Your Guide To Sex & Intimacy After Giving Birth, From Sexual Health Experts
There are a number of things to consider when having sex after giving birth, from how soon you can actually do it to what bodily and hormonal changes you should expect. So, we asked experts for their best sex advice in the weeks following delivery.
How soon after birth is it OK to have sex?
It's generally recommended that women wait six weeks to have intercourse after delivery, functional medicine gynecologist Wendie Trubow, M.D., MBA, tells mbg. "The tissue can take four to six weeks to fully heal—either vaginal or cesarean tissue—so it's best to wait the full six weeks."
Always double-check with your doctor when it comes to individual needs and timeline, though. And as certified sex therapist De-Andrea Blaylock-Johnson, LCSW, CST, adds, you also want to listen to your body. "It really depends on the individual, and you may need more than six weeks, and that's perfectly OK," she says.
Important things to keep in mind:
1. You may be tender.
You might be wondering if having sex after giving birth is painful. It can be, according to Trubow, which is why it's important to give yourself time to heal, as well as to be mindful when you do have sex. "The vagina may be tender if a woman had any tearing, so it's important to not rush," she says, adding that it may be important not to jump right into vaginal intercourse without engaging in some other sexual play first.
2. It might take longer to get aroused.
"Because nursing often suppresses ovulation, women typically feel like their libido is less when nursing," Trubow explains. "It's still possible to become aroused and have an orgasm; it just may take longer."
Having a new baby is also obviously an exhausting change, she adds, which can also take a toll on libido. "Women often need more [warming up] when in the immediate postpartum time since their focus is often on their newborn," she explains.
3. You might want to spend more time with different types of sexual play.
Trubow recommends prioritizing sexual activities other than intercourse, aka what some people refer to as "foreplay." She adds that it can take up to 30 minutes for a woman's vagina to lengthen fully through arousal and stimulation, so if vaginal intercourse is something you want to engage in, it's important to start with some other fun sexual play first. "And that makes intercourse more pleasurable and less uncomfortable," she explains.
4. You can get pregnant postpartum.
Yes, you can get pregnant postpartum, Trubow says. Nursing does often inhibit ovulation, though not always, she says. You also ovulate before you have your first period post-delivery. "So, if you have unprotected intercourse and think you're fine since you haven't had a period yet, you could get pregnant if you're ovulating, and you wouldn't know it for a while," she explains. So she says it's important to use protection to prevent an immediate pregnancy, in case a woman is quick to ovulate after delivery.
5. You may experience higher libido when you ovulate.
While libido may be lower following delivery and during nursing, women may experience higher libido when they start to ovulate again, according to Trubow. You may notice a boost to your libido during ovulation, so that may be a good time to prioritize sex.
6. Your body is going through a lot.
It's important to give yourself grace and have realistic expectations around sex after delivery, according to Blaylock-Johnson. "Your body may not do exactly the things it did before childbirth, but you can still have pleasurable, enjoyable sexual experiences," she says.
She adds that fluctuating hormones can affect not only your libido but how well you naturally lubricate, and more. If you didn't have any challenges with that before childbirth, you may have some challenges now, and that's OK, she adds.
Tips for enhancing the experience:
1. Nurse first.
According to Trubow, if a woman is nursing, "it's often helpful to nurse and then empty the breasts by pumping, to avoid having a milk letdown with nipple stimulation."
2. Take your time.
Trubow also advises taking your time when it comes to postpartum sex, both in terms of how long you wait after delivery but also taking your time during the sex itself. If you want to wait longer than six weeks to have sex, that's totally OK, she notes. And during intercourse, "if there is vaginal penetration, go slowly at the beginning," she adds.
3. Don't jump straight into intercourse.
There are many different kinds of sex to enjoy, only one of which is penis-in-vagina intercourse, notes Blaylock-Johnson. Even if that's one sexual act that you're definitely wanting to have, Trubow says it's important to start with other types of sexual play. Not only is clitoral stimulation more likely to make a woman reach orgasm, but it'll also help the vagina to lengthen so penetration is more comfortable. Again, it can take up to 30 minutes of arousal and stimulation for the vagina to lengthen fully.
4. Figure out positions that feel good for you.
After the healing period, Trubow says most positions should be fine. That said, she notes, "sometimes after a cesarean section, positions that minimize the depth of penetration are more comfortable," so you may want to avoid legs over the partner's shoulders or doggy style.
5. Try pelvic floor exercises.
According to Blaylock-Johnson, it's not a bad idea to work your pelvic floor muscles post-delivery, and even consider working with a pelvic floor physical therapist if needed. "Kegels are great, but I think taking it a step further and working with a pelvic floor physical therapist can be beneficial," she says, so you ensure you're working and rehabilitating those muscles properly.
6. Use lubricant.
Because vaginal dryness isn't uncommon following delivery, both Blaylock-Johnson and Trubow recommend using lubricant when you need it. "It's perfectly OK to find a lube that works well with your body," Blaylock-Johnson tells mbg. She adds that if you're not using barrier methods with your partner, coconut oil as lube works well. If you are using protection, however, "then look at a good water-based or silicone-based lube," she says. (Here are our fave natural lubes.)
Last but certainly not least, a new baby brings many changes, including to your sex life, so take some time to figure out what works for you now. And as Blaylock-Johnson notes, you don't have to limit your sexual experiences solely to intercourse, either. "There are so many other ways you can experience pleasure outside of penis-and-vagina intercourse," she adds.
Why maintaining intimacy is important.
In the days, weeks, months, and (let's be honest) even years following the birth of a child, it's important for parents to continually work on maintaining an intimate relationship as partners. And that doesn't just mean sexual intimacy, though it's certainly a factor.
Make time for each other, Blaylock-Johnson recommends—for sex but also just to be together and connect. "I often see couples becoming so lost in the new role of parent that they forget to be partners, so it's important that you prioritize time to connect," she notes.
Even if it's just taking a few minutes while your baby is sleeping, sit down and check in with each other, she suggests. "And if you have the luxury of having someone to help with child care," she adds, "then definitely set up date nights if you can."
In short, she recommends maximizing your time together, especially away from screens. "If you can just prioritize that time to be partners outside of parents," she says, "that will help keep the spark alive."
The bottom line.
Having a baby affects virtually every area of your life, including your sex life. But that doesn't mean your sex life has to suffer—and neither does the intimacy between you and your partner. Understanding what's happening with your body, taking it slow, and experimenting with what works will all help as you and your partner get back into the groove while navigating having a new child.
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