- After having a baby, many women might find it painful to have sex, even months after they’ve given birth
- Aside from the physical effects of labor, some women are too overwhelmed by the demands of new motherhood to have an interest in sex
- Here’s what new dads need to know about the postpartum period, and how you can best support your partner to get your sex lives back on track
After her first child was born four years ago, Brittany*, 32, didn’t have sex with her husband for a full year.
“As a nursing mother, I had no sex drive,” she told MensHealth.com. “I was ‘touched out’ by the end of the day.” Not having sex was hard for Brittany, but it was arguably more difficult for her husband. “At first, he was incredibly frustrated,” she says. The situation got so bad that they eventually sought couples’ counseling.
It should come as no surprise that having a baby has an impact your sex life. But few men go into the experience knowing exactly what to expect, especially if it’s their first child. If your partner has no interest in sex, it’s easy to feel like you’re doing something wrong, or that nothing between you two will ever be the same again. But this is rarely the case.
“I hear so many guys say, ‘My wife hates me right now…What can I do?’ after they have a baby,” said Chris Murdock, an advisory board member of the support and social group Dads Married to Doctors.
With some time and patience, most couples can find their new normal. That’s why it’s important to understand exactly what’s going on with her during the postpartum period, and how you can help.
It takes time for your partner’s body to heal.
While every woman’s childbirth experience is different, most women can agree that labor is no walk in the park. The effects linger long after delivery: childbirth is usually followed by a prolonged period of bleeding called lochia, an expulsion of blood and tissue from the uterus. Having sex during this period could put your partner at risk of infection, which is why doctors recommend that all women, regardless of the type of labor they had, wait at least six weeks after childbirth to have sex again.
Even after the doctor gives your partner the green light, that doesn’t mean they’re fully recovered. “What it means is that they aren’t concerned about some of the bigger issues, like infection or an organ rupturing,” said Stephanie Prendergast, CEO and co-founder of the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center in Los Angeles.
The effects of childbirth vary depending on what kind of labor your partner had. For instance, between 53% and 79% of women who give birth vaginally will develop tears during childbirth, which can cause pain months after labor. In some cases, even if the tears appear to have healed, they may have left nerve damage, according to Prendergast, as nerves grow slowly and may be “stunned” after birth. Women who deliver via C-section will also likely experience some pain during sex; in fact, one study found that 44% of women who had C-sections reported pain during sex a full three months after giving birth.
If your partner did experience tearing during labor, she might feel self-conscious about the way her vagina looks. Tallie, 35, gave birth to her first child five months ago. “It’s just not a welcoming environment down there,” she told MensHealth.com. “I thought I’d be all about it (I’ve never been shy about being sex-positive), but actually I wasn’t.”
The things that turned her on may not get her excited anymore.
After they recover from the physical after-effects of birth, women still may have a totally different experience of sex. If she’s nursing, for instance, she might feel uncomfortable with breast and nipple play, at least until she stops breastfeeding: one new mom told MensHealth.com that she “lost” her breasts as an erogenous zone until she stopped nursing her 2-year-old son.
Additionally, many women may feel like they approach orgasm, but can’t “get there” as quickly as they did before. This could be the result of changing hormone levels, which tend to plummet after delivery, or it could be the result of pelvic floor muscles that have been stretched during pregnancy and are not able to contract as rapidly as they did before.
In some cases, Prendergast said, her orgasm may feel “different” permanently.
“Sex is going to be different,” Prendergast told MensHealth.com. “And arousal may just take longer than it did before.”
Your partner also might feel concerned about doing something “unsexy” during sex — like, for instance, peeing by accident, which is a legitimate possibility for those whose nether parts have been stretched apart by a 9-pound infant’s head. While you can always buy a moisture-resistant blanket or a disposable, waterproof bed pad to alleviate her concerns, keep in mind that if you’re already embedded in the nitty-gritty of early parenthood, unexpected urine should just be par for the course.
You may have to expand your definition of sex.
What your high school sex ed teacher told you is true: there are other ways to be intimate aside from vaginal intercourse. In the months after childbirth, new dads would do well to define sex more broadly, says Janice, 34.
“Too many people think it only counts if there’s vaginal penetration,” she said. But new moms will feel more appreciated and sexy when their partners are open to other kinds of sexual contact, too. Things like sexting, watching porn together, mutual masturbation, or giving or receiving oral sex are all great options for couples in the postpartum period.
Many sex therapists also emphasize the importance of nonsexual touch, especially in times when normal sex might feel stressful or potentially painful. Affectionate touch in the form of, say, giving or receiving a massage, has been shown to boost oxytocin, a “feel-good” hormone that can heighten feelings of trust and empathy while reducing stress and fear.
It’s also crucial to note that the less stressed your partner is about childcare, the more open she’ll be to getting intimate. So volunteer to share the load whenever possible.
“The first thing I ask men is, ‘Are you changing diapers?’ Some of them tell me, ‘No, it makes me gag,’” says Murdock. “I tell them, ‘Get a mask. Anytime things are unequal, you’re not going to get laid, dude.’” He’ll also occasionally take over childcare duties so his wife has time to exercise, something that he knows makes her feel good about herself and her body.
“The more I help her, the more time she has for herself and the better her body image gets,” he said. “[…] Look for things to take off of her plate. You’re not less of a man for that.”
Accept that things will be different for a while.
Your sex life aside, when you have a baby, chances are you’re not going to get as much attention from your partner as you may be used to. Even though that’s normal and to be expected, it can sting nonetheless.
“If you feel like you’re getting sidelined, bring it up [with your partner],” said Murdock. “But if you’re upset that you don’t have her attention the same way you used to, and if you want things to stay the same… they won’t.”
Above all else, Murdock says, new dads need to communicate with their partners more. That’s what Brittany and her husband ultimately did when they went to couples’ therapy. “It was incredibly helpful for him to understand where I was coming from and for us to have a neutral third party to help us communicate,” she said.
When they had their second child a few years later, they once again waited a year before having sex again. “But it wasn’t a big deal, because we’d been through it once before and we knew it would pass,” she says.