If the thought of having sex again after giving birth chills you to your very core, chances are you’re not ready for it yet. And that’s okay. It can take a while to be physically and mentally prepared for sex postpartum. But it will happen! (Seriously… it happens, otherwise you wouldn’t see families with multiple children, right?)
Whether you’re coming to terms with your newfound life of celibacy (just kidding), or keen as a bean for some sexy times without that baby bump getting in the way, we got the scoop on postpartum sex from Sydney-based women’s health physio Brooke Blair. Here’s her advice.
Get your timing right
Brooke shared that most OBGYNs give women the go-ahead to return to sex at 6 weeks post birth, once they’ve had their medical check. But don’t feel pressured to rush home from your 6-week checkup to dim the lights and play Barry White. In reality, there’s no set time that women should be ready for sex again.
“Returning to sex will depend on when YOU are ready,” Brooke said. “This will be based on your recovery from birth (mental, emotional and physical).”
There is NO pressure, mama! But Brooke did have one practical tip: “I recommend that women wait at least a week after their postpartum bleeding has stopped, as there’s less risk of infection.”
Other than this, it will come down to when you’re feeling it. For some women that may be earlier than 6 weeks, for others it may be a few months. There’s really no right or wrong.
Brooke added, “You should be the one in control, so you can be in charge of the depth, speed and pressure, and can stop it at any time if there’s discomfort.”
In saying that, you may need a few attempts. Give yourself a break – a lot’s changed for you down there!
Be prepared for it to feel different
There are obviously logistical reasons that sex is different as a parent (like, how can you do it without your kids overhearing?), but it may feel different as well. Especially at first.
If you’ve had a caesarean, Brooke said, “pain can be common, as the pelvic floor may be tighter. I see it a lot in the clinic. Relaxation work can assist with this.”
If you had a vaginal birth, she said, “there may be scars and stretching that cause a change of sensation. The pelvic nerves and muscles get stretched during a vaginal birth, so sensation may be reduced.”
But before you resign to a lifetime of faking it, note that this can be worked on too! Brooke shared that scar tissue can cause “stinging/burning/stretching or pain. Massaging the scar can desensitise it and stop this discomfort from occurring.”
It’s not just your birth battle scars that can affect the sensation of sex. If you’re breastfeeding or pumping, you may be experiencing a drought down below. Reduced oestrogen can result in a drier, less lubricated vagina. But the solution for that is pretty straightforward:
“Lube is the best thing!” Brooke shared. “Oil-based lube is wonderful if you’re not using condoms as contraception. Otherwise water-based lube is great for women using condoms.”
Finally, Brooked warned that, “Some women may also experience a hitting discomfort on deeper penetration. This could be because the cervix is temporarily or permanently sitting lower after carrying a baby or birthing, or it could be due to tightness in the pelvic floor.”
If sex doesn’t feel very sexy after you’ve given birth, you can visit a women’s health physio for a handy postpartum checkup.
A physio can help
“A tailored pelvic floor program is ideal for all women after their birth,” Brooke shared. “This will look different to everyone. It may involve:
- Learning to relax the pelvic floor muscles to create more space and reduce discomfort.
- Strengthening the deep pelvic floor muscle (the sensation of lifting your anus up) to assist in vaginal sensation.
- Strengthening the muscles at the entrance to the vagina (the front squeeze sensation) to assist in increasing sensation and contributing to orgasm.”
If discussing the intimate mechanics of sex with a complete stranger sounds just about as delightful to you as squeezing out another baby, rest assured, this is a daily conversation for physios like Brooke. They know their stuff, and will give you practical solutions to get you back on deck.
They’ve even got access to useful tools to assist in reducing pain and increasing pleasure. Saucy tools such as electrical stimulation machines, pessaries and vaginal weights – yes please!
Sometimes the issue isn’t to do with muscle function. Brooke said, “If we assess the pelvic floor and find the muscles are working well, however arousal and pleasure sensations are reduced, we can discuss other options to assist, like foreplay and strategies to increase sensation.”
What to do if sex feels painful
If sex is painful for you, do this:
- Let your partner know, and refrain from sex for the time being (calm down, it’s not forever!)
- Call your local women’s health physio (if you haven’t already) and book an appointment.
There can be a few reasons for painful sex. “Dryness is a huge contributing factor,” Brooke mentioned, along with “scar tissue tension, pelvic floor muscle tension, prolapse and nerve sensitivity. Each reason requires a different type of treatment, so it’s always best to be assessed to know exactly what your body needs to get back to pain-free sex.”
Expert Contributor: Brooke Blair
Brooke is a female health physio based in Sydney. You can find her on Instagram here.