body up with good foods, incorporate gentle exercise and physical activity into your life as your physical recovery allows, drink plenty of water, and get plenty of rest. I’ll say that again, get as much rest as possible. Studies have shown that people who get more sleep desire sex more, and report having more satisfying sex lives. In case you need any more convincing to have your partner take turns each night when the baby wakes, or to hire a doula to help with the baby overnight so you can get more rest, there it is.
2. Seek professional guidance and support.
Your care provider will clear you for sexual activity some time in the weeks or months following childbirth. Generally speaking, you need to have full healing from any lacerations, wounds, or stitches in the vagina or perineum before attempting sexual activity involving those areas. It is also important that you are no longer shedding lochia, the postpartum bleeding that occurs as your internal wound heals from the placenta’s implantation. The primary risk associated with having sex before you have completely healed is infection, which can become serious very quickly in a postpartum person, so it’s best to follow the doctor’s orders on this one!
While 87% of birthing people are cleared for sexual activity by their first postpartum check-up, which is typically scheduled around 6 weeks postpartum, the number of people that report feeling actually ready for sex at that point is much less.
Weak pelvic floor muscles after childbirth
If you are experiencing incontinence, leaking, or pelvic floor muscle weakness, make an appointment with a pelvic floor therapist. They are truly wonderful and can help you with exercises to strengthen those muscles and improve your pelvic floor health, improving your readiness for a healthy sex life and overall wellness.
3. Take things slowly and set small goals for yourself.
While literally taking things slowly is good advice as well when it comes to your postpartum sex life, it’s also wise to take your approach to intimacy one step at a time. You might be feeling really distant from your partner right now with the demands of a newborn. Setting a goal to find 15 minutes a day, or one hour a week, or whatever feels doable to you both at this point in time, is a good jumping off point. When you’re ready, start talking about what forms of intimacy sound appealing to you right now. Spending time just the two of you is important for your ongoing relationship, and maintaining and building intimacy will lead you back down the road to sexual desire.
When you do decide it’s time to try sexual activity again, going slowly will help you to listen to your body’s responses carefully. Even if you have not used lube in the past, having some on-hand postpartum is a good idea. The vaginal dryness that occurs from hormone changes postpartum can create additional difficulty. Some discomfort is expected the first few times you have sex postpartum, but you should not be in overwhelming pain. If you are finding things to be painful, stay open to adjusting your plans and finding another form of intimacy while you give your body more time to heal. If pain persists even when going slow and using lubricant, or you have the feeling that there’s something being pushed up against internally, stop intercourse and make an appointment with your care provider to fully discuss your concerns.
4. Be gentle with yourself and each other emotionally.
Physically, your body is not going to be exactly the same as it was prior to pregnancy and childbirth. It’s normal to feel self conscious about your body’s changes. Birthing parents, think about what can make you feel a little more comfortable with your body’s changes and make you feel sexy. Maybe it’s buying yourself some new lingerie, or having lots of time to be touched in your new body outside of sex such as during a massage or cuddling with your partner. Partners, tell the birthing parent how much you are attracted to them, and NOT just when you want intimacy. A person’s body is pushed and stretched beyond its limits in the childbearing and postpartum years. It’s incredible the things our bodies are capable of doing to accommodate the growth and development of another being. Those changes can be hard to see in a positive light, but hearing from your loved one how much they are in awe of, and attracted to you, goes a long way.
Emotionally, becoming a parent is a HUGE life-changing event and it is normal for it to rock your world a bit. The emotions that accompany childbirth, the postpartum period, breastfeeding, learning to care for a baby, and the sheer gravity of knowing you are responsible for the survival and care of another human being are tremendous. It might feel like sex is the furthest thing from your mind. Maybe the birth itself was really overwhelming, or even traumatic. These are all very normal, common reactions to childbirth and becoming a parent. Chances are, your partner is having a lot of the same overwhelming emotions. Reach out to each other in this time. Not only will that open the doors for them to reach back, it will create a lasting intimacy that will strengthen your bond.
5. Communication is key!
A note about perineum stitches
Are you nervous about what sex is going to feel like after needing stitches in your perineum? Make a plan with your partner on how to navigate things slowly, and use lots of lube. Are you feeling like you just aren’t ready to go “all the way” but you’re still craving sexual intimacy? Let your partner know! You are likely having more of the same feelings than you think, and laying down boundaries ahead of time can help you both to enjoy your first sexual experience postpartum AND hey, all that talk about sex might double as a good way to get you in the mood!
6. Don’t forget the birth control!
Breastfeeding and getting pregnant
I know, I know, your breastfeeding support group says that breastfeeding is enough to prevent pregnancy. While breastfeeding exclusively can aid in the prevention of pregnancies, it’s most certainly not an absolute prevention method. If preventing another pregnancy right away is important to you, make sure and discuss your contraceptive plans ahead of time! Your 6 week postpartum checkup is a great time to discuss this with your OB or Midwife, however, if you’re planning to have sex right away, you will likely need to double up on the contraception methods to make sure you’re protected.
Still have questions pertaining to your specific recovery? Want to continue the conversation on postpartum sexual health? Sign up for our webinar on March 6th. We’d love to have you join this important conversation.