The Truth About Sex After You’ve Had A Baby

'Things were a little softer. It was a little like trying to talk after you’ve had an injection at the dentist'

sex after you've had a baby

by Nell Frizzell |
Updated on

It still seems one of nature’s most unlikely jokes that you can make a person, that you were yourself made, from shagging. Just shagging. Imagine it! That intoxicating, lustful, familiar, glorious, fraught, hard-to-come-by, easy-to-fall-for, splendid activity I spent my adolescence dreaming about and my twenties chasing, can be all it takes (if you’re lucky) to make an entire beating heart and human life. It’s like finding out that you can build a family pet just by having a wank. Truly miraculous.

And yet, after your body has done the supernatural - turned sperm into a person - once you’ve given birth, by whatever means, and your body has become unpregnant, returning to the scene of such a remarkable and unlikely event can be strange. To go back to something that was once so life-changing can be weird. To do once again what you once did so significantly can be odd. Not to mention all the myriad ways that your body, your relationship, you sense of self and the texture of your life all change after having a baby.

I am heterosexual and had a vaginal birth. I was also lucky: I had a modest-sized baby, didn’t need drugs and perhaps in part due to a rigorous programme of perineal stretching beforehand, managed to get away without any tearing. It can be very very different, of course. So, everything I say is in the full knowledge that my experience is mine alone and totally subjective. But I am willing, at least, to be honest with you.

Two weeks after giving birth I was horny as hell. It wasn’t just physical desire - although of course, breastfeeding new mothers have this just as much as any teenage boy with holes picked in their pocket lining - but also a need for reassurance, for intimacy, to feel that my partner still found me attractive as a woman, not just loveable as a mother. Like so many other activities that belonged to my ‘before baby’ life like running, eating two-handed, holding conversations that lasted longer than four minutes, having a short term memory, I wanted to have sex partly just to get in touch again with the woman I used to be; to try and claw back some sense of identity in the midst of an uncontrollable whirl of early motherhood. I wanted my partner to look at me, hold me and want me like he had when I was 31, had muscles, wore unelasticated waistbands and could quote books.

There is also, I imagine, quite a large hormonal element to that post-natal surge in sexual interest. In the weeks after having a baby you are wildly, vividly fertile. As fertile as you will ever be in your life. You’re like a lady-shaped grobag. And so, of course, in its funny old prehistoric way, your body wants to make the most of things and fertilise some eggs while it can. Which is why, when you leave the hospital, a midwife will quite forcefully push a information sheet about contraception into your hands and tell you earnestly to use condoms. They’re right. If you don’t want to get pregnant straight away, you need to get some condoms.

Here’s a word of advice: if you haven’t bought condoms for a while, don’t try anything exciting. Through an unfortunate series of events and miscommunication on the packet, we ended up with some jazzy condoms. It was a mistake. Let’s leave it at that.

But I know what you’re really asking: how does it actually feel to have sex two weeks after you’ve had a baby? For me, it felt lovely. The nuclear levels of oxytocin rushing through my body may have played a part but I honestly have never felt so profoundly loved, so safe, so intrinsically part of a whole as I did after having a baby. Sure, things were a little softer, but only temporarily. It was a little like trying to talk after you’ve had an injection at the dentist. But, you know, the NHS have great advice on post-natal pelvic floor exercises and there are hours when you’re feeding a newborn when there is nigh-on bugger else to do other than clench your teeth (and thus help locate a corresponding tightening in your pelvic floor) and do some squeezing. Likewise for knitting your abdominal muscles back together, easing your ribs back into place and helping your lower back into its regular shape. Within a month, my body was already starting to feel physically similar, familiar, and so sex began to be recogniseable once more.

As I say, I am in the lucky, not to mention quite rare position of having had no interventions or stitches along the way (one friend, who is only now resuming what she calls ‘relations’ with her partner told me that 85% of first vaginal births result in a cut or tear, which very often means stitches). For those women who had episiotomies, forceps, ventouse, tearing or any other number of things as part of their labour, sex can be markedly difficult, in many ways harder, certainly less familiar and needing a lot more verbal navigation with a partner. As one friend (who understandably wants to stay anonymous) put it: “I would say primarily to wait until you’re happy that things have healed, which can take a long time. Think months, not weeks,” Thanks to some granulated scar tissue it took her seven months before she could start having what we in the trade call ‘intercourse’. For another friend is was six months, another took nearly nine. “Talk to each other, it will feel different,” she adds. “If you try and it’s sore or uncomfortable then wait a bit more and try again.” This is a sentiment echoed by another friend (again anonymous) who was, as she put it, ‘stitched up wrong’ and so spent months in deep discomfort every time she tried to have sex, despite giving it a bash after six weeks. “My main thought is if you know something is wrong, don’t listen to the health visitors when they say over and over that it’s normal for sex to be painful after birth. Make them see that you know there’s an issue. I should have gone to the gynecologist way earlier!” There is, however, some good news. All those months of trying has made her and her partner in many ways better in bed than they were already. When I asked her for some tips for new mothers she said, simply: Go for it, get on the lube train and get your partner to go down on your loads more!

If you can somehow, with a baby that sleeps in a cot by your bed, and wakes up hungry every few hours, find the time, energy and will to have sex then my advice is to do it. If your body has healed, you feel horny, you are in touch with your new physical self and trust the person you are going to have sex with, then please give it a go. You might not have the sort of sex you used to, you might not even use the same bits in the same ways. But it is important to be reminded of what your body can be when it’s not part of a time-share with a tiny, helpless infant. It is important to remember that you are beautiful, physical and worthy of affection. And it is definitely easier to have sex during the first few months, when everything is new and different and utterly disorienting anyway, rather than to wait for months, and build up fear or weariness or self-consciousness around something that is meant to be nice for all involved.

So, how does it feel to have sex after you’ve had a baby? A whole lot better than not having sex when you didn’t have a baby, in my experience.

The Science Bit:

When you’re breastfeeding there is the small matter of the milk let-down reflex being triggered by most kinds of sex. My advice is to keep your bra and breastpads on - I’ve tried to style-out having milk running down yourself and splashing onto someone’s face and in all honesty it’s quite hard to pull off as anything other than funny.

If you’ve had stitches, an episiotomy or any other interventions take a look at the wonder down under in a mirror and if you have any questions then why not make an appointment with a gynaecologist.

Certain positions and activities will suit your new postnatal body better than others. Keep talking to your partner about what works best and don’t be afraid to dictate the rules of conduct.

For the love of mercy, if you’re having sex in your bedroom and have one of those baby monitors that records overnight, think very carefully about what to do with the footage

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