For many women and birthing people, learning to re-establish physical intimacy with their partners postpartum can be a delicate issue. Quite literally. Fluctuating hormones coupled with the adjustment to a new postpartum body can send libidos plummeting. Often leaving some women wondering if they’ll ever feel desirable again, let alone ready to do the deed. For other women, waiting the recommended six weeks following delivery can prove to be a challenge. After all, sex is a fundamental way for couples to nurture and renew their relationship, especially in the often stressful phase of new parenthood.
While some health care providers recommend delaying the resumption of sexual activity until lochia, the blood, and discharge flow has stopped, most recommend a standard 6-week abstinence period after delivery. The timeline for resuming lovemaking, however, will vary. Factors such as the birth itself, how quickly your body heals, as well as how soon you feel ready to resume sexual activity following delivery will all come into play.
Dr. Tamandra Morgan of the Black ObGyn Project says the most important rule for navigating postpartum sex is to allow ample time for the body to heal. After all, giving birth is one of the most physically demanding experiences the human body can endure. She says that women are recommended to abstain from sex for six weeks following delivery “to allow the pelvic floor rest, as well as to allow the body to heal and for [any] swelling to resolve.” She adds that “this is particularly important if there were any sort of perineal lacerations” as a premature romp in the sack could result in tearing, further setting back recovery. Additionally, following delivery, the uterus lining is particularly susceptible to bacteria that might be introduced via intercourse.
In addition to physical recovery, the postpartum period is rife with hormonal shifts that can wreak havoc on everything from sleep, appetite, mood, and of course, libido. Dr. Morgan says following delivery, “estrogen levels are naturally lower and can take time to return to normal.” She says those “low estrogen levels can cause thinning and dryness of vaginal tissues which can make sex less enjoyable.” Foreplay has always been a great way to increase arousal and alleviate vaginal dryness. Dr. Morgan also recommends using lubrication to help increase pleasure and comfort. Vaginal estrogen, available by prescription only, can also help restore moisture to vaginal tissue.
Another major concern for many women postpartum is how enjoyable sex will be, both for themselves and their partners. Some women worry their partners will notice a difference in vaginal elasticity or tightness. Dr. Morgan confirms that “changes in elasticity are normal in the postpartum period.” She adds that “pelvic floor therapy which includes Kegels are very effective in addressing some of the bothersome symptoms post-delivery. Pelvic floor therapy helps aid in tissue recovery, strengthen the muscles that provide bladder control, and restore sexual function.”
For the new mamas and birthing people rearing to reignite the sexual flame, Dr. Morgan says the most important guideline for postpartum sex is to listen to your body. If sex is uncomfortable or painful, it’s probably best to wait some more. When in doubt, consult your health care provider, whether you’re feeling ready before or after the 6-week wait has elapsed.
And for those still unsure, simply go at your own pace. Feeling ready mentally is as important as feeling ready physically. The postpartum phase entails major changes for both new parents. While sex is a vital way of expressing love and intimacy, communication and mutual understanding will be an essential way to strengthen your bond as you both adjust to your new lives as parents. And until you’re ready to participate in sexual intimacy once again.