Sex is an important part of any couple’s relationship.
But after giving birth, when it hurts just to go to the toilet, the thought of having to resume love-making can be worrying.
Sex postpartum isn’t something that most women or men talk about openly but it can be a major concern for a couple.
As well as fears over pain, new parents can find themselves exhausted with looking after the baby, adjusting to their new roles and uncertain about how to start up a conversation about sex with their partner.
Sex therapist and Relate counsellor Denise Knowles spoke to Metro.co.uk about sex postpartum.
She said, when it comes to rekindling your sex life, a lot would depend on what kind of birth and pregnancy a woman experienced.
If someone has a very difficult birth, and may have stitches or anything like that, there are going to be concerns about it hurting or about doing some damage to themselves.
Those are the physical concerns, but there are also psychological concerns about how they are going to look because their body will have changed, and they are going to have concerns about tiredness.
For men and women, but especially women because they have given birth, [having a baby] can take an enormous amount out of you.
Some women will sadly experience postnatal depression, which might have an effect on their libido, but it doesn’t mean they don’t love their partner.
While you are both busy running around after the baby, communication between couples is the key, Denise explained.
But for men, it can be a difficult conversation to approach in case their partner feels they are being pressured into having sex.
I think it’s very important to actually talk about it and I think part of the difficulty is some men feel a little bit pushed out by the baby and may also not want to impose themselves on their partner because they can see they are tired.
They might not want to start talking about it for fear they will be taken the wrong way.
One of the things it may highlight is how little they talk about sex or talk generally about their relationship.
It is really important that couples are able to communicate with one another about that.
I think what they can do is just generally enquire and notice where their partner needs physical or emotional support.
They could also ask if they need any extra help or say ‘it would be nice if we could just have a cuddle’.
Make it clear it doesn’t have to lead to anything else.
It may get to the stage though where a couple feel like they need help to get their sexual relationship back on track, and that’s when a visit to a GP or a counselling service such as Relate can help.
According to Denise:
If it becomes a problem for both of you, for sure that’s when you need to be talking to someone about it, because actually, if you don’t talk about it, then what happens is it stirs up resentments and that’s not good for anyone.
It takes a couple of years for a woman’s body to get back into some kind of normality.
If their sex life or desire for sex hasn’t been rekindled for six, eight or 10 months afterwards, it might not be about sex, it might be about the couple not adapting to becoming parents.
When approaching the conversation, Denise said it was important not to make your partner feel like they are being blamed for the lack of sex in the relationship.
It is very much about taking ownership of it, saying ‘this is how I am feeling’, and acknowledging that you don’t know how the other person is feeling and asking ‘can we talk about it’.
Sometimes, it’s very easy for an individual to say ‘I’m getting fed up with not having sex’ and that can feel quite blaming.
It really is important for couples to talk.
These conversations can cause discomfort, but once you start talking through things, the discomfort will ease.
Intimacy is not just about sex though.
While you may not be ready to get back between the sheets so soon after giving birth, there are still things you can do to feel close to your partner.
‘Couples come to see me before they have a baby and one of the things I will often talk about is the importance of touch,’ Denise explained.
‘Being sensual rather than sexual – it is alright to hug or stroke, not to stop kissing either, and to recognise that touch is very important, that touch connects us.
‘You might not have sex but could have lots of cuddles, touches or strokes to help you feel closer.’
What is important though is for couples to have postpartum sex only when both parties feel comfortable.
A lot of the women who see Denise for sex therapy said they felt they had to have sex after having a baby sooner than they felt comfortable.
Many women I see feel the pressure that they should be having sex.
I say, if that’s the way they are feeling, don’t. All it will do is stir up resentment.
No one, male or female, should do anything they don’t really want to do.
While pre-baby, you may have been enjoying sex nightly, in all different positions and all different locations, Denise suggests accepting that things may not always return to what was once considered normal.
I think it is important not to hanker after what you had before when you have had a baby – in a way your whole world has changed.
It’s unrealistic to imagine it would remain the same.
It is one of those things as a sex therapist people will say to me – that they want their sex life to be the same as it was five, six or seven years ago.
Well, they were younger then. They probably didn’t have the same distractions, and there is the natural ageing process, which has some impact on their sex life.
Pushing to get it back to what it was is putting a little bit of pressure on it.
It is going to be different, going to feel different.
I’m sure there are couples who say it hasn’t changed for them, which is fantastic. But it very much is couple by couple.
Sex postpartum: What it is important to know
Make sure you use contraception from the very first time you have sex after having a baby.
According to the NHS, it is possible to fall pregnant as little as three weeks after your baby arrives.
It is a myth that if you are breastfeeding, or if you haven’t had your period, then you won’t conceive, so make sure you are taking precautions if you are not ready to have another child so soon after giving birth.
However, there are no rules about when you can start having sex again after having a baby – just take it slowly and gently the first time and use a lubricant if you need to.
Also, make sure you talk to your partner if it is hurting, don’t be afraid to stop and only do what you feel comfortable doing.
One mother’s experience:
A mother-of-two, who had her second child eight months ago, told Metro.co.uk:
I was lucky that I only grazed with both my births. However, it still took a long time before I felt ‘normal’ down there again,’
With my first daughter, it was a good few months before I tried to have sex, and it was really uncomfortable until around 10 months.
My ex put quite a lot of pressure on me, which didn’t help.
With my second child and a different dad, I found that I was in the mood a lot sooner than previously, partly because he didn’t put any pressure on me at all, and still doesn’t.
However, it did still hurt a bit for several months. It was only about six months in that it felt ‘normal’ again.
I think breastfeeding has a lot to do with hormones and definitely affects lubrication shall we say.
I definitely found things easier after investing in a bottle of lube.
The hardest bit of sex post baby is finding the time and energy.
The inclination is definitely still there, but a lot of the time, by the time the kids are in bed, we are often too knackered to bother and will end up collapsing ourselves.
I think this is normal – the important thing is to communicate, to realise that your sex life will suffer from having kids, don’t pressure yourselves too much, (or each other!) and give it time.
Oh, and if the pain carries on definitely, go back to the GP to get checked.
For more information, visit Relate.