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.
Change of scenery
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
2. RELAX YOUR JAW
3. HAVE A MASSAGE
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).