All your burning postpartum sex questions, answered.
The first thing most women think about after having a baby is not usually sex. But at some point in the postpartum period (or maybe while they’re still pregnant), many women start pondering the mechanics of sex after having a baby, and it isn’t always an easy thing to picture. Physically and mentally, sex can seem reallydaunting after everything your body has gone through during birth (whether you have a natural delivery or a C-section).
The most important thing to know, as plenty of mothers can attest, is that it does work. “People are always concerned that their vagina will never go back to normal, but your vagina is designed to do this exact task,” says Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist in Los Angeles. Sex may change after childbirth, sure, but for most women, it can be just as satisfying as before. The key is educating yourself (and your partner) on what to expect, she says, “so you don’t get rocked by the changes themselves.”
So what else do you need to know about having sex after a baby? We spoke to experts and moms to find out. The reality is, in the first few months after giving birth, not only has your body pulled off a massive feat, but you’re sleep-deprived, your daily routine has changed dramatically, and your relationship with your partner is likely evolving as you take on new roles as parents. When you first try sex, it may not be great (or you may, as one mom told us, accidentally squirt your partner in the eye with breastmilk). It’s normal for your sex life to go through an adjustment period. As it does, you’ll have questions—and here are the answers:
How long should you wait to have sex after giving birth?
Almost immediately after giving birth, the vagina will start to heal itself from whatever it has endured during a vaginal delivery, says Jennifer Conti, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University. “Vaginas are really elastic and really resilient. Even with really nasty lacerations, you see people back in clinic a few weeks later and it’s remarkable—sometimes you can’t even tell that they’ve had a tear.” Still, doctors typically tell women to wait six weeks after giving birth before having penetrative sex.
There’s no official medical rule on this—the experts we spoke with stressed this timeline is simply a guideline. “It’s so unique for every person, and that’s OK,” says Dr. Conti. “The recommendation has more to do with when it’s safe to have sex, not with when you’re actually ready to have sex.” What often gets in the way is that many women are afraid to resume sexual activity. “People look at pictures of childbirth and they say, ‘Oh my God, this kid’s coming through my vagina and I’m never going to be able to feel anything again as long as I live,’” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., FACOG, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine. “The thing to remember is that, although it can stretch to admit this baby, it comes back—the muscles don’t stay flaccid and stretched. Will they come back absolutely as tight as the vagina was initially? Maybe not. But they’ll do a pretty good job.”
Some women admit they didn’t know when they were ready to try again. “Leading up, I had no idea if I was totally ready,” says new mom Amy, 28. She and her husband gave it a go shortly after her six-week appointment, with the understanding that if it wasn’t working, they’d stop. “We got through it,” she says. At the time, she remembers thinking, “OK, this isn’t most comfortable thing in the world, but it doesn’t feel wrong, or dangerous, so we’re good.”
Before you attempt to have full-on intercourse, you might also consider beginning with milder sexual activities, says Liz Miracle, a pelvic-floor physical therapist in San Francisco who is also a new mom. “Start slow and ease into it,” she advises. Gentle touching and massage can help you “start feeling sexy and ready for penetrative intercourse.”
For women who are considering an elective C-section to avoid potential trauma to the vagina (and docs say some do!)—it’s not worth it. A C-section is a major surgery, and women generally take longer to recover from it than a vaginal delivery. Sex will change after a C-section anyway: You’ve still got hormonal fluctuations to deal with and the Mayo Clinic still advises waiting six weeks before having sex to reduce your risk of infection after surgery.
How will sex feel?
Real talk: The first time you have sex after childbirth, it probably won’t be all that pleasurable. In fact, some moms described having sex after childbirth as being similar to having sex for the first time ever. “I don’t think anyone thinks, Wow, that was so great, after the first time,” says Amy. On the bright side, since there’s “a little bit of hype and buildup” because it’s been a while, there’s also “a little bit of excitement.”
Eventually, over weeks or months, it becomes more comfortable. “I don’t remember exactly when my husband and I had sex for the first time, but I do remember that there were a lot of attempts,” says E.J., 28. “And I remember that when it actually happened to completion, it was sort of a triumphant moment. I think we actually high-fived.”
One tip everyone we spoke with recommended to help ease pain or discomfort: lube. Considering purchasing lubricant before you even attempt to have sex so you have it handy.
What if my post-baby body image is affecting my sex life?
Adding to potential postpartum uncomfortableness around sex, it might take some time for you to mentally and emotionally get used to the roller coaster of change your body has been on. It’s not uncommon for new moms to wonder if they’ll ever feel sexy again. “A lot of women struggle with body confidence after giving birth,” Marin says. “Your body has gone through some enormous changes, and it can take a while to feel like yourself again.”
This is totally normal. With a new baby, your body takes on a totally different role. “Many women say that their bodies don’t feel like their own because the baby is so dependent on it. You literally have another human being attached to your body, relying on it for survival,” Marin says. “Not to mention the fact that you’re being touched and grabbed throughout the entire day.” When that’s your new reality, it’s no wonder feeling confident in your body in the same way that you used to can feel out of reach.
The first step in addressing any postpartum body-image issues is recognizing that you are not alone—even celebrities, with all their fancy trainers, nutritionists, and stylists, deal with body image issues after giving birth. “So many postpartum articles fixate on ‘snapping back’ after pregnancy, especially with celebrities, but there’s so much more to the pregnancy journey than that,” Marin says. “Give yourself time to adapt to this new stage in your life, and to build a new relationship with your body.” Start by carving out alone time with your partner when you can begin reawakening the sexual part of yourself that might feel dormant. “This can be logistically complicated, of course, but it’s an extremely worthwhile endeavor,” Marin says.
Not all women feel self-conscious after giving birth—for some women it’s actually a major body-confidence boost. “Your body has done a truly miraculous thing, and there’s so much to be proud of,” Marin says.” For many women, pregnancy helps put body hang-ups into perspective. “Maybe you were self-conscious of your breasts before pregnancy, but now you can appreciate that they keep your baby healthy,” Marin says.
Will you get pregnant?
You can. Amazingly, your body has the ability to make another baby pretty much immediately after you’ve given birth to one, so if you don’t want to get pregnant right away, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends using birth control. Even if you do want to have kids close together, doctors advise waiting six months. Beginning another pregnancy before then can be risky. Research suggests it can increase the likelihood of premature birth, placental abruption, low birth weight, and congenital disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While breastfeeding can help reduce the chances of getting pregnant, the popular belief that it acts as a surefire form of birth control is a misconception—you need backup. For many women, the easiest solution is a postplacental IUD—within minutes of delivering your baby and placenta, doctors can insert the device, and you’re good to go—but there are many options, according to the ACOG.
Does breastfeeding affect sex?
A little-known fact about breastfeeding is that it puts your body into a kind of temporary menopause (though not completely—remember you can get pregnant), particularly for the first six months, explains Conti. The biggest side effect of this possible condition is extreme vaginal dryness, which can make sex painful.
If you want to have penetrative sex while you’re breastfeeding or pumping, doctors recommend using lubricant or vaginal estrogen to increase wetness. In some cases, you may just need to wait it out. “Sex only really started feeling comfortable when I stopped pumping after six months,” says E.J. “That’s when it started feeling good again.”
Will it be the same?
You may find that what feels good during sex changes after giving birth. Some women who previously orgasmed through G-spot stimulation now prefer clitoral stimulation. If you’re breastfeeding, your nipples may feel especially sensitive—and not especially sexual. Many of the women we spoke with said that while they were breastfeeding, their breasts played a much smaller role during sex than before.
“It is definitely possible to have a great sex life after kids, and maybe to even have it be better than it was before, because having kids forces you to get creative,” explains Marin. That goes for everything from carving out time to get it on to finding the position that feels best post-baby. As with all things sexual, the best thing you can do is experiment until you discover what works.
“It’s really important to acknowledge that sex is going to feel different, and to cut yourself some slack,” says Steph Montgomery, a writer, women’s health activist, and mother of five. Also, communicating your new preferences to your partner is essential. “I’ve found that missionary sex with him on top, and sex with him on top in general, is just not comfortable anymore,” she says. She now prefers all fours. “It sort of takes the pressure off—literally.”
Is there anything I can do to improve my post-baby sex life?
Kegel exercises, which involve contracting and releasing the vagina, can help strengthen the muscles in and around your pelvis in the postpartum period. That increased muscle tone in the vagina can make sex more pleasurable for women, says Dr. Minkin.
If you’re a few months postpartum and you suspect you need more than Kegels to restore your strength or control—or if you’re experiencing pain while doing Kegels or during penetrative sex—consider seeing a pelvic-floor physical therapist for help.
Perhaps most important of all, if you find that things are moving more slowly than you’d like, don’t give up and know that you are in good company. “There are tons of other women who are experiencing the same thing you’re experiencing,” says Miracle. “And there are tons of women who have gotten through it and are better and are having happy, healthy sex lives.”