When you have a baby, people are practically lining up to tell you about the endless feedings, dirty nappies and sleepless nights that lie ahead. But the conversations about what sex is like post-baby tend to be few and far between.
Many health care professionals recommend avoiding intercourse for about six weeks after giving birth to allow the body time to heal, regardless of delivery method. At your postpartum checkup around this time, the doctor or midwife will do an examination and determine whether you’re cleared to resume sex and exercise.
Even if you had an uncomplicated birth experience, adjusting to all of the physical and emotional changes takes time. Mum Gracie X, an author who asked that we use her pen name, told HuffPost she was surprised by how “beat up” her body was after giving birth.
“It took me six weeks to feel ‘normal’ in terms of my girly parts — and I had a vaginal quick delivery!” she said. “Also, I felt like I was in a hormonal altered state, almost like I had a new and completely different body, swollen breasts, no sex drive and was hyperemotional.”
Many who get the green light to have sex at their postpartum appointment aren’t anywhere near ready to do so. In fact, according to a 2019 survey from Motherly, 38% of mums said it took six to 12 months after birth before they were interested in sex again. (On the other hand, 11% of respondents said they were interested in getting busy sooner than the six-week mark — which just goes to show you that the time it takes to feel ready again can vary quite a bit.)
Even if you aren’t the birthing partner — or if neither of you gave birth — sex post-baby can be a lot to contend with. You’re probably sleep-deprived, devoting what little energy you have to caring for a tiny human, and perhaps learning how to navigate your partner’s new body and fluctuating hormones.
To find out what sex after a baby is really like, we asked mums to share some of the unexpected things they discovered about the experience.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
1. Natural lubrication might be sorely lacking.
“Sex after baby felt a little uncomfortable. Once my doctor cleared me for sexual activity, I wasn’t afraid to jump back into doing it. But when I did, it felt a little different physically. It wasn’t bad nor painful — it was just different. Over time, I started pinpointing some of the differences. For instance, it was drier down there. It took a little more bells and whistles — aka foreplay — for any kind of natural lubrication to develop.” — Chelsie Washington, host of the “Weird Mom” podcast
2. It’s not unusual for sex to be painful, at least at first. But it gets better with time.
“It hurts! As much as I thought I was prepared, I wasn’t. After having a vaginal birth back to back — my children are almost 12 months apart — things just weren’t the same down there. Positions that once were comfortable and enjoyable ended up resulting in pain. I had to learn to be patient and so did my husband. On the bright side, it does get much, much better.” — Tonya Gooch Mann, @thepostpartumeffect on Instagram
3. Just because you had a C-section doesn’t mean you can jump back in the sack quickly — or that you’ll want to.
“Most people know that you can’t do heavy lifting or work out as a C-section mama. But you will also need to be cleared for sex after about six to eight weeks to allow your abdomen to heal. I had very little desire for sex. My body was healing from major surgery and I was also caring for a newborn. Those things combined made sex the absolute last thing on my list to do! I was just exhausted all the time.” — Melissa Campos, @mommothermama on Instagram
4. Sex toys will become your new best friends.
“My wife had two rough pregnancies and halfway through the first one we lost our daughter. When my wife was four months pregnant with our second baby, we decided to open our home to foster in hopes of adoption. Faster than we expected, we got a call that a baby girl needed a home and we were quickly parents to our now-daughter. Our son was born five months later. It was basically as if we’d had twins, with the babies being within six months of each other.
We were in survival mode and sex was the last thing we had effort for. Thank goodness for vibrators, though! We had a standing automatic order on Amazon for batteries, and whenever my wife needed an orgasm, I’d run to the nightstand and break out that hardware.” — Nic R., @lezzimomof2 on Twitter and co-host of the “Redefining the Rainbow” podcast
5. Breastfeeding can make you feel ‘touched out.’
“I felt 100% unsexy for way more than six weeks after giving birth. This was mostly due to the physical toll that breastfeeding took on my body. I literally felt like a cow and the last thing I wanted was someone else touching my body. Luckily, I have a secure and compassionate partner who was supportive of me and never pressured me to go beyond my comfort zone. Through good communication, we found new ways to be intimate.” — Gina McMillen, illustrator at @ginsasdrawingclub
“I literally felt like a cow and the last thing I wanted was someone else touching my body.”
– Gina McMillen, illustrator at @ginsasdrawingclub
6. If you have sex while nursing, you’ll probably leak milk.
“When you’re sexually stimulated, your milk will let down. This can be dripping to full-on hydrant stream to your partner’s face. You’ve got to get used to even more fluids than you were before.” — Katie Brunelle, @katiezoeb on Twitter and co-host of the “Redefining the Rainbow” podcast
7. Boob play might be off the table for a while.
“It was crazy how much I missed her boobs. While she was breastfeeding, the boobs were off limits and I didn’t realise how much I’d actually miss them.” — Nic R.
8. In some ways, sex may actually be better after sharing this bonding experience with your partner.
“I was expecting sex after baby to be really blah. But after having been through something so intense with my husband, lovemaking feels more passionate and intentional. Our baby sleeps in our bed, so we have to get creative on where we have sex. It feels naughty and fun to have sex in different places in our house that we normally wouldn’t! I also noticed that after having a vaginal birth, now certain positions feel better. That’s something I definitely didn’t expect after a baby.” — Lina Forrestal, motherhood blogger and host of “The New Mamas Podcast”
“After having been through something so intense with my husband, lovemaking feels more passionate and intentional.”
– Lina Forrestal, blogger and host of “The New Mamas Podcast”
9. When you’re short on downtime, you learn to embrace the quickie.
“I typically like to be wined and dined to get in the mood. I enjoy romantic play and everything that leads up to sex itself. With a newborn, however, timing was very unpredictable. If I waited around for the perfect moment to get in the mood, then it might never happen at all.” — McMillen
10. Don’t beat yourself up over a dry spell. Remember this is temporary.
“You get to say ‘no’ to sex. We love our partners and we want everyone happy and fulfilled, but if your body is still in recovery (from pushing an entire human out of it) or you’re tired, or your drive is just hard to muster, let sex slide for a little bit. Things will get better and more back to normal. In the meantime, normalise solo sex in your relationship.” — Brunelle