What to Know About Sex After Childbirth
Open communication in the bedroom is the not-so-sexy secret to enjoyable post-baby sex.
Expert: Dee Hartman, PT, DPT
Physical intimacy and sex are incredibly important in any romantic relationship, but after having a baby, many new parents are left with a lot of questions or might even feel intimidated by the thought of jumping back into the sack with their partner. Whether you are the birthing parent or not, navigating sex after childbirth is going to be a bit different than it was before baby arrived. However, that doesn’t mean the future sex is doomed to be bad or unenjoyable, in fact, it might even end up being quite the opposite.
We understand how scary, confusing, and exhausting it can be to try to reignite that sexy spark after giving birth. We reached out to physical therapist and women’s sexual health expert Dee Hartman, PT, DPT, to provide insight into this challenging transition. Hartman specializes in chronic pelvic pain, abdominal pain, and sexual dysfunction and is the co-author of the book, The Pleasure Prescription: A Surprising Approach to Healing Sexual Pain. Here’s what she had to say.
When Can You Have Sex After Childbirth?
After delivering a baby, a birthing parent may be asking this question with genuine excitement or complete terror. For those who are eager to get back to business, the timeline can vary. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), there is no “set time” for this, but assuming there were no significant complications during pregnancy, labor, or delivery, OB-GYNs will usually clear someone for sex somewhere between four and eight weeks after birth (this usually happens at the postpartum checkup).
However, a green light from your OB-GYN just means that you are physically cleared to have sex again, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re mentally ready. And if you’re not quite there yet, that’s OK.
In her book, Hartman writes, “The time it takes for a woman to be comfortable with sex varies … As a general rule, no one should tell a woman when she should return to penetrative sex. The decision is all hers.”
Hartman reiterates this sentiment in her interview with Pregnancy & Newborn, saying, “Bottom line—if you’re the new mama, it’s your call. You have to be ready both physically and psychologically to go there.” And while she acknowledges that, yes, six weeks postpartum seems to be the “sweet spot” health care providers agree on for sexual activity after childbirth, the truth is that it could take a birthing parent months or even years longer than that to be truly ready because as Hartman notes, “it’s not just your body that determines your ability to get back to pleasurable sex.”
Does Postpartum Sex Feel Different?
It’s undeniable that delivering a baby impacts the birthing parent physically—regardless of whether you had a vaginal delivery or your baby was born via cesarean section (C-section). According to Hartman, “From a physical perspective, most everything in and around your pelvis is impacted in some way [during pregnancy and childbirth]. Your pelvic floor muscles are stressed (they supported a growing baby for 40 weeks!), your pelvic bones shift to prepare for delivery, and your bowel and bladder have spent 10 months putting up with something taking up the space where they normally live and work.”
So, do all of these physical changes affect the way sex feels? The truth is, yes—at first.
“Until the pelvic floor muscles recover following pregnancy and delivery, penile intercourse may not be as satisfying to your partner, as there is less friction and stimulation due to pelvic floor muscle laxity,” says Hartman. Additionally, this laxity can also affect the birthing parent’s pleasure. Hartman explains, “If you have regularly experienced orgasms [pre-baby], you may find that their intensity is less and it is [more difficult] to achieve them than it was before pregnancy.”
There’s good news, though. According to Hartman, as the body recovers “everything typically returns to normal,” though you may benefit from the help of a pelvic floor therapist. “Hopefully, with time and patience, good communication, and sufficient arousal, you can return to intercourse successfully.”
When Will Sex Feel Good Again?
You may find that once you are cleared to have sex again, you and your partner enjoy it just as much as you did pre-baby without any extra effort. While this is great news for those who fall into that category, there are many for whom it’s not as simple. But, don’t stress, with a bit of work you’ll get there.
“Whether you’ve been with your partner for a while and/or have welcomed a baby into your lives, sex is nothing like that hot, lusty, glorious sex you first had together when your relationship was new, you were younger, and your lives were simpler,” explains Hartman. And, it’s safe to say that the addition of a baby—and all of the responsibilities and sleep deprivation that come with it—certainly isn’t going to bring those steamy sessions back. Still, not all hope is lost, “it takes a concerted, joint effort, but pleasurable sex can happen [after the birth of a baby],” says Hartman.
Since getting that spark back will likely take a little effort, there’s no way to pinpoint exactly when your sex life will be where you’d like it to be again. “It depends on the number of pregnancies, your relationship, and your overall drive to make it good,” says Hartman, adding, “If your sex wasn’t great before you got pregnant, it’s going to take a bit more work—but anything is possible!”
Tips for Pleasurable Sex After Childbirth
If you’re ready to liven things up in the bedroom, Hartman does have some suggestions to help speed up the process. After all, no one should have to face a future full of mediocre sex!
- Think about some of the good sex you’ve had in the past (specifically with your partner if the two of you are still together) as a reminder that pleasurable sex is possible and can happen again.
- Consider if there’s anything about your past sex life with your partner that you’d like to change to make things better in the present, and share these thoughts with them so that the two of you can turn these desires into reality.
- Don’t view sex as a chore and don’t rush through it; when you’re in the moment, try to enjoy it as much as possible (though we know this one is often easier said than done when there’s a needy baby to tend to).
- Have an iso-osmolar, pH-balanced vaginal lubricant on hand to combat painful vaginal dryness—especially if you’re using the pill for contraception or are nursing.
- Use an anesthetic, like lidocaine, if you’re experiencing residual pain from the trauma of vaginal birth or an episiotomy.
- Don’t forget the foreplay—including outside the bedroom, like touching, cuddling, kissing, and doing nice things for each other.
- Enlist the help of a vibrator—either solo or with your partner—to help you get aroused. (Note: Plenty of vibrators do not involve penetration, so you can get in the mood without this potential worry.)
Also, keep in mind that even if you’re breastfeeding or your period hasn’t returned, you can still get pregnant. So, if the idea of conceiving another baby is a big turn-off for you right now, be sure to talk to your OB-GYN about birth control options to help eliminate this worry.
Above all else, prioritize communication with your partner. The only way for the two of you to be on the same page is if you are sharing your thoughts and feelings with one another. If you and your partner have put in a solid effort to revive your sex life but you’re continuing to struggle, don’t be afraid to seek professional help—whether it’s for physical discomfort or mental/emotional barriers.