Postpartum Sex: Everything You Need To Know

How long after giving birth can you have sex, and what will it feel like? Here are answers to your postpartum sex questions.

Health care experts often advise waiting until four to six weeks after giving birth to have penetrative sex, but even by then, the very thought of postpartum sex can be exhausting.

That shouldn't be surprising given everything that's stacked against new parents: the lingering pain from delivery, raging hormones, baby blues or postpartum depression, body changes, and of course, the biggest libido-killing elephant in the room: the pure exhaustion of having a newborn. You also might feel "touched out" after cuddling a baby much of the day.

So what will postpartum sex be like? Truth is, sex after birth may take some time and effort—and that intimacy can take many forms. Here's what you need to know about postpartum sex.

When Can You Have Sex After Giving Birth?

Most doctors advise not to put anything in the vagina—including toys, fingers, and penises—for four to six weeks to allow for healing and reduce the risk of complications. But it's important to note that the guideline is simply a minimum, not a mandate. So while you should ideally wait at least four weeks after giving birth to have sex, you certainly don't have to have sex that soon…unless you want to.

How soon you have sex after giving birth is about more than physical healing. You or your partner may need more time to feel ready, and that's OK. In that sense, when you have sex is up to you. The best time to have sex after giving birth is when you and your partner are both physically, mentally, and emotionally ready.

How Will Sex After Birth Feel?

It's perfectly normal if penis-in-vagina sex after birth doesn't feel as good initially as it once did. And it's important to understand that this applies to people who have given birth vaginally and by C-section because it's not just about tissue trauma.

"The assumption is that the pain is from the trauma of delivery, which it definitely can be, but it also has to do with low levels of estrogen that affect the elasticity of the vaginal tissues," says Rebecca Booth, M.D., FACOG, a Louisville, Kentucky-based gynecologist and author of The Venus Week.

Estrogen levels drop right after giving birth and remain low while nursing. "When someone is nursing, especially in the beginning, the decrease in estrogen combined with high prolactin and oxytocin levels can mimic menopause for the first two to three months," says Dr. Booth. "Think night sweats, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and often pain."

Even parents who underwent C-sections can experience painful vaginal sex after birth—even six weeks postpartum. If you had an episiotomy or other laceration, the time it takes to heal will depend on how extensive it was and where the cutting was done.

Why Do You Have a Low Sex Drive?

If you're worried that your lack of libido when it comes to sex after birth is your fault, let us put your fears to rest. The severe lack of sleep, a changing dynamic between you and your partner, feeding challenges, and body changes are real factors that can impact your sex drive. Plus, if you're nursing, that could be working against you too.

"Nursing releases oxytocin, a hormone that triggers good feelings toward the baby but also suppresses your libido," says Dr. Booth. "Patients are always relieved to find out there's a reason they're not as into sex."

Rebecca Booth, M.D.

Patients are always relieved to find out there's a reason they're not as into sex.

— Rebecca Booth, M.D.

Will Postpartum Body Changes Affect Sex?

Your body may very well change after giving birth and those changes can affect sex. Vaginal elasticity is usually regained after childbearing or delivery, but your body's structure can definitely be impacted. And, says Dr. Booth, "even someone who had a C-section can be affected because the hormones of pregnancy widen the pelvic rim."

If you're looking to feel stronger, try Pilates: "All that focus on the core also helps tighten the pelvic floor," Dr. Booth adds.

What Can You Do To Help With Postpartum Sex?

Focus on physical intimacy

While there is no timeline for getting back to sex after birth, it is important to reestablish physical intimacy with your partner in ways that are meaningful for both of you.

"If there's no physical intimacy, or if it's really limited, couples start to feel like roommates, which is rarely a good thing. Feeling disconnected can lead to resentment," says Amy Levine, a New York City sex coach and mom. "Start with kissing or touching each other in a loving way, and work your way up to post-delivery sex when you're ready."

The fact is, you likely won't have as much time to linger over dinner or go out for elaborate dates, so physical touch can be the thing to remind you that you're on the same team—and still more than just parents. Also, let's be honest, it puts everyone in a better mood.

Make it shorter

Parent sex after birth fun fact: Knowing that it doesn't have to be a long drawn-out session is a lovely grown-up fact. "Have your partner do what it takes to get you turned on, and then you do what it takes to keep your attention in the moment," says Levine. "Focus on the feeling—what they're doing to you, what you're doing to them—to stay present."

Switch things up

Who said sex has to only happen at nighttime? "By the time I would get into bed at night, I was too tired to read a page of my book, let alone have sex," recalls Maryanne, a mom of two, of the early days. "I found myself turning my husband down a lot, which never feels good."

Then they figured out that weekends during their son's nap were the perfect time to bond. "It took the pressure off our nights and became something we both started to look forward to," she says. "And we still love our naptime ritual!"

Will You Enjoy Sex After Baby?

Contrary to popular belief, a lot of people enjoy sex more after birth than they did before they were parents. One possible explanation: "Giving birth awakens us to a range of sensations, and as a result, our bodies, particularly our genitals, become more alive, increasing our pleasure potential," Levine notes.

Childbirth can also shift our internal parts into just the right place, to make them more sensitive to stimulation. "Many women report more comfort with their bodies and more intense orgasms after having kids," she adds.

Will Having Kids Mean Less Sex?

Just like you'll sleep again and go out with friends again and even be up for giving birth or welcoming a new child again, you'll want to have sex after giving birth again. "Give yourself time to literally heal, but also to adjust to your new roles," says Christi, a mom of two who had a tough time resuming a normal sex life after her first. "Be honest and open with each other, and remember that sometimes you may not be in the mood going in, but you will be really glad you did it afterward!"

Contrary to what you might think, having more kids does not equal less sex. Similar to how going from zero to one child is the biggest adjustment, returning to sex after baby number one is also the toughest.

Bottom line: At a certain point you realize life with kids is always going to be chaotic, and you just have to do certain things, like fooling around, wherever and whenever you can.

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