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Between The Sheets: Everything You Need To Know About Postpartum Sex

Whether you wait six weeks, six months, or more, postpartum sex is a daunting prospect. We spoke to GP Dr. Kirsty Wallace-Hor about how best to navigate sex after having a baby.

It’s the two words that can send shivers down your spine and be just as terrifying as birth itself. Yep, we’re talking about the wild ride (literally!) of postpartum sex. For many of us, sex is the absolute last thing we feel like when we’re still deep in the newborn trenches and recovering from birth.

Whether you’re touched out, had a traumatic labour and see your body in a whole new light, or would simply rather juggle flaming knives than get back in the sack, there’s no denying having a baby throws a pretty big curve ball to all aspects of your life, especially sex, and intimacy. Literally overnight, your relationship welcomes a brand-new member into the equation and figuring out your new dynamic as a family takes a lot of work, and it’s nowhere near as simple as “scheduling in date nights!” as we’re told time and time again. 

Also, let’s normalise the fact it can take months, if not years, to rebuild our libido after having a baby — and that’s totally OK. It may never return to what it was pre-kids, or it could come back with a vengeance; everyone’s experience will be different, and finding your new normal should be the goal. 

We spoke to Kin Fertility GP Dr. Kirsty Wallace-Hor about all things postpartum sex, and her insights and advice will arm you with the knowledge and confidence to navigate intimacy after birth.  

When can you have sex after giving birth, and how long should you wait to have sex if you had a C-section?

According to Dr. Wallace-Hor, the general rule for returning to things like sex, swimming, and using tampons is to wait six weeks to let your body heal. “This allows the postpartum bleeding to stop and the cervix has closed. By this time, a C-section of the wound has also usually healed,” the GP advises. 

“While C-sections are common these days, they are still significant abdominal surgeries. And for a lot of women, they aren’t planned – meaning they could also come with birth trauma. It’s therefore important not to rush things if you don’t feel ready,” she explains. 

If bleeding hasn’t stopped after six weeks, or if you’re experiencing any issues with your C-section wound, Dr Wallace-Hor advises to see your GP. 

 

Being physically ready is one thing, but what are the telltale signs of being mentally prepared, especially if it was a traumatic birth experience?

Feeling mentally ready is just as important as being physically prepared, and according to Dr. Wallace-Hor, many factors can impact your mental state after having a baby. 

“It’s common for people to feel ‘physically’ ready for sex before they feel mentally ready. This could be due to a traumatic birth experience. However, other common causes include concerns about body image, postpartum anxiety or depression, or changes in libido,” she says. 

The GP says it’s best to take things slow and make your own timeline if you’re not ready. “A traumatic birth experience is often associated with feeling out of control when it comes to your body, so rushing into sex if you’re not sure you’re ready isn’t ideal,” the doctor explains.

“It can help to engage in non-sexual forms of physical intimacy with your partner to start with, such as cuddling or massage, without any expectation of it leading to something more. Talking openly with your partner is also important.”

Dr. Wallace-Hor says if you continue to have concerns about having sex after giving birth or feel that you need help recovering from a traumatic birth experience, it is always best to see your GP.

 

Is it normal to feel pain or discomfort during sex after childbirth? What can I do about vaginal dryness during postpartum sex, and how can you make postpartum sex more comfortable?

As Dr. Wallace-Hor explains, the postpartum period is filled with hormonal changes, especially if you’re breastfeeding. These changes can result in low libido, vaginal dryness, and painful intercourse.

“Fortunately, lubricants, vaginal moisturisers, and vaginal oestrogen can help with this. Pelvic floor exercises are also helpful. If you’re not sure what you’re doing is working, a women’s health physiotherapist can help,” the GP shares.

 

Will sex feel different for you or your partner?

This is the million-dollar question that many couples ponder, but Dr. Wallace-Hor says that sex is unlikely to feel significantly different for you or your partner in the long term. 

“However, it might feel different for you as you recover from giving birth. For example, it might be uncomfortable or painful to start with, or you might notice that your pelvic floor muscles are weaker. If you have persistent issues or pain, I recommend seeing your GP or a women’s health physiotherapist,” she says.

 

Will breastfeeding impact sex?

Breastfeeding can greatly impact sex, Dr. Wallace-Hor says, noting the significant drop in oestrogen levels in your body that occurs when breastfeeding, which can reduce libido as well as affect vaginal lubrication, leading to uncomfortable or painful sex. 

“This doesn’t affect everyone who breastfeeds, but if it does affect you, be reassured that it tends to get better with time. There are also effective ways of treating vaginal dryness caused by breastfeeding, including lubricants, vaginal moisturisers, and vaginal oestrogen,” the GP notes. 

Breastfeeding can also impact sex for various reasons, she notes. You may find that your perception of your breasts has shifted after using them to feed your child, or you might be concerned about milk leakage.

“If you’re worried about leaking during sex, wearing a bra with nursing pads can help. Feeling comfortable having your nipples sexualised might be challenging, even after breastfeeding has stopped. It’s important to discuss with your partner what you’re comfortable with as your body and hormones change,” she explains about putting clear boundaries in place.

 

How can you deal with a low sex drive after having a baby?

Dr. Wallace-Hor says the most important thing is to be kind to yourself in this period and not compare yourself to anyone else (easier said than done, we know!).

“Pregnancy, giving birth, and the postpartum period involve dramatic changes to your body and your hormones. Your life has also changed forever. It’s very normal to have a low sex drive after having a baby. This can affect one or both partners and can obviously affect relationships.”

“Parents are usually time-poor, so expecting (or even wanting) spontaneous sex might not be realistic anymore. Good communication and scheduling time together as a couple is a good start. It’s also worth exploring different things that might help, such as more non-sexual forms of physical intimacy or prioritising more foreplay when you do have sex,” the doctor says. 

“Being open with your partner and working together on ways to make you feel more comfortable is also important. Ultimately, if postpartum sex is affecting your mood or relationship, it’s worth talking to your GP or a counsellor.”

 

What are the best positions for sex after having a baby?

Everyone’s recovery is different, and finding the most comfortable positions might involve some trial and error. For women who gave birth vaginally, the missionary position with the woman lying down is a gentle starting point, and lying down will ensure there’s not too much pressure on your pelvic floor. 

For C-section mamas, positions that avoid pressure on the abdomen are best. Spooning, edge-of-the-bed, or woman-on-top positions allow for control and comfort. These positions help protect the incision area, allowing for a gradual and gentle reintroduction to sexual intimacy without straining healing tissues.

“Unless you have significant complications from your delivery, there aren’t really any sexual positions that you need to avoid after having a baby. Perhaps the main thing to consider is protecting your core, as you tend to lose a lot of your core muscle strength during pregnancy,” the GP points out.

 

Can postpartum sex cause any complications or infections?

If your doctor has given you the green light at your six-week check-up and everything looks good, then the risk of infections is extremely low. 

“The risk of complications or infections is usually low after six weeks, as any injuries to the vagina or perineum, or a C-section wound, would have healed by this time. However, if you have a complicated delivery or issues with healing, it’s worth getting cleared for sex by your health professional.”

 

What should you do if you have no desire for sex after childbirth?

This will, of course, depend on the individual whether or not it bothers you and if sex is a priority for you right now. Like anything in life, sex can be seasonal, and there’s no pressure to be doing the deed on the reg while you’re looking after a tiny human. 

“While it’s common to have a low desire for sex after childbirth (and during other stages of life), it can hurt your mood and your relationship with your partner. If low libido is worrying you, I recommend seeing your GP or looking into sex therapy or counselling,” Dr. Wallace-Hor notes.

 

How soon after having a baby can you fall pregnant again?

Even if your period hasn’t returned after having a baby, it’s important to know that you can still ovulate and fall pregnant after giving birth. “It’s therefore essential to have contraception sorted before resuming sexual activity again, and your GP is a great person to help decide what’s best,” Dr. Wallace-Hor says.

 

Words by Bella Brennan

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