Dirty diapers. Near-endless feedings. Laundry. Laundry. More Laundry. As parents of a newborn, sex may not be something you’re thinking about when you’re in survival mode. It’s particularly difficult for new moms to “switch hats” and get into the mood. Many things change overnight when you become a new mom – your body, your sleep habits, and your priorities. But sex is a healthy part of life, and part of a healthy relationship with your significant other. Before engaging in sex, you may want to consider these things:
Get the Doctor’s Blessing
Before getting intimate, it’s wise to wait until your obstetrician clears you for regular activities. Generally, at six weeks postpartum most women are given the green light to engage in sex. The reason for the six-week hiatus is that if a woman has sex while her cervix is still dilated, she runs the risk of a uterine infection. In addition, if postpartum bleeding hasn't tapered off by the six-week mark, you need to be evaluated to make sure the uterus is shrinking appropriately after giving birth. Having sex before this bleeding stops could complicate matters, and you won’t want another thing to think about when you're already sleep deprived.
Switching Gears May Be Difficult
Something I often hear in my practice is that the partner is ready for sex, but the person who delivered is not quite there yet. This is perfectly normal. Postpartum fluctuation in hormones, body-image challenges – yes, leaky breasts can kill a mood – sleep deprivation, and a host of other new-parent things can put a damper on even the most romantic moments. Communication, patience, and a whole lot of hugging, kissing, and lubricants may help restore intimacy during this transitional time in your life as partners. Start slow and make time for dating. If these feelings persist, talk to your OB/GYN.
Sex May Be Different
Sex may not feel the same after having a baby. The vaginal muscles and pelvis may be stretched out during pregnancy and childbirth. Even women who have delivered by c-section may experience a difference in the way sex feels after giving birth. This is common, and I encourage new moms to engage in Kegel exercises to help strengthen the muscles in their pelvic floors. Other women may experience pain during sex, often related to the decrease in hormone levels after childbirth. For some women, water-based lubricants and taking things slowly may help reduce pain, but if the pain persists, make an appointment and talk to your OB/GYN. There may be something else causing the pain.
In my practice, I’ve had some new moms (a minority) who were ready to start trying for another baby as soon as they had my blessing. The good majority, though, are hoping to plan out some time before another pregnancy. At your six-week postpartum check-up, your obstetrician will ask you what your plans are for contraception, and this is a good time to have an honest conversation with your partner about how you will both work together to prevent another pregnancy until you are both ready. And no, exclusively breastfeeding your baby is not an appropriate method of contraception. There are many options available to couples now, and your obstetrician can help guide you to make a decision that is best suited to your needs.
For the women who are struggling with body image after having a baby, I see you. Insecurity about your body after childbirth is normal – and most new moms looking in the mirror may not recognize the person they once were. Your body did a miraculous thing. Your body protected, housed, and built an entirely new human – one that may not even share your same blood type. Completely distinct from one another – and yet not. The next time you look in the mirror, see your body the way your new baby and your partner do – and walk in confidence.
Dr. Chanelle Clark is an Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist at Kelsey-Seybold’s Pearland Clinic. In addition to labor and delivery, her clinical interests include preventive healthcare; noninvasive surgery, including laparoscopy and hysteroscopy; and management and treatment options for abnormal uterine bleeding.