Pregnancy changes your body a lot, as does birth. Many women are worried about resuming their sex lives after baby is born. Will everything still work as it should? How long should we wait to start? What if he doesn’t like my Caesarean section scar? Throw breastfeeding into the mix and most women will have questions, yet many don’t feel comfortable asking their doctor or midwife as it is such a personal topic.
Sex after pregnancy – set your own pace
Most healthcare professionals would advise to you wait 4-6 weeks after birth before having sex again. Any vaginal tears and cuts, as well as a C-section wound should be healed first. By that time your lochia (post-birth bleeding) should also have subsided (though you can have bleeding or a discharge until 6 weeks after birth).
However, this is just a guideline and you should listen to your body. Most women will not experience any dysfunction after birth, but if you do experience problems like pain during sex you should ask your gynae for a check-up to make sure all is fine.
So, what role does breastfeeding play?
Physically, breastfeeding brings some extra challenges to the table. Especially in the early months of feeding many women find themselves with leaking breasts. During sex this can be even worse as oxytocin levels rise. Oxytocin is the love-hormone and the hormone we can thank for giving an orgasm.
It’s also one of the main hormones causing a milk let-down. For this reason, many women choose to wear a bra and breast pads during intercourse. See this as the ideal time to invest in some sexy underwear to keep things smoking!
Another challenge is that low oestrogen levels during breastfeeding may cause vaginal dryness. If you experience this, be sure to keep a lubricant at hand to prevent painful intercourse.
The emotional effects of breastfeeding
We sometimes blame breastfeeding for problems like not getting much sleep or having a low libido. The truth is that most mothers with a new baby are probably feeling this way, whether they are breastfeeding or not. Perhaps the thing that makes this worse for breastfeeding moms is that no one else can fulfil this role but them.
A breastfeeding mom can easily feel quite ‘touched out’ at the end of the day. Not only are you caring for baby the whole day, but baby spends large periods of time physically attached to your breast. To immediately carry on sharing your body may feel like a bit much.
A simple solution for this is to take 30 minutes, and recharge with a warm bath or a cup of coffee while reading a book or watching some television. At the end of this period you will almost certainly feel more enthusiastic about the process.
Why is sex important?
Well, one cannot make general assumptions on this topic, and we are certainly not implicating that sex is not important for women. But it’s fairly safe to say that generally women are less dependent on having sex regularly than men. In a time where you’re feeling tired and overwhelmed, having sex is probably the last thing on your mind.
Chances are though that your partner doesn’t feel the same. He also needs to adapt to the new baby in the house. Suddenly most of your time and effort is directed towards baby, as it should be. But he can very easily feel alone and left out, even though this isn’t your intention. Intimacy is an important part of a relationship. It is the cement that keeps all the building blocks like trust and love and friendship together.
Both of you will benefit from maintaining this intimacy and building closeness too each other in this challenging time. You may find that it becomes something that helps you relax and cope.
Contraception and breastfeeding
After pregnancy most women will have their first period at around 5-6 weeks after the birth. For some women breastfeeding can delay the return of their menstrual cycles for a few months and occasionally even years.
What you should know is that you will ovulate before you menstruate, meaning that even if you are not menstruating yet you can fall pregnant. This even counts for the first 6 weeks after birth, so be warned!
You can talk to your gynae about contraceptive options. Progesterone-only contraceptives like the mini-pill or the injection is reckoned to be the safest for breastfeeding moms as it’s not supposed to reduce milk supply. But some women are more sensitive to hormones than others, and occasionally even these may influence milk supply. For this reason, you should not start using contraceptives before baby is at the very least 6 weeks old. Other alternatives include an intra-uterine contraceptive device, or barrier methods like condoms.
Some general tips
- Firstly, the best advice for many women may simply be to just stop worrying and get on with it. Once you do you will probably find that most of your concerns were unnecessary.
- Communicate openly with your partner, and make sure that you understand each other’s needs and challenges. This is a sacred and very special part of your relationship that you need to guard and cherish.
- If you don’t feel like having actual sex, there are many other ways in which you can give and receive pleasure. This is a good time to explore and experiment a bit.
- Don’t create mountains out of molehills. Perhaps your baby is in your bed (the marital bed) – that is OKAY. You can use the whole rest of the house (more challenging if you don’t live alone, we know!). But you will feel more loving if you got more sleep, so if that is what it takes then so be it.
- Lastly, know that this too shall pass. In the very distant future, you will have a child sleeping through the night (in their own beds), or able to spend a weekend with the grandparents. Survive the here and now, and you (and your relationship) are guaranteed to exit stronger.
Christine Klynhans is a nursing sister and South African Certified Lactation Consultant (SACLC). She currently works at Parentwood Baby and Family Wellness Centre in Pretoria as a well-baby clinic sister and antenatal teacher. She also has a breastfeeding practice and a Breast Pump Demo Centre. She is passionate about supporting parents on the journey of pregnancy, breastfeeding and the early childhood years. Learn more about Christine Klynhans.