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Back in the sack

So, you’ve been sent home from hospital, or discharged from the midwife with a reminder that, you can in fact get pregnant when breastfeeding, so it would be wise to use a barrier method until you work out what other form of contraception you’d like to use. Your chin falls to the floor and you think ‘I am NEVER having sex again’! We’ve all been there, but fear not – you will.

‘Have you done it yet’ seems to be a question asked a lot between friends and NCT groups, and as a midwife and doula we are constantly asked questions such as ‘when is it ok to have sex’, ‘when will I feel like having sex’ and then most commonly ‘WILL I ever feel like having sex again?’

FIRST THINGS FIRST, you’ve just birthed a baby so you’ll most likely be feeling a little sore and swollen down below. If you birthed your baby via caesarean section, you’ll probably be very sore and bloated in your tummy (with terrible wind – it’s not your fault, it happens to every C-section mum, it’s because you’ve been pumped full of air. ‘Better out than in’ we say). Whichever way your baby came and however long or short your birth was, the chances are, right now, you don’t fancy anything else poking around down there, and that, is perfectly fine. In fact, we have a dip in our sexy hormones just after birth, and a rise in prolactin (the hormone for milk production) which is known to supress libido.

This is probably nature’s way of giving us some time to heal, and indeed in many cultures, women have bed rest for weeks after childbirth and sex is not allowed, as mother’s focus is expected to be on healing and feeding her baby. Saying that, we have had clients who have felt quite up for ‘it’ straight after birth, experiencing an oxytocin high and feeling more connected than ever with their partner through sharing such a wonderful experience together. If you feel like this, congratulations, but do keep reading as there are a few do’s and don’ts regarding sex after birth that are worth knowing.

It is advised that you wait around 2-4 weeks before intercourse, until bleeding has stopped otherwise you can be at a higher risk of haemorrhage and infection. If you have had a tear or episiotomy and stitches then it is advised that you wait until your 6 week check with the GP.

If you find that you are a bit sore and swollen after the birth of your baby there are some awesome ways to help soothe and heal them. Usually the soreness comes from a graze or stitches you may have had after a tear, which becomes uncomfortable because of inflammation in the vaginal tissue. Cooling maternity pads are a great way to bring comfort, are easy to make and dispose of and you can get your partner to make a big batch of them, to be used as and when you need them.

OK, so your bits are all healed, and your tummy less sore and bloated, so why are you still not feeling it? HORMONES!!!! These little blighters have a big part to play in whether or not we are feeling up for sex. As mentioned earlier, lower levels of oestrogen and a rise in prolactin can be a perfect passion killer, but as the hormones settle it will get better.

Often in the early days we are sleep deprived and a little anxious, it’s all so new and we second guess ourselves constantly, perhaps you already have another child and are trying to adapt to two children to look after and the responsibility is extremely overwhelming. All of these emotions – tiredness, overwhelm and anxiety, can result in our bodies producing large quantities of adrenalin. Adrenalin is the hormone that evolution formed to protect us.

Adrenaline tells us we are under attack, or that we are in danger and we either need to fight (a saber tooth tiger back in the day) flight (run away) or freeze (as the word suggests, stop, very still and do nothing). None of these reactions are conducive to having sex! Who can feel sexy when their heart is racing with anxiety or they are feeling ‘frozen with fear’. The hormone that makes us feel sexy is in fact the same hormone that helps birth flow well. Good old oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone of love, it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, and in the right conditions, with enough time and space to relax, up for a bit of the other.

So how do we get more oxytocin and less adrenalin? Good question. Here are some ways to encourage oxytocin production, reconnect physically with your partner and feel more in the mood.

Time out

Giving yourself time out to slow down and relax will enable you to turn your attention to yourself and think about what you need to feel relaxed and happy. When you are feeling less frazzled you will have more headspace for your relationship with your partner. Time out together gives you a reprieve from being parents and allows you to enjoy each other as you did before. This doesn’t have to be out of the house and away from the baby, even a cheeky glass of bubbles in the bath together whilst baby is napping can be a wonderful little get away! Leave the dishes, ignore the mess and get that bath running!

Get Naked

Skin to skin is not just for mum and baby, it’s great for couples too. Lying naked together, having skin to skin contact will raise your oxytocin levels and help you feel more relaxed and sexual. You don’t have to have sex if you don’t feel ready, but you will both benefit from the connection, and chemical hormonal reaction of skin to skin. If you are just too plain tired, sleep naked, and enjoy the feeling of your partners skin against yours as you rest.

Exercise

We know when you are tired this is the last thing you feel like doing, but ironically, the more you exercise, the more energy you will have. You need to move your body to keep your energy up and flowing, otherwise we can feel very sluggish and even more tired. The wonderful side effect of exercise is that we produce endorphins, which make us feel happy. When we feel happy we are much more likely to feel up for some fun. Take a walk, have a dance, or just do some gentle stretches, anything that will get our heart rate up and our blood pumping.

Laugh

Laughter, as they say, is the best medicine. Laughing is good for the soul on so many levels, it makes us feel happy, free and of course fills us up with the lovely hormone oxytocin.

Change of scenery

Finally, if you are still feeling frazzled and the oxytocin isn’t flowing, try a change of scenery. Take yourself out for an hour or two, on your own, or with your partner and little one. If you don’t feel like going out, sleep in a different room, or camp out in the lounge. A change of scenery can be very stimulating and energising for the brain.

OK – so you’ve healed, and the oxytocin is high, but physically it’s not feeling quite right – what then?

 

Anxious muscles contract and tighten and tight muscles can make intercourse feel painful, which makes you tense up even more. Sometimes our muscles are contracted because we are nervous, and unable to relax, sometimes because of muscle tightness left over from the birth itself. Whatever the reason, don’t worry, luckily there are some easy ways to lessen the tension, relax the muscles and make things easier:

1. HAVE A BATH

Soak in a warm bath. The warm water will relax the muscles and the time out will help you to switch off and relax.

2. RELAX YOUR JAW

Either give yourself a little jaw massage in the bath – or prepare yourself a drink with a straw in, and sip away! You can’t suck on a straw with a tight jaw, so with each sip the jaw has to relax. You could even make it a cheeky G&T if that tickles your fancy.

3. HAVE A MASSAGE

Ask your partner to give you a massage, this will help your muscles to relax and soften and will help you to mentally switch off your brain from the day.

So what if you’ve followed all the advice above and it’s still not working out? If it’s still not feeling comfortable, something might not be right, and it might be a good idea to visit the GP for a quick gynae check. Unresolved soreness during and after sex or any bleeding, smelly or coloured discharge could be a sign of infection, and is always best to get checked out. Don’t be embarrassed, you’ve had a baby, and your vaginal health is important.

 

Becoming a parent is a busy time and it does help to get organised and schedule stuff in, even sex! Crazy as that may seem, if it’s in the diary, you can plan for it, get ready for it and even look forward to it, and of course, if the time comes and you are too tired, or the baby won’t sleep, like all diary dates, you can reschedule. A lot of mums worry that baby will wake up during the deed, if this happens, try and keep a sense of humour about it, it won’t last long, and you can always book in a ‘to be continued’ session soon.

 

It’s been 6 weeks, everything’s healed, but you’re still not feeling up for it! Then maybe you are just not ready yet.  And that is absolutely fine. We actually think 6 weeks is an unrealistic time frame, and in our experience, most of our ladies are not ready to resume a physical relationship with their partners until around 12 – 16 weeks. There is no rush, and no right or wrong time, only what feels right for you and your partner. Just let that reconnection happen at a pace you feel comfortable with and keep talking about it together.

 

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, take it slowly, you’ll get there, but just remember not to worry and try and have some fun on the way!

 

Excerpt from The Little Book of Self Care for New Mums by Beccy Hands & Alexis Stickland (Vermillion, £12.99).

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