SEX W/ A NEWBORN: THE LOWDOWN
Ahhhh sex with a newborn. We know. You have SO MANY Qs on this one. Same. Let’s dig in with Sexologist Lauren White.
How long after giving birth can you have penetrative sex?
There is this fabled 6-week window that gets bandied about as THE post-partum moment when your body is probably better prepared for penetration, BUT this is so individual. You may not feel healed by 6 weeks, or you simply may feel too dry and disinterested – the powerful combo of increased prolactin from breastfeeding and pure exhaustion makes not for lots of juices flowing! The truth is that you are ready to have penetrative sex when your heart and body decide you are ready and, regardless of what type of birth you had, go slow! Also, fun fact, if you have a male partner, he will experience a testosterone drop in the first 2 weeks of the baby’s life, so sex will probably be a low priority for him too (Saxbe et al.). #designedbynature
There really is no prescribed time to engage sexually. If you feel arousal in your body sooner, that is completely normal! After a long, un-libidinous pregnancy the second time, I woke to an orgasm 3 days after giving birth. #goodmorning. Sometimes what is repressed by pregnancy will rebound when the baby arrives, so be open to the possibility that you’ll be met with a little sexual interest when your body is a little lighter after carrying baby and its placenta.
Can you have sex with the baby in the room? Is that weird?
You can have sex with your bebe in the room when you remind yourself that they not only don’t have any idea what is happening, but they will never remember it. Plus, isn’t it better that they hear you in pleasure rather than hear you in conflict? If the presence of the little one is a real distraction, then either you or the baby will need to move into a separate space. Couch sex anyone? Time to live that kitchen counter fantasy?
What kinds of changes in libido typically occur after giving birth and how long do they last?
Your libido may wax and wane over the first year and a half after giving birth because your hormones are subtly and not so subtly recalibrating to a new kind of baseline. My personal experience, and the experience of many of the people I work with, is that the return of the menstrual cycle helps pique sexual interest again- particularly during ovulation.
It is totally normal to feel less interest and arousal for sex when you are going through parenthood because of allllll of the changes that have rocked your world, but if you can remember this gold nugget when you get lost – “I can be a parent and be sexual”-- you will be more at ease about coming back to sex when it may feel so far away from you.
OK- Spill it. Will my vagina be stretched out and ruined forever?
Not every person’s birth experience results in changes of vaginal tone! For the most part, your vagina will recover in its own way. But I do think it is important to remember that even though our bodies are made to birth, it is unrealistic to expect that there will be no changes from the biggest marathon your body will likely ever undertake.
My advice is to not worry about this too much before giving birth as over-toning your pelvic floor muscles can make it harder for baby to pass through the canal as well as be a contributor to painful sex. After baby arrives, “doing your kegels” is a kind of blanket approach for everyone, but a widespread concern is the question...are we doing them effectively? My biggest tip is to go see a pelvic floor physiotherapist after birth because they can do a gentle internal examination that gives you direct feedback as to how to do pelvic floor exercises and movements that are tailored to your body. I’ve done this both times and have needed to make minor adjustments to my squeezes and regimen as each postpartum recovery had different needs and focuses. A physiotherapist can also recommend specific devices that will enhance your movements and provide you with support when you engage in high intensity exercise.
What’s the deal with getting pregnant again while breast/chest feeding?
You can get pregnant relatively soon after giving birth, even if you are breast/chest feeding. This is because your menstrual cycle may have started the process of ovulation but you haven’t had your first bleed yet (so you assume you aren’t fertile yet). I have heard WAY too many stories of couples having Irish twins (a colloquial term for siblings born usually within a year of each other). The lesson here is to use your preferred contraception if you don’t want to get pregnant again. My preferred contraception is condoms because they have a great success rate and no hormonal disruption!
Can you take hormonal birth control while breastfeeding?
Yes! But, if you are taking pills, be sure to take them at the same time each day to ensure no fertile windows poke through (yup, it happens).
Many thanks Lauren White, Sexologist + Devoted Mama, Brisbane, Australia for answering all of our pressing Qs!
Saxbe, D.E., Dunkel Schetter, C., Simon, C.D., Adam, E.K., & Shalowitz, M. U. (2017) High paternal testosterone may protect against postpartum depressive symptoms in fathers, but confer risk to mothers and children. Hormones and Behaviour, 95, 103-112