Most new parents could be forgiven for not prioritising sex after they’ve had their baby. Mothers particularly, can find the whole idea of getting up close and personal with their partner again almost inconceivable in the early days following birth. But there does (eventually) come a time when sex does resume in some version of its former glory. Exactly when is unique to every couple.
The general recommendation from maternity providers is that sex can resume at any time when the couple feel comfortable and the woman has healed from the labour and birth. Between 1-3 months after childbirth is when most women say they’ve healed and become interested in having sex again.
The evolution of parenting
We’ve come a long way towards abandoning conventional role modelling of men being the providers and women the caregivers, but we’re still not quite there. Most couples post-baby do find themselves stepping back into nurturing and provision roles. This can lead to lives becoming increasingly separate and takes recognition and energy to correct.
Ten reasons why sex after baby and birth can be challenging
- Tiredness –it’s simply impossible to imagine the level of fatigue felt after having a baby. Although everyone will tell you you’ll be tired, it won’t be until you’ve experienced it that you’ll understand what true sleep deprivation feels like.
- Post natal recovery can last for up to six weeks or longer. Women who’ve had a difficult vaginal birth can take months for tissue tenderness to resolve. Fear of causing ‘damage’ to stitches and the perineum means sex is out for a while.
- There is always an adjustment for couples as they transition to becoming parents. Seeing each other in a parenting light can be a big jump for many, who may take a while to resume feelings of sexual attraction for each other.
- Fear of conception. Without contraception there’s always a risk of pregnancy for any sexually active couple, even if you’re breastfeeding and your periods haven’t started again.
- Just a general lack of interest. Hormones for new mothers are fairly unstable in the first six weeks postnatally, particularly for breastfeeding mothers.
- Many new parents report feelings of shock and even a degree of trauma after experiencing and seeing childbirth. It can take months to emotionally process labour and childbirth, not an experience unique to women.
- Fear of rejection for the male partner. Some report they become so used to hearing ‘no’ to their requests for sex that they stop trying.
- The baby is seen as so pure and glorious that everything and everyone else just doesn’t come close. There’s some biological basis for this as the mother needs to prioritise the baby above all else to best ensure its chances of survival.
- Mothers feeling all touched out. By the time she falls into bed at the end of the day, sleep is the only thing on her mind.
- Women feeling self conscious about their body. Pregnancy and childbirth can certainly leave their mark on a woman’s body, although many changes are only short term e.g. extra weight, though some remain such as stretch marks.
Tips for Dads
- Be practically and emotionally supportive with your partner. Take the initiative when something needs doing in the house and with childcare. Talk about what needs attention and share the burden.
- Tell your partner you appreciate her and the work she’s putting in.
- Look after the baby/children on your own and don’t view this as something extraordinary. Think about what the children need and start with the basics such as nappy changing, feeding, sleep and clothing. Play is important of course but they’ll need the other stuff too.
- Consider your work/life balance. Speak with your manager about how you can work creatively so you’re at home as much as possible. Maximise your family leave entitlements and organise your life so you’re at home for the busy times at the end of the day.
- Make time to just be a couple. Organise childcare, make dinner reservations or organise take-away. Be thoughtful and just be a kind human.
- Talk with your partner about how their day was. Make a point of being 100% ‘in the moment’ and really listen to their response. Try not to fix things and just listen. Most women give lots of detail as they build up to the key point of the conversation so sit tight and wait for the key messages.
Tips for Mums
- Don’t complain too much about what your partner is or isn’t doing. Most men just want a happy life and happy wife.
- Don’t be too focused on the state of the house. As long as everyone is fed and happy and you’re not living in a tip, most things can wait. Prioritise what’s really important and view everything else as a bonus.
- Try not to outsource every problem to your partner. Use your own initiative when it comes to solving issues. Of course some things will need a mutual solution but not everything requires hours of discussion, just do what needs to be done.
- Be specific about what you’d like him to do and avoid asking generally for “more help around the house”. Be clear about what needs doing e.g. “that washing needs folding, you free to do it”?
- Avoid micro managing every interaction he has with the children. Step back and give your partner some credit for making his own decisions about what they need. Kids benefit from receiving different ways of being cared for and it helps build their resilience.
How to get your Mojo Back
- Be kind to each other. Simple acts of courtesy go a long way towards reminding each other of why you got together in the first place.
- Let each other sleep in and take turns in trying to catch up on sleep.
- Make each other a cup of tea or coffee. Buy little treats for them and don’t make too much of a fuss about it.
- Phone or text each other and don’t make it all about the kids.
- Organise some time alone and as a couple. Have a ‘date night’ and mark this on the calendar as a regular event.
- Make time to reconnect, it’s not just going to happen with some planning.
- Start slowly with gently physical touch which doesn’t always lead to sex. Cuddles and kisses, foot massages and affection are the building blocks to reconnection.
Remember, women need affection to feel like having sex and men need sex to feel affectionate. Meeting somewhere in-between is often the answer to a healthy sex life.
Speaking with your GP if you’re really avoiding sex or intimacy with your partner. Sometimes there are physical causes for lack of energy and libido, such as low thyroid function or anaemia. Post natal depression and anxiety can also affect libido.
Sex after a vaginal birth can be painful and it may take weeks-months for vaginal tissue to fully heal. Sex does feel different after childbirth and vaginal tone changes making it less firm and tight. Pelvic floor exercises help to build and regain tone. If penetration is tight or painful, it’s important to see your GP. You may need to use lubricant for a while and take things slowly. A thorough physical check-up and pelvic check may be useful.
Having some time for yourself. Regular exercise can be transformative and help to stabilise mood and lift feelings of depression.
Make time to talk, really talk with your partner about how you feel. Resentment in a relationship can be very destructive and unless it’s dealt with is unlikely to just go away.
For more information
- Beyond Blue
- Guide to Babies
- Osborne, A., 2006. the post-baby conversation What new parents need to say to each other. 1st ed. Sydney NSW: Rockpool Publishing
- Raising Children
Written by: Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse