Sex. Does it remain a distant memory? Do you even know whether you care?
Lots of couples find that after childbirth the marital mojo goes astray (possibly hidden under piles of breast pads and Ewan the Dream Sheep?) This isn’t surprising really. You are both exhausted. At times it can feel like your baby needs almost constant attachment, so when you finally do get a break you crave some space to yourself, not time with your partner.
Recovering from pregnancy and birth can leave women with hormonal ups and downs, even more so if breastfeeding. You might be afraid it will hurt. Your body is a bit of an alien territory with new squishy bits, leaky bits and stretch marks. Often women lose confidence in their appearance and need time to find ‘their new normal’. Men also worry about hurting their partner, and can feel nervous. You need to think about contraception. Add lack of privacy and a baby sleeping in your room- it’s amazing any of us ever have sex again! Studies have shown that while many women worry about or experience problems with returning to sex after childbirth, very few actually speak to anyone about it. So if you are worrying about sex, what should you do?
First, breathe. Let’s bust some myths….
When is it safe to have sex again?
We usually advise waiting at least 2-3 weeks after delivery, to reduce the risk of uterine infection, longer if you have had stitches (until they are healed). In the first few months you will have less vaginal lubrication and this may be longer if breastfeeding. In reality, just because you can doesn’t mean you want to- many wait much longer to be ready.
Will my body ever be normal again?
This is a worry for a lot of women. Many changes, both physical and emotional, occur in pregnancy and childbirth; and after any birth these can take a varying time to settle. If you have had an assisted birth, a caesarean, or a labour that was difficult in any way, then the healing process may take longer. Your midwife will be able to explain how your particular birth experience might affect you, and offer a chance to talk through your labour if you feel it would help.
Some women find that breastfeeding affects their libido, others don’t. There is no rule on how you should do this! Try to give yourself time to recover – it took you 9 months to grow that baby and it will take time to feel normal again. Some women struggle with medical conditions like pelvic girdle pain, separation of the abdominal muscles, pelvic floor problems or incontinence which can cause ongoing problems after delivery and may need a GP or physiotherapist to help.
What if it hurts?
At first you might feel nervous and it might be uncomfortable. Often couples try things like lubrication, foreplay and different positions. If despite this, especially after the first 6 weeks, it is painful to have sex, then you should consider seeking further advice at your 6-8 week postnatal check. Sometimes pain can be caused by damaged nerves or scar tissue which may need medication or physiotherapy, or by anxiety which may need psychological support. In many areas you can self-refer to ‘women’s physio’ on the NHS, and to sexual counselling through the family planning service, without waiting to see your GP.
What to do next?
I’m not a relationship or sexual counsellor, and my recommendation would always be to seek advice from one of these if you are struggling. You may also need to see your health professional to exclude underlying causes like anaemia or postnatal depression, depending on what symptoms you have.
It is a good idea to try talking about this with your partner. Share time together that is not about sex, and also try and get some time to yourself to recharge and remember who you are.
Check your mood – is this just your sex drive gone AWOL, or are you actually feeling down and depressed or anxious? Talk about this too if that’s the case, and seek advice and support from those around you, your health visitor or GP.
Finally – Keep your sense of humour- let’s face it, when you do finally decide to do the deed the baby will probably wake up. Laugh about it together if you can. This too will pass, as the saying goes.
A Guest Blog from Sara Wood
Sara is GP near Stroud and spends her time juggling work and home life with 2 small boys. She loves family walks in the country and fun times with her #villagemumtribe to let her hair down, and is currently trying to persuade her husband they need to add chickens to their brood!
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