The period after childbirth is crucial for both the mother and the child because they are in need of utmost care. This, however, does not imply that one cannot have sex after pregnancy. The important question here that often bugs many minds is what is the appropriate time to indulge in sexual activity post-pregnancy. So, if you are a new mother or a partner whose wife has just recently delivered, then this article is meant for you. Read on to find out all that you need to know about sex after pregnancy including when is the right time to begin with, and complications (if any) involved, precautions and more.

(Read more: After delivery care for the mother)

  1. When to have sex after pregnancy
  2. Complications of sex after pregnancy
  3. How to have sex after pregnancy
  4. STDs through sex after pregnancy
  5. Birth control for sex after pregnancy
  6. Tips for sex after pregnancy

Childbirth is a life-changing and overwhelming experience. This experience can be different for different couples as each pregnancy is unique. Besides, every couple has their own way of dealing with raising their baby. So, at times sex can be missed out. This can be because of two reasons: the couple is unsure as to when to start having sex after pregnancy, or the guilt of ignoring childcare in order to have sex. In either of the cases, you must understand that it is perfectly normal to have sex after pregnancy as long as both the partners are willing and emotionally ready.  

Though it is safe to have sex as soon as you feel ready after having a baby, certain experts advise waiting until after any bleeding has stopped (for normal delivery), or for the stitches to dry (after caesarean delivery). This is done in order to reduce the risk of infection while your womb (uterus) is healing, but ultimately it's up to you. Also, a woman's body goes through a lot of changes during pregnancy and after childbirth. Therefore, it is important that the mother’s body is prepared and has adequate strength for sexual activity.

(Read more: Sex during pregnancy)

Statistical analysis shows that about 50 per cent of the couples have sex within eight weeks of delivery. About 75 per cent of couples have sex by 12 weeks. And almost all couples are likely to have tried sex again within a year of childbirth.

The complications that are usually associated with sex after pregnancy have been discussed below.

  • Normal delivery is not usually associated with high-risk pregnancies. Therefore, sex after pregnancy in cases of normal delivery does not give rise to many problems. Some women may experience a little vaginal pain but that eases with time. 
  • For women who have had a caesarean delivery, or suffered a tear, episiotomy or other problems with their recovery, having sex after pregnancy can be a tad more challenging. It is normal that such women may experience pain and even vaginal bleeding. Such women usually require more time to heal and it is advised that they have sex only after such symptoms have stopped. (Read more: Pros and cons of natural birth and C section)
  • Hormonal changes can also cause the vagina to become dry and tender, especially while breastfeeding.
  • After birth, estrogen and progesterone levels decrease while prolactin and oxytocin levels increase. Prolactin stimulates the breasts to produce milk. Prolactin level is very high in the early postpartum period in order to stimulate initial milk production. Psychologically, prolactin induces maternal behaviour. A lactating mother experiences a form of psychological tension, which can best be described as a feeling or need of always wanting to see and hold her baby.
  • Another important consequence of lactation is the lack of vaginal lubrication when the breastfeeding mother becomes sexually excited. Vaginal dryness may cause pain when sexual intercourse is attempted.
  • Also, women’s breasts can cause discomfort during sex after pregnancy if they are full or leaking.
  • Additionally, certain women suffer from post-partum stress and depression irrelevant of whether the delivery is normal or caesarian. It is important to seek help and consult with your therapist if you do not feel like having sex after pregnancy. Professional help can provide you with the necessary care required so as to resume your sex life post-pregnancy. (Read more: Postpartum depression)

The following methods can be employed for a better sexual experience after pregnancy.

  • Employ pain-relieving steps beforehand, such as emptying your bladder, taking a warm bath or taking an over-the-counter pain reliever. In cases of experiencing burning afterwards, it is advisable to cool the area using ice.
  • A lubricant can be effective in helping you deal with vaginal dryness.
  • Alternatives to vaginal sex can also be tried such as massage, oral sex or mutual masturbation
  • In case of overly full breasts, emptying them beforehand or using a towel during intercourse can prove to be very effective.

It is usually considered safe to have sex with your partner after pregnancy, given the fact that you are acquainted with each other's medical history. However, this does not imply zero risks for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

It is important to watch out for STDs after the period of childbirth, especially in case if you have sex with someone else other than your partner. Even while having sex with your partner after pregnancy, one must be careful. If at any point in time, you feel that your partner or you might have been infected, consult your doctor immediately.

Besides, the mother is also breastfeeding the child, at least for the initial six months, and any kind of infection might affect the child. It is thus, advisable to take protection to prevent the risk of STDs through sex after pregnancy.

(Read more: How to have safe sex)

Delivering a baby brings about a lot of changes in the mother, and thus sex after pregnancy requires her to be in optimum health. Moreover, you just have had a baby and thus, require a stable method of birth control for sex after pregnancy.

Breastfeeding acts as a method of birth control as the hormone prolactin produced during the process prevents hormones that cause eggs to mature and become fertile. However, breastfeeding is not a 100 per cent full-proof method of contraception. It is effective only if you are less than six months postpartum, exclusively breastfeeding and your menstruation cycle has not resumed to normal.

Studies suggest that it is ideal to wait for 18 to 24 months before attempting the next pregnancy in order to reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and other health problems. The effective methods of birth control that require to be taken for sex after pregnancy include the following.

  • Condom (can be used by either partner)
  • A contraceptive implant, such as etonogestrel
  • Progestin-only contraceptives, such as the contraceptive injection medroxyprogesterone or the minipill norethindrone (Read more: Contraceptive pills)
  • A copper or hormonal intrauterine device (IUD)

Birth control methods that contain both estrogen and progestin such as combined birth control pills are not advised. This is because they pose an increased risk of blood clots shortly after delivery. Additionally, birth control methods that contain both estrogen and progestin have long been thought to decrease the milk supply of women who are breastfeeding, but recent research proves it not true.

You should take the advice of your doctor during your postpartum visits about birth control options.

Pregnancy takes a lot of effort on the part of both parents. The partners may feel disconnected after the experience. Sex after pregnancy can be a means of helping them reconnect. The tips mentioned below will help to boost up your sex life after pregnancy.  

  • The best approach is to take it slow. You can engage in foreplay and it does not necessarily have to lead to penetrative sex. You can try cuddling and being intimate at first so that you gradually become used to being touched in a sexual way again.
  • Your vagina may not always be lubricated even if you are aroused and can be drier than it was before. Make use of lubricants to make things more comfortable. Do not use an oil-based lubricant if are using condoms, as it could cause them to leak.
  • In some cases, masturbation with the help of lubricants can also prove to be helpful before indulging in sex after pregnancy.
  • Even when you feel ready, try not to rush things. Sex after pregnancy should feel natural, and you should both feel ready and fully aroused. During the process of intercourse, try a position that does not put too much pressure on wherever you are feeling sensitive. The female partner can begin by putting herself on top as this gives her the means to control the rate and depth of penetration.
  • If at any point during the intercourse there is a sense of discomfort, it is best to stop for a while. Once you do feel aroused again, you can try resuming sexual activity. You can also try oral sex as it does not involve any rigorous movements. It is, however, recommended to make the use of a condom or oral dam devices to prevent the risk of infection.
  • In case the sense of tiredness is overwhelming, try having sex during the baby’s nap time, so that you are not too exhausted to enjoy it. Be patient, as things will get easier when your baby starts sleeping through the night.
  • Try to destress by means of exercise or meditation. Pelvic floor exercises can help in bringing back the muscular tone to your vagina. This exercise can help in accelerating the process of healing and can work wonders for your sex life too.
  • Take care of your health, eat well, drink plenty of fluids, and rest whenever you can afford to. Looking after a new baby is extremely demanding. You also need to look after yourself to preserve your energy.

References

  1. Yu J et al. Randomized Trial Comparing the Physiological and Psychological Effects of Different Relaxation Interventions in Chinese Women Breastfeeding Their Healthy Term Infant. Breastfeed Med. 2019 Jan/Feb;14(1):33-38. PMID: 30351172
  2. Sobhgol SS et al. The Effect of Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercise on Female Sexual Function During Pregnancy and Postpartum: A Systematic Review. Sex Med Rev. 2019 Jan;7(1):13-28. PMID: 30301705
  3. Kristensen IH et al. First-time mothers' confidence mood and stress in the first months postpartum. A cohort study. Sex Reprod Healthc. 2018 Oct;17:43-49. PMID: 30193719
  4. Mori E et al. Relationship between the mode of conception and depressive symptoms during the first 6 months post-partum in Japan. Reprod Med Biol. 2018 Apr 10;17(3):275-282. PMID: 30013429
  5. Viola Polomeno. Sex and Breastfeeding: An Educational Perspective . J Perinat Educ. 1999 Winter; 8(1): 30–40. PMCID: PMC3431754
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