16 Things You Must Know About Sex After Pregnancy
The naked truth
You've heard it before: Life changes when you have a baby. But psst, your postpartum sex life is different, too, sometimes in shocking ways (your boobs do what?). "Giving birth comes with big physical and emotional changes," says Hilda Hutcherson, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. "But sex can get you back to feeling like your normal self again—plus it's a great way to reduce stress and keep your relationship strong during this crazy time." Here's what you can expect when you get back down to business.
You really do have to wait 4 to 6 weeks
Whether you gave birth vaginally or by C-section, it's crucial to wait to have sex until your doctor gives you the green light. "At your 6-week postpartum checkup, your doctor will check that the cervix has closed, bleeding has subsided, and that tears and cuts have healed," says Dr. Hutcherson, who is also the author of Pleasure: A Woman's Guide to Getting the Sex You Want, Need, and Deserve ($17; amazon.com). Jumping into bed any sooner can potentially lead to an infection or cause down-there tears to reopen (yikes!).
You can still do "everything but"
During those first 6 weeks when intercourse is off limits, you and your partner can still fool around, as long as it doesn't involve penetration. Even if you've been okayed for the whole shebang, it's normal to ease into it: A study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that postpartum women generally reported engaging in oral and manual stimulation and masturbation prior to intercourse. Plus, knowing certain moves are off limits can build anticipation and make the fooling around even hotter, says Ava Cadell, PhD, author of Neuroloveology: The Power to Mindful Love and Sex ($15; amazon.com).
There's a good chance it'll hurt
There are solutions for dryness
Vaginal dryness occurs in all postpartum women, whether they had a vaginal or cesarean birth. "The type of moisture that makes sex pleasurable gets depleted after birth," Dr. Hutcherson explains. "That's thanks to a drop in estrogen—the hormone responsible for sexual arousal and lubrication levels." The dryness (and the irritation and painful sex that can come with it) will eventually ease up as your hormone levels return to normal, so keep using lube until sex gets more comfortable. If dryness is a major issue, talk to your doctor about using a vaginal moisturizer like Replens. More rarely, your doc might prescribe a topical estrogen cream or suppository.
You definitely need birth control
Sex might feel different, but not in a bad way
If you've ever heard someone say that sex after vaginal childbirth is like throwing a hotdog down the hallway (or insert whatever crude version you've heard), know this truth: In the name of scientific research, 165 women who had given birth within the previous year used a vaginal pressure monitor (read: a fancy dildo) to measure differences in vaginal pressure. While those who gave birth vaginally did have "looser" vaginas than those who'd had C-sections, there was no difference in sexual satisfaction or sexual function, according to the study, published in International Journal of Impotence Research.
Your vagina has an amazing ability to bounce back
Your libido may temporarily hibernate
It's been 6 weeks (or way more) since you've done the deed. You should be dying for it, right? Not so for many women. Hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, and breastfeeding can all cause your sex drive to plummet, Dr. Hutcherson says. "I always reiterate to new moms that a lack of sexual desire after baby is perfectly normal, and not to stress over it," Dr. Hutcherson says. "In fact, I tell my patients to expect a year to return to normal." If you're not ready for sex, simply cuddling with your partner for at least 6 minutes boosts oxytocin, the bonding hormone that increases intimacy and reduces stress, Cadell says.
Or you might be raring to go
Childbirth can turn him on
This might surprise you: Seeing you in screaming in the throes of labor or watching the baby being pulled from your c-section incision may actually make your partner even hotter for you. In fact, men who were in the delivery room with their partner reported stronger sexual desire post-birth compared to men who weren't in the delivery room, the same University of Michigan study found. (What boosted desire for the women? Getting plenty of support and connection from their partners.)
Your breasts might become a no-touch zone
Prepare for some leaking
Here's something your mother never warned you about: If you're breastfeeding, your breasts might actually squirt milk during sex or foreplay. That's because during sex, your body releases oxytocin, a hormone that makes you feel more bonded and connected to your partner, but is also responsible for your milk let down (read: leaking), Dr. Hutcherson says. If you're nervous about leakage, wear a bra with nursing pads or keep a towel handy. Or try pumping or nursing before you have sex to prevent letdown, Dr. Hutcherson suggests. And don't panic: It doesn't happen to everyone!
After a c-section, some positions might be off limits
Body consciousness is normal
Of course your body's size and shape is different than it was 9 months ago—you made a baby! But for many women, this translates into feeling self-conscious about getting naked. Instead of dwelling on insecurities, use sex as an opportunity to feel sexy in that moment by focusing on your physical sensations and admiring your amazing new boobs. Outside the bedroom, try to make time for things that promote self-love and confidence, Cadell says. Go for a power walk with your stroller or sneak out for 30 minutes to get a manicure. The more you do to nurture yourself, the sexier and happier you will feel.