Sex after a baby – everything you need to know

Thinking about rekindling your sex life after giving birth? We know it can feel challenging, or a bit alien – so we’ve asked the experts (and real parents) to help you get back into the swing of things...

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Let’s face it: sex probs won’t be the first thing on your mind when you’ve just had a baby.

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You’re still recovering physically, you’re exhausted from those night feeds, your body may look and feel a bit different, you may well have a pair of not-so-sexy leaky boobs and you’ve almost certainly got emotions running high, if not all over the place.

Add in your partner’s tiredness, both of you adjusting to #newbornlife and any extra work/home life stresses – and you’ve got yourself a cocktail of ‘yep, definitely no sex for us right now’.

It’s likely you’ve got a bunch of questions about having sex post-giving birth, and we don’t blame you. Our mums, a few sexperts and the MFM team do our best to answer them all for you…

Is there a ‘right time’ to have sex after having a baby?

If you’ve had a trouble-free birth, you may want to give it a few weeks before you try having sex again.

“It is advised that you wait around 2-4 weeks before intercourse, until bleeding has stopped otherwise you can be at a higher risk of haemorrhage and infection,” say Beccy Hands and Alexis Stickland, the expert midwife/doula duo who co-authored The Little Book of Self-Care for New Mums.

Beyond that, it’s really up to you when the ‘right time’ is. “There is no rush, and no right or wrong time, only what feels right for you and your partner.

“Just let that reconnection happen at a pace you feel comfortable with and keep talking about it together.”

‘The best time to have sex again is when you feel like it,” agrees social psychologist Dr Sandra Wheatley. “3 months is the average, but it can take up to a year to feel comfortable physically and emotionally.”

The reality is, everyone is different, as one on our MFMers, Karen J, sharp found out.

“How long it took each of us to have sex again after birth became a bit of a talking point in our mums group,” she confesses.

“It was reassuring when other mums confessed they still weren’t up for it, 4 months later.

“But there was always one person who’d practically been at it a day after giving birth, and it made me feel a bit inadequate.”

Of course, whether you’re able to get intimate may also depend on the type of birth you had, and whether or not it was smooth sailing…

How long should you wait to have sex after a C-section?

If you’ve had a C-section, or birth using forceps or an episiotomy, or you’ve had a tear, you may need to wait a little longer.

“If you have had a tear or episiotomy and stitches then it is advised that you wait until your 6 week check with the GP,” say Beccy and Alexis.

“Don’t be surprised if you suffer with soreness down there after a C-section, we have had many clients who were shocked by vaginal soreness, even though they didn’t have a vaginal birth, but this is caused by low postnatal levels of oestrogen, which effects the elasticity of the vaginal tissues too.”

Mum Lisamarie L says initially found sex uncomfortable after her caesarean, but eventually managed to get back into the swing of things.

“It was a shock,” she says, “to get to the stage where you’re comfortable to have sex again only to find that it is physically impossible.”

Lisa talked through her worries with her partner, and they worked around their problems. 

“It’s taken 6 months to get back to normal, and it’s down to an understanding husband who let me lead the way. Don’t feel shy about telling your partner the problem – tension will make things worse.”

We’d say it’s important to listen to your body – as every woman’s journey will be different.

Can you think about sex if you’ve had a tear, or are ‘dry’ down there?

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Again, it’s something to bring up with your GP at your 6-week check-up.

Giving birth is no easy feat, no matter what kind of labour you have. So it’s no shock that it can translate into physical symptoms, including soreness and dryness during sex.

It’s important to listen to your body when you’re re-exploring your sex life, but also to know that these discomforts shouldn’t last forever.

If you’ve had a tear, it’s best to keep an eye on how it’s healing, before thinking about jumping back into bed.

“The best way to see if your tears are healing is to check your vagina with a mirror,” says sex expert Rachel Foux, “but if you’re not keen, ask the GP to do this.” Any dryness, explains midwife Anne, is usually hormone-related.

“A drop in hormones after birth mean that some women notice their vagina is drier when it comes to sex, and they may need to use a lubricant… but your hormones will return to normal eventually.”

If you find that your brain is ready to resume having sex – but your body’s not – it can feel like a real strain. Just remember that things will improve, and if months go by and you’ve noticed no change, it’s totally a good idea to speak to your GP again.

Can I get pregnant if I have sex shortly after giving birth?

Again, the answer to this is a big fat YES. It’s absolutely possible to get pregnant shortly after giving birth.

You can get pregnant even if your periods have yet to return, so make sure you use contraception if you don’t want to risk it.

Fear of having another baby too soon can put a brake on your sex life. So, removing this anxiety may help kick-start your libido.

(Check out our guide to the most/least effective post-baby contraceptives)

Can I have sex if I’m still breastfeeding?

Yes, you can have sex while you’re breastfeeding. In fact, depending on which expert you ask, breastfeeding might even make you more keen to get busy.

Midwife Anne Richley explains: “Prolactin, the hormone needed for producing milk, can reduce libido. “But breastfeeding also produces oxytocin, the love hormone, so some women find that they have an increased sex drive.”

Don’t forget: you CAN get pregnant while you’re breastfeeding, so you’ll need to think about contraception if you don’t want another baby ASAP.

(More on getting pregnant while breastfeeding…)

How will post-baby sex feel?

This is a question and a half. One we can’t really answer. Know that it will be different for every new mother.

What’s right for your new mum friends might not be right for you, and it’s important to keep that in mind.

Physically, you may have some discomfort, such as the dryness or soreness we mentioned earlier.

If you’ve had a vaginal delivery you may notice some loss of sensation when you have intercourse, as during the birth the vagina will have been stretched to accommodate your baby.

The good news is that, like any other muscle, the vagina can be toned up again through exercise – especially by working on your pelvic floor muscles.

Emotionally-speaking, there’s no telling how you’ll feel once you’ve re-opened this part of your life.

You may feel a swell of emotion, you may feel conflicted about being sexual now that you’re a mum – or you may feel totally normal and find not much has changed.

Things can also feel different and emotional for your partner. So, communicating about how you’re both feeling re: the sexy stuff is super important.

One thing it’s never OK to feel is pressured. Make sure you feel 100% ready to re-open this part of your life before having sex again.

Can I still have an orgasm after giving birth?

Yep, you will be able to have orgasms after giving birth – though it may take a bit of time to get there.

“[Orgasms] can take more time,” says Rachel. “It’s stressful being on call, 24 hours a day as a mum, so letting go enough to climax can be overwhelming.”

Take it easy, take the pressure off, and focus on having fun in other ways and enjoying your partner ?

The good news? Some women find it’s actually easier to have an orgasm after becoming a mum. Woo!

Will sex feel different for my partner?

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It depends. But even if your partner notices your vagina feels less tight after the birth, it’s worth remembering that most men don’t really have an issue with it.

In fact, we’d wager that they’ll just delighted to have intimacy with you again!

Many partners are completely in awe of you after being there during the birth, too, so any loss of tone will be minor  in the grand scheme of things.

My libido has changed dropped since giving birth – how do I handle it?

It’s natural for your libido to change after giving birth. Some women will find it’s higher than usual. Others will find the opposite.

(Don’t forget, your partner’s desire levels may change too, in both ways.)

So, how do you go about handling things if you’re not even thinking about sex at all – but your partner is?

“It’s important to feel like a couple again, rather than just parents,” says relationship counsellor Val Sampson.

“If your sole role in life is “baby carer”, you won’t feel sexual. It’s important to free up time, to go out, and do things that make you feel good.”

And if that’s not being in the mood, it’s worth making time in your relationship for other kinds of physical intimacy and closeness – even when you’re exhausted from baby duties.

“Our Sexy hormone is Oxytocin and this hormone is released when we are relaxed and feel safe and rested,” say Beccy and Alexis.

“Ways to encourage oxytocin production, reconnect physically with your partner and feel more in the mood are as follows:

  • having time out
  • having a soak in the bath
  • having some skin to skin with your partner (not just for mum and baby!)
  • Get your partner to give you a relaxing massage
  • go for a nice brisk walk to encourage endorphin release.

“Masturbation, can also be a great way to ease yourself gently back into the world of sex. “You can take your time, go at your own pace and remind yourself how to enjoy your body in that way again.”

“Tiredness can make you feel irritable and snappy, but being held and stroked can be soothing,” adds Val.

And Dr Wheatley suggests: “The real relationship killer is loss of intimacy… so, try to keep your relationship tactile by kissing, cuddling, and being tender – small gestures go a long way.”

Think: how does your partner show their love, and how do you usually show it back? Do they bring you little presents, cook for you, or are they very physically affectionate?

These kinds of gestures are called ‘love languages’. It might be worth thinking about your partner’s love language, and your own, and how you can both show affection to each other in ways that make you feel loved, while you’re dealing with the libido change.

We’d also suggest talking openly and honestly about a loss of libido – rather than sweeping it under the rug and hoping it goes away. Because it won’t!

Do I need to start having sex again after giving birth at all?

A lack of sex is OK as long as it doesn’t bother either of you – a secure relationship where both parties are satisfied with the status quo isn’t going to fall apart because passion is on the back-burner.

“Don’t let a lack of sex become a taboo subject – tell your partner how you’re feeling,” advises Dr Wheatley.

Assuming you’ve enjoyed a healthy sex life prior to the birth, it is crucial not to let a break become a more permanent state, says relationship counsellor Val Sampson.

“Sex is important. It’s more than a physical act – it’s an emotional connection. Plus, it releases hormones that bond you together.”

If post-birth celibacy goes on for too long, one of you may not be happy with it – and this can lead to communication issues and resentments down the road.

Again, talk to your partner, and tell them how you’re feeling.

I want to have sex but I don’t have time…

If you’re ready or open to having sex as a new parent, you might find your biggest hurdle is: time! Babies, after all, are a 24/7 job.

Flexibility and foresight are key here. “Night feeds and early waking make it difficult to find the time and space for sex,” says GP Catherine Hood, who specialises in post-pregnancy sex. 

“Meet up for sex when the children are in childcare or during the baby’s nap. It may seem contrived, but it’s a practical way to keep your sex life going.”

There’s also, whenever you’re ready, the option of a night in a hotel and hiring a babysitter – if you can afford it.

Scheduling time for sex might seem the opposite of romantic, but planning ahead to spend some quality time together can’t hurt, right?

Though Beccy and Alexis remind you to keep the pressure off: “Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, take it slowly, you’ll get there, but just remember not to worry and try and have some fun on the way!”

The Little Book of Self Care for New Mums, written by Beccy Hands & Alexis Stickland, is out now. Rachel Foux is a sexual educator and author of The New Mum’s Guide to Sex.

Have your say

Do you have a post-baby sex experience you’d like to share?

Perhaps you’ve got some advice for new mums who are struggling to make time for sex, or are feeling the pressure to get back into the swing of things?

We’d love to hear from you, whatever your story, in the comments below… 

Images: Getty Images

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