Updated: Jun 30
Sex after pregnancy may seem difficult initially, both physically and mentally. Many women report complications ranging from low libido to physical pain months after giving birth. Health care providers instruct new moms to wait anywhere from four to six weeks after having a baby to engage in intercourse, regardless if the delivery was a C-Section or vaginal. However, even when new moms make it to that four to six week mark, sex may still seem like a far-fetched idea. Here are some reasons why.
1. You're just not feeling it
In the first month or so after giving birth, you may feel exhausted and overwhelmed with your new motherly duties. It’s not uncommon for women to feel like they’re just not feeling sexy or sexual. Also, while breastfeeding, your body produces a hormone called prolactin, which decreases your libido.
One woman explained,
“I did not expect to be completely disinterested in having sex nine months after giving birth. I think part of the problem is that having sex is logistically difficult now. The baby sleeps with us every night. And now that she is mobile, she sleeps between us. So there's this physical barrier to sex. I know that I could get even a little bit creative and still have a bunch of sex, but I am not motivated at all. The breastfeeding, skin-to-skin time and the cuddling I get from my daughter really give me all the intimacy I want right now.”
2. Your breasts are not your own
Some women report their breasts don’t feel sexual anymore after giving birth. While you’re breastfeeding, your breasts are undergoing drastic changes. Your breast skin is likely stretching out, the tissues in your breasts is becoming denser, and the connective tissue in your breasts may shift. If your baby isn’t fed right away, your breasts may engorge with milk and become painful.
As one woman explained
“Becoming a mother is monumental, and if you're breastfeeding, you have this constant physical reminder of your new role….it can take a while to feel like your breasts are "allowed" to be sexual again. As soon as that baby is out, your breasts are on demand. They respond to the cry of your baby, they leak, they sometimes hurt. It's just crazy and awkward at first. I think the partner needs to be respectful of that and the new mama needs to let him know somehow when she's ready to bring them back to the bedroom”.
3. Intercourse in painful or it just doesn’t feel the same.
Your hormones change after giving birth to a baby, especially while breastfeeding. In the first four to six weeks after having a baby, estrogen levels drop, leaving your vagina feeling dry and tender. Estrogen levels remain lower while breastfeeding, and many women report having a decreased libido as well as uncomfortable sex the entire time they breastfed. Further, your vaginal muscles will be weak and a little stretched-out, reducing the pleasurable friction that comes from vaginal intercourse.
4. You may not like your body
Having a baby changes your body. In big ways. Many women feel that their body isn’t as attractive or fit as it used to be.
One women explained it this way:
“Your body feels ugly. A new robe, flowers and compliments would go a long way. Patience and mucho foreplay as well”.
Another said her dislike of her body was a result of breastfeeding:
“My boobs were full and blue. I felt fat and ugly”.
Other women simply find it difficult to feel comfortable in their bodies after giving birth:
"Six weeks [after giving birth] I was cleared to exercise, but was still so uncomfortable all I did was walk. I was back to pre baby weight, but was still fat. It was all in the wrong places. It still is. It's way harder to get back in shape with two kids. Way harder to have sex with two kids, especially an older one. I don't like my body again yet.”
5. Sorting out your new roles in your family may be hard.
Some women find it difficult to balance their new role of mom with their pre-baby roles. Being a new mom takes a great deal of time, energy, and patience.
One woman explained it this way:
“It can be hard to figure out your identity in the first few months, but if you are really, really open with your partner about how you're feeling, the two of you can find a new normal."
In a lot of ways, sex can actually be even better because you've come through this intensely emotional, bonding experience together, and with the right communication, you can transfer the power of that to sex. But there's also the danger of resentment in a marriage when parenthood is introduced (mother is doing 90% of the work to keep baby alive, father is allowed to pursue dreams untethered, etc.) -- so that's why communication has to be ongoing.
I heard one woman say she felt she was the comforter/nurturer of everyone in her family, including her husband -- and including in the bedroom. And that's exhausting and unfair. When does she get what she needs?
Despite all the challenges, not all women experience profound sexual complications after childbirth.
One woman said this about her experience:
“Physically, things worked themselves out pretty quick. The first time after birth was a little uncomfortable, but I had routine vaginal births without traumas, so it wasn't a huge adjustment. And it got easier with each child. I think women who have a difficult time healing because of some sort of trauma might experience a more difficult transition. I only say all that because women love to scare each other about how painful it's going to be -- but I don't think that's the typical experience. I think it can be painful, but that's the exception. Who knows if I'm right on that -- I just think we need more positive experiences shared!”
Another woman explained that although she and her partner aren’t having a lot of sex now, their relationship is growing in different ways,
“My relationship with [my partner] now feels like a partnership in the trenches; we are just trying to keep the baby healthy and happy, get our work done and meals cooked, and do a little hobby stuff when there's time. We are constantly negotiating with each other for time and taking turns helping each other out. So, while we are not having a lot of sex right now (we have had sex about six times in the past 9 months!!), our relationship still feels like it is growing and evolving”.
Dr. Katie Schubert has master's and doctorate degrees in sociology and gender studies from the University of Florida and a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling from Adams State University in Colorado. She completed her postgraduate studies at Florida Postgraduate Sex Therapy Training Institute and is a certified sex therapist, providing therapy to individuals, couples and families on issues related to sexuality, sex and gender in St. Petersburg. Contact her at Katie@Cypresswellnesscenter.com.