As a pelvic health Physical Therapist, I am often asked about sex after childbirth. “What if sex is painful after my baby is born?” or “I’m worried sex will feel different” and “My libido is decreased. Is something wrong with me?” All of these questions are completely normal and are routine areas where I partner with my patients on postpartum recovery.
There’s no question why there are so many concerns surrounding this topic– returning to sex postpartum can feel daunting. Your body has been through a lot and your daily life and dynamic with your partner can feel vastly different now that your baby has arrived. Intimacy with your partner plays an important role in feeling connected with one another, so it is important to re-engage in this part of your relationship when you feel ready.
Let’s explore some tips and things to consider after you are cleared for penetrative intercourse (typically around 6 weeks post-birth). Also, if you haven’t already, get connected with a Pelvic Health Physical Therapist to help you in your pregnancy and postpartum journey! They can be life-changing in your recovery as they can help with all aspects of your life and body to get you thriving again!
Decreased Libido Postpartum is Completely Normal
It’s okay if you are feeling disinterested in returning to sex after having your baby! There is nothing wrong with you. During the postpartum period, the sex hormones that normally take part in increasing your libido take a nosedive. Paired with major fatigue, this is enough to move sex down on the list of daily priorities.
Also, Oxytocin, your bonding and love hormone, was previously being fulfilled by hugging, snuggling, and touching your partner. Now your baby is providing all the physical touch your body craves which can reduce your desire for physical touch with your partner.
Eventually you can expect your libido to return; the changes in your dynamic with your partner and your hormone shifts are only temporary.
Create and Schedule Time
With a new member of your family at home, time is now your most valuable resource. It may seem completely un-sexy, but sometimes the only way to find the time to connect with your partner in an intimate way is to schedule and make the time.
Ask a relative or friend to take your baby out for a walk or make the best of your baby’s nap time. Aim to set aside time at the beginning or the middle of the day when you still have some energy and are less likely to just want to fall asleep.
This devoted time is for general intimacy, not just penetrative intercourse. This includes sensual touching, kissing, external stimulation, and hugging. If you feel aroused, interested, or in the mood for penetrative sex, go for it! If not, that’s okay. The goal of intimacy is connection and to feel good. It’s not just about penetration.
Communicate with your Partner
Take time to communicate your concerns, anxieties, and needs around returning to intimacy with your partner to set yourself up for success. One of the more common concerns postpartum people have is that sex might be painful after having a baby. Alerting your partner to this will remind them to take things slow and also check in frequently about your comfort.
Another common concern is feeling self-conscious about the appearance of your postpartum body or things feeling different following pregnancy and delivery. It’s okay if you want to stay covered and cozy in a blanket or a sweatshirt to feel more confident or comfortable, and alerting your partner to why you are doing this will help ease some anxiety and help you stay relaxed and less self-conscious.
Lubricant is Key
After having a baby, the vagina’s ability to create its own lubricant is usually decreased even with sufficient foreplay or arousal. This is a leading cause of painful sex postpartum. Using lubricant is key to reduce friction and improve comfort.
I recommend water-based lubricants for postpartum people as they are the most gentle on healing tissue and least likely to breed bacteria. Oil or silicone-based lubricants can be helpful if you feel water-based lubricant is not doing enough to reduce friction, just know that oil-based lube is not condom/latex compatible and silicone-based lube may break down other silicone items.
Here are some of my favorite lubricants to recommend to patients:
Get Professional Help
Pain with sex is really common postpartum (some studies show it effects around 80% of postpartum people!), but ongoing pain is never normal. If you have pain with attempts at penetration, pain with orgasm/arousal, or pain after sex, know that you are not alone and that there is help for these symptoms.
Tell your OB/Gyn about your pain with sex postpartum and also seek help from a Physical Therapist who specializes in Pelvic Rehab and has experience treating pain with sex. It will feel so good to have someone to talk to about this and to provide you with solutions!
If you are in Oregon, you don’t need a referral from your medical provider to see a Physical Therapist. If you are outside of Oregon, read our blog on What To Look For When Finding A Pelvic Health Physical Therapist for more direction!
If you are in the Portland area, give us a call at 503-295-2585 to schedule an appointment to help you with your postpartum recovery and sexual function. We treat so much more in addition to pain with sex such as back pain, pelvic organ prolapse, urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, bladder or bowel urgency, scar pain, diastasis recti, clogged milk ducts, pelvic pain, and so much more!