The progression from sex to pregnancy is logical and clear, in fact it happens approximately 130 million times each year across the globe. But the progression from childbirth back to sex demands effort and information that a lot of women just aren’t given.
When pregnancy and birth are placed under the authority of doctors and other health-care professionals, it is not surprising that trying to get pregnant or having sex during and after pregnancy are sometimes treated as medical procedures. It may be easier both for “patients” and for health-care professionals to talk about diseases or symptoms than to speak about sex, so usually it just doesn’t get discussed.
If you have questions and you feel awkward asking your doctor or health-care provider, or if their difficulty to talk to you about sexual issues leaves you dissatisfied, consider finding the information online on reputed health sites, where you can ask a qualified health or sex educator.
In the weeks and months leading up to a birth, a woman may be unconcerned with when she may be able to get back to having sex. Most women accept the general instructions of doctors and childbirth books, which recommend waiting 6 weeks after birth before having full penetrative sex. With all the thoughts of looming motherhood, especially with first-time moms, planning for sex after the birth, may be like asking a recent Tsunami victim where they plan to take their next seaside holiday.
But when the time comes, the 6-week suggestion actually intimidates more women than it helps. After all, 6 weeks is the minimal period of time to allow healing of the physical trauma of childbirth. A lot of new mothers report feeling no inclination to return to sex at this point, but sense that they are not normal for feeling this way.
The sex life of a couple after childbirth is something that needs to be dealt with, whether it is active or not. A couple needs to find ways to recognize each others’ needs and understand that without working on this element of the relationship, there will be excess stress, which is definitely unnecessary at this sensitive and pressured time. It does not mean one person must be coerced into providing a sexual outlet for the other, when they are tired, sore or for whatever reason not interested. It could be helpful to increase the level of non-sexual intimacy, between the parents and between father and baby.
Despite the vast range between different women in terms of how soon their body feels ready to return to sexual activity in the months following a birth, there are some common experiences, which are likely to create difficulties and need to be spoken about.
Lack of sleep and fatigue discourage any activity which will compete with precious hours of sleep; it also leads to irritability and impatience and can drive a couple away from each other.
One way of dealing with this is to try to find time for sex earlier in the day, as opposed to late at night, after a grueling day. You can take advantage of the baby’s nap time or better yet – when you know the baby is safe in someone else’s care, outside of the house.
Many women feel like strangers in their own bodies after giving birth, between the weight gain and changes in their body shape and characteristics. The unfortunate, mistaken relationship between weight and one’s sense of sexiness, can prevent intimacy at a time when acceptance and encouragement are needed. Women need to speak to their partners about this and work on letting go of expectations to have another body immediately.
This can be seen as an opportunity to enjoy a sex life with a whole new body – maybe not one that is featured in Sports Illustrated, but certainly one that behaves differently and offers some surprises, even to those who knew it well.
Breastfeeding, when done in conjunction with good nutrition, usually – but not always – leads to a loss of the weight gained during pregnancy. In fact, it allows a woman to lose those really special additions, such as the weight gained on the hips, which is otherwise especially difficult to shed.
More good news is that there are some women who report better orgasms after giving birth! Although the vagina is stretched following a vaginal birth, Kegel exercises are easy to learn and very helpful in regaining muscle tone in the vagina and returning it to its previous shape. If, even with Kegel practice, “leakage” persists, you should consult with a doctor or pelvic floor physiotherapist, who will give you more advanced techniques to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
In addition to the pain and fatigue that deflate sexual desire in the weeks after birth, there are also hormonal changes, and we all know how much fun they can be.
The post-natal hormones depress the release of testosterone, which women should have in low levels, and which is considered the main chemical factor involved in sexual desire. The Oxytocin that is released during breastfeeding, creates feelings of calm and pleasure, but brings down testosterone levels. This affects different women in different ways, since a woman’s psychological state is as important a component, or possibly more so, than her hormonal state.
If desire remains low when a mother stops breastfeeding, it may be worthwhile to check if her testosterone production has been affected; this is an imbalance that is easily treated.
Fear of Pain During Intercourse
You don’t need to have penetrative sex to feel intimate! If a couple has not yet learned to differentiate between sex and closeness, then this is the time to learn. It is really important not to hurry back to penetration according to anyone else’s timetable.
A woman who was torn or was stitched can need an even longer period to heal. The healing process after an episiotomy can take up to four months. Lubricant, especially Vitamin-E oil, can help on sensitive areas, to ease the intensity of the contact and heal the tissue.
Sharing between the Partner and the Baby
Many women express difficulty in sharing their breasts between their partner and their baby. This may represent one of the main crises that motherhood brings: beginning to deal with your body and self-image as an erotic creature and a motherly figure at the same time.
In order to return to a rich sex life, there is really no choice but to overcome this conflict. In the meantime, however, it is possible to apply first aid to the injury: if during the breastfeeding period, seeing the breasts as a sexual object prevents a woman from relaxing and wanting sex, the partner can be encouraged to discover (or rediscover) the many other areas of her body that the baby has no use for. How about revisiting some of those surprising positions you discovered during pregnancy…
In sex, as in sex, communication is the key. Sexual communication, if done honestly, is complicated, since it touches on our deepest feelings and fears. This gets even tougher when the ones that we are closest to and comfortable speaking to, don’t have all the correct information. Other women are often a good resource when it comes to sensitive, personal issues. Sharing our cumulative experience can be very helpful in feeling better about yourself, releasing frustrations and collecting information. Sexuality after childbirth is a perfect example of an issue that can be so difficult to deal with without guidance and support. Just remember that a small number of experiences should never be treated as the norm, so seek out the range of experiences that make up the norm. Our friends can be very important parts of our understanding and even practicing open communication, but it is crucial to recognize when to turn to a professional.
Ultimately, we should never allow sex to become routine. Allow pregnancy and birth to provide an opportunity to refresh old habits and shake it up a bit.