Postpartum sex can be a potential minefield of fears, insecurities, and frustrations. But does it have to be?
Rebecca here on the blog today!
My baby boy came into this world with a bang–and by “with a bang” I mean I pushed him out in 5 contractions leaving me with a bad 3rd degree tear. I made the mistake of looking at the diagrams of the difference between the tears like 48 hours after delivery–I seriously regret that.
While I was at my check-ups with my midwives a few weeks later, I had a major panic attack while they examined my stitches. Like shaking, sobbing hysterically, almost fell off the examination table in sheer panic kind of attack. And so naturally that led them to having a long talk with me about postpartum recovery and especially postpartum sex since I was having so much anxiety about what was going on with my tear recovery.
I went into that appointment a complete mess. I left the appointment feeling heard, understood, and hopeful that maybe things would be able to get back to normal. So I wanted to share with you 10 key things that my midwives told me that helped curb the anxiety and send me on my way towards healing, thereby helping my marriage during the postpartum time!
1. Your body may recover at a different rate than other women’s
And yes, you do have a different vagina now. That’s OK, this is all normal. As my midwife said, “Childbirth just changes things.” And those changes mean recovery matters.
The 6 week mark is the bare minimum that doctors recommend to be put aside for recovery before having sex. The minimum. That means many women may (and do!) need more. And that is perfectly OK.
And that woman you may be comparing yourself to may also be yourself–if you had a kid in the past and you were ready and rarin’ to go at the 6-week mark but this time you’re just not feeling ready physically, you are not a failure. If you have friends who didn’t seem to have any problems and you just aren’t able to have sex for months after the baby is born, just keep plugging away at your recovery and keep trying until it works. Let your body do what it needs to do–very, very, very few women have long-lasting problems with sexual pain following pregnancy. But many women take longer than 6 weeks to be able to have sex.
2. Postpartum sex doesn’t start with sex
You’re going to need to get to know your body again, re-teach it to get aroused, relax, and enjoy sex! So the whole conversation around postpartum sex isn’t just about “the deed”–you start with cuddling naked, kissing, massaging, touching, using your mouth, and only when you feel very, very ready you actually begin having intercourse.
This helps teach your body–which has just gone through a ton of trauma–how to respond to sexual stimulation again. And it also helps you know when you ARE ready for sex, because suddenly while you’re cuddling and kissing your body responds and you know you may be ready to try.
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3. You are not failing your husband if you need time to recover
Women who only need 6 weeks or less before they can have sex postpartum are not “better wives” than women who need longer.
Let me repeat that: you are not a “bad wife” for giving your body the time it needs to recover.
Your responsibility during the postpartum period is to recover physically and figure out how to keep your little baby fed and happy. That’s it! You did not have control over how your body reacted to labour, and if your husband is making you feel guilty for having scar tissue or having pain so bad you cannot have sex for a long time postpartum that is completely on him. He vowed to love you in sickness and in health–this is part of the “in sickness.” So give yourself time to recover and do not feel guilty that your body–after ejecting a human–is taking a while to sort itself out.
4. Your husband does not “need” sex during this time
Men actually can go for extended periods of time without having sex. It’s perfectly normal. In fact, my midwives didn’t even mention the fact that he “needs” sex, or show him any sympathy for how difficult it might be that he’s not getting any for longer than expected. They saw how supportive and encouraging Connor was towards me and fully expected him to be able to be encouraging and supportive even if sex was off the table for a while.
My physiotherapist, too, had no qualms in telling me I was not cleared to have sex for lot longer than 6 weeks after taking a look at my tear. Medical professionals, who deal with these issues day in and day out, know that it is incredibly realistic to expect men to forego sex while their wives recover. That is the loving thing to do, to forego one’s wants to ensure the other gets what she needs. His sexual desires are not more important than your physical recovery needs.
Connor has been (unsurprisingly) amazing with this–again and again he has told me, “I’d rather we wait for longer and not bring sexual pain into our marriage than that we have sex sooner/more frequently.” To him, my pain trumps everything else. Why would he want to do something that he knows may cause me pain if he loves me? It was a no-brainer to him, just like it was to my midwives and my physiotherapist.
If your husband is not taking your pain seriously, or is primarily focused on getting sex even if it causes you pain or is not pleasurable due to other discomfort, please know that it is not normal and not necessary to be treated that way. He does not “need” sex–he will not die if he does not get sex. So this is his chance to be a sacrificially loving husband and put his needs aside and take care of you–the woman who just gave birth to his child.
Postpartum sex can be a potential minefield of fears, insecurities, and frustrations.
5. Seek professional and/or medical help when necessary
Pelvic floor physiotherapy is a gift from God, truly. If you have literally any issue with your pelvic floor, whether it’s scar tissue from a tear or simply incontinence after giving birth, see one. They can help so much with a variety of women’s health issues. It is worth the investment.
But the other thing is don’t be afraid to seek professional mental health help, too, in the postpartum period. Even if you don’t suffer with PPD (postpartum depression), you can benefit from some talk therapy as you settle into this new life. If you do suffer with PPD, please do talk to a medical professional and a counselor to get the therapy and possibly medication that you need. Don’t be afraid to look for help, it can make a big difference for you, for your marriage, for your family.
6. Sleep really does wonders for your sex life
I do have to say, a sleep principles course we did with Alex was a life-changer for us. Two of our TLHV readers actually sent me a link to Taking Cara Babies within a week of us announcing our pregnancy, and we are so grateful they did!
At 5 weeks we did her newborn course (it’s a no-cry sleep principles method appropriate for young babies). When we started, Connor and I had literally no time alone because the baby was always sleeping on my chest or had to be hand-rocked in the bassinet to stay asleep. By the end of the first week after her course Alex napped in his crib in his own room and went to bed on his own at approximately the same time every night, giving us 2 hours completely to ourselves every evening. It was a game-changer, and it became so much easier to have time just to cuddle and watch romantic movies together.
Many people don’t have the option of good sleep due to health issues with their children, but as someone who is currently writing this with a 4-month-old sleeping soundly in the next room, I highly recommend doing a sleep education program with your baby ASAP. I don’t really know when or how we would have any alone time if we hadn’t done this course and we definitely wouldn’t have such a good sleeper.
7. Pain during postpartum sex should diminish over time
If you are experiencing pain during sex, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing–you may just be stretching out scar tissue. But if the pain doesn’t get better during sex, or if each sexual encounter doesn’t result in less pain the next time, that is a problem and is not normal.
Some pain is normal, pain that persists is not and is something you should see a pelvic floor physiotherapist about.
8. Postpartum sex should still be pleasurable
Even if it is slightly painful at times due to stretching, postpartum sex should still feel good! Take things very, very slowly. Do not go straight to thrusting, but allow your muscles to relax first so that by the time sex gets going it is not actively painful.
If the pain is such that sex does not feel pleasurable at all, and you’re gritting your teeth to get through it, slow down, stop, and try again later or using a different method (maybe you need to go back to manual penetration for a while until that stretches you out enough, for example). You do not have to have sex that is painful or not pleasurable–sex is for both of you, even during postpartum periods.
9. Breastfeeding hormones can make postpartum sex more difficult
Breastfeeding moms, can I get an “amen?”
Even if you were a higher-drive wife before, recognize that breastfeeding is a natural libido suppressant. I think it may be nature’s way of spacing out kids. So take time to schedule out when you want to have sex so you can prepare yourself and get into the right head space–don’t just wait for your libido to kick in naturally. Because it simply may not for the time being.
Don’t feel bad if you need to use lubrication, or if you take a bit longer to get “in the mood”–this is natural, and it goes back to normal eventually (according to my midwives and my research, anyway!).
10. Sex is still important, especially in the postpartum period
There’s a lot of focus on the baby during the postpartum period, and rightly so. But sex is also really important. Yes, you’re a mom. But you’re also a woman. And sex is something that can help you feel like a grown-up, even if you’ve been dealing with spit up and poopy diapers all day.
Sex doesn’t just mean intercourse, either–but having time to be intimate together, whether that’s cuddling naked together or mutually bringing each other to orgasm through other means is a gift you can give your marriage even during the postpartum period before you’re ready to start having sex. Don’t stop kissing each other or hugging just because you have a baby now–your marriage is more important, not less, now that you have a little baby in your lives.
What are some things you wish you knew about postpartum sex? Any tips or tricks to make the transition easier? Let us know in the comments below!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Blog Contributor, Author, and Podcaster
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