Your intimate questions, answered
Now that your baby is here, when will you be ready to have sex again? Many new mums worry about intimacy following pregnancy, explains Yvonne Eve Walus.
“The baby’s here – when can I have sex again?”
Asking when can you have sex again is a bit like asking how long a piece of string is. For a few days or weeks after you give birth, you’ll seem to have a very heavy period, whether you give birth vaginally or have a C-section. The old wisdom of waiting at least six weeks is well-supported by modern science: It takes 40+ days for your “lady parts” to heal sufficiently to permit a full sexual intercourse. Even if you’ve had a C-section, you will still need to wait until you’ve been given the all-clear by your Lead Maternity Carer. They will check that your incision is healing well and that your postpartum bleeding has stopped. While you wait, you may be able to engage in a few physical activities that are both pleasurable as well as safe for your recovering body.
Back to the future
While your sex life after baby may be slow to take off, it’s important to keep in mind that things will go back to (more or less) normal. Over time, as you and your partner settle into your roles at parents, you will find ways to enjoy sex again.
“What changes can I expect in my body?”
Your internal furniture gets rearranged during vaginal birth. The baby puts a lot of pressure on your perineum, cervix, and vagina. Some women report that the vaginal walls feel different, or that the shape of the vaginal tunnel has altered. Even after a C-section, if you pushed beforehand, your vagina may have undergone strain. Says one Auckland mum, “I was lucky to have a relatively quick labour, and no stitches afterwards. But as soon as I went to shower, I discovered something hanging between my legs. Upon a hasty mirror examination, I discovered that my perineum had stretched, and now looked like a deflated purple balloon.” If you’ve had a C-section, your vaginal region won’t feel as traumatised, but you’ll be recovering from major abdominal surgery, so the healing period will be weeks. At first, the scar will be swollen, but it’ll shrink around the six-week mark. Eventually, it’ll fade and hide in your pubic hair. You may find sex painful due to your healing incision, but if the discomfort continues, consult your doctor or midwife. If you’re breastfeeding, your breasts may be leaky, rock-hard with milk, or super sensitive. Or you may feel that breasts are for the baby, and feel uncomfortable including them in sexual activities.
“What if I have stitches or tearing?”
Many women feel sore after giving birth, whether they’ve had an episiotomy or not. But when you’ve had stitches, pain during sex is very common in the first few months. If months have passed and things still feel too tight, the problem may be that your scars are making the area difficult to stretch, so do consult a specialist.
“What will sex feel like after giving birth?”
Expect to use a lot of lube to begin with. It’s not that you’re not physically excited; it’s just that the post-pregnancy hormones are making you dry. The first few times you have sex, you may notice some pain or numbness in the area – sometimes, bizarrely, both pain and numbness at the same time.
It doesn’t have to be all about sex
Intimacy doesn’t necessarily have to mean sex, or even cuddling. It can simply involve being with one another, talking, paying attention, listening, sharing your thoughts and your fears, complimenting, and making each other feel important. It’s all too easy to let the daily chores and the baby’s demands encroach on your time as a couple – physical time as well as emotional time. Remember that true intimacy is all about the connection, and about all the reasons you fell in love in the first place.
“What about my pregnancy weight?”
Now, you know how they said that when you breastfeed, you’d lose all the weight you’d put on during pregnancy? They lied. You may actually gain weight when breastfeeding, especially if you take supplements to maintain your milk supply. And even when you do reach your pre-pregnancy weight, you may still not fit into your favourite jeans, because your bones are now further apart. Postpartum hip changes are due to the hormone released during pregnancy to help loosen the pelvic joints and ligaments.
“Why am I so scared to do it again?”
Speak to your doctor or midwife if you feel anxious about sexual relations. They may be able to put your mind at ease. You may also experience “baby blues” or have symptoms of PND. If you feel lethargic for more than three days in a row, seek help, because the problem is bigger than the having-sex-again issue.
“Will my body ever be the same?”
Sorry, this may not be quite what you want to hear, but it’s highly unlikely that your vagina will return to normal, though it may be very close. One of the great things about the vagina is that it has not only the elasticity to expand but also the capacity to shrink again. Your stretch marks and scars will fade. There is even cosmetic surgery if you don’t like the flabby skin on your tummy or the way things look “downstairs”. However, you will most likely develop acceptance for your new “mum” body.
“I’m all touched out or too tired. How can I get my mojo back?”
Before you can feel sexy again, remember that you have to look after yourself. As mums, we tend to look after the baby and our partner, leaving no time at all to take care of our own physical and emotional needs. Be very kind to yourself. Schedule me-time regularly: Go for a walk all by yourself, sit in a café, have a bubble bath, let your partner babysit while you catch up on your favourite TV programme. Get enough sleep – nobody feels sexy when they’re sleep-deprived. Even if you have some extra baby weight to shed, you should feel more beautiful than ever, amazed at your body’s miraculous accomplishment: You made a baby! You have huge boobs and a fertile belly, and any scars or stretchmarks are your battlefield medals.
“How can I make time for intimacy?”
Make intimacy with your partner a priority, one that’s only just less important than taking care of the baby. Naturally, the baby has to be fed and happy and have a dry nappy, but the dishes and the vacuuming can wait. Ironing doesn’t need to happen for at least six months (if you need business shirts with no creases, try drip-drying them), and dinner can consist of popcorn and fruit every now and again (give your partner the choice of popcorn for dinner and sex, or lasagne and no sex, and see what he thinks). Rethink other activities: Do grocery shopping online, limit the time you spend posting photos of the baby, talk on the phone while sorting the laundry, check emails while breastfeeding, sing lullabies while moisturising?
It’s important to use contraception unless you’re okay with getting pregnant again. Contrary to what you may have heard, breastfeeding is not a reliable form of birth control, and you can get pregnant even if your period hasn’t returned yet. Talk to your doctor or midwife about your options.