Back in the Saddle: What to Expect from Postpartum Sex

Back in the Saddle: What to Expect from Postpartum Sex

Yep, it may feel different when you get back in the saddle.

By Sarah Z. Wexler

Whether it’s been 10 weeks or 10 months, any timeline is valid. It’s not surprising that sex might be the last thing you’ve thought about since giving birth, since having a baby can not only change your body but impact your relationship (not to mention you probably crawl into bed so ready to get some much-needed sleep, not get frisky).

And while we may be prepared that the first time having sex after a baby is different physically, it surprises many women that it’s also different emotionally. After all, it can be hard to get to your happy place when half of your brain is listening for cries on the monitor. Getting cleared by your OB at six weeks for a return to sex is arbitary–there’s truly no such thing as a “normal” time to feel ready. Set your own timeline, and do what’s right for you. If it makes you feel any better, we asked hundreds of new moms when they had sex again for the first time after baby’s arrival and the average answer was 10 months postpartum – and almost every answer came with the disclaimer that it wasn’t good sex. And we’re here to tell you, that’s OK! 

Reconnect: You and your partner have been through a lot, and it’s easy for sex to slip to the bottom of your never ending to-do list or to just not feel sexy to each other. It’s important to take time to reconnect physically, but that doesn’t have to mean sex–it can be playing together, cuddling on the couch during a show, trying something new, laughing and getting silly, a shoulder massage, and just recapturing what it means to feel good in your body.

Pleasure, not pain: For a lot of women, the fun ends before it starts because postpartum sex can hurt. Whether you had a vaginal birth or a C-section, injury to your pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy, plus changes in your hormones after delivery, can make your vagina dry and sore, and that hormonal change can be especially pronounced if you're breastfeeding.

When you’re ready for sex (and cleared by your doctor), try these tips to feel as good as possible:

  • Lean into lube! Lubrication is your new best friend. Go nuts. If common over-the-counter lubricants aren’t cutting it, ask your doctor about a prescription for a topical estrogen cream that can also help.
  • Pee beforehand to reduce feelings of pressure. 
  • Make sure to use lube, which will help with vaginal dryness–a prescription for a topical estrogen cream can also help if your vagina feels like a desert.
  • If you feel burning after sex, it’s likely from the friction of not using enough lubricant. Apply a towel-wrapped ice pack for a few minutes and lube it up next time.

Deal with prolapsed uterus or bladder: If something feels painful or off, schedule a checkup with your doctor to see if you might have a prolapse. A uterine prolapse occurs when pelvic floor muscles and ligaments stretch and weaken during pregnancy and no longer provide enough support for the uterus. As a result, the uterus slips down into or protrudes out of the vagina. There are varying degrees of prolapse, depending on how weak the supports of the uterus have become, from mild to complete. (In an incomplete prolapse, the uterus may have slipped enough to be partway into the vagina, creating a lump or bulge. In the most severe–or complete–cases, it can be felt outside the vagina.) Some women can have a mild prolapse and not have any symptoms. Other women can have a mild prolapse and feel really uncomfortable–symptoms like “vaginal heaviness” (aka a feeling of heaviness or pulling in your pelvis), a bulge when you wipe, or feeling like you have a tampon lodged incorrectly.

As you know, sex isn’t just about the parts, but about how you feel about yourself. We get that worrying about your vagina or that sex with you has changed can make you get in your head instead of losing yourself in the moment. It’s easy to feel like your body is broken, unlovable, or just plain not sexy–and nothing reduces desire more than feeling like that. Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling about your body–we know they’ll reassure you that you’re just as hot as ever. Next, talk with your doctor–there are several treatment options, from simple (Kegels!) to surgical, so this feeling definitely doesn’t need to be long-term.

A word on family planning: Knowing the facts means you won’t fall into two common–but false!–beliefs: that previous infertility means you won’t get pregnant easily, even accidentally, or that you can’t get pregnant if you’re breastfeeding (you can–the contraceptive effectiveness of breastfeeding varies from woman to woman). The truth is that some women can get pregnant as little as three weeks after birth, even if your period hasn’t returned yet. And even if you know you want another baby, research suggests waiting at least 18 months before attempting your next pregnancy to reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and other health problems, so you may want to talk with your doctor about birth control before you jump back between the sheets.

Sex is a great way to reconnect with your partner, but it’s not the only way. Go at your speed, set your own timeline, and try to take the pressure off you both. So whether it’s Netflix and chill or simply just Netflix, enjoy your time together.