My return to sex after childbirth

24th April 2018

Franki Cookney is a freelance journalist who writes mostly on sex, gender politics and social development. Here, she writes on her return to sex after giving birth to her first child...

Eight months pregnant and both my husband and I were excited about the future. But I was under no illusions about how it would affect our sex life. Or so I thought.


Maintaining our sexual intimacy was going to be a challenge, I was prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for were the changes to my own libido. I’d always had a high sex drive and the truth is, I just couldn’t imagine it any other way. Sure, I went through phases of being more or less interested in sex but to go off it completely seemed impossible.


“I wonder when I’ll be ready to have sex again,” I said to my husband two days after delivering our new baby by unplanned c-section. When the doctors asked me about my plans for contraception following the birth, I was confident. “We’ll probably use condoms at first and then I’ll get an IUS (hormonal coil) fitted further down the line,” I told them.


But within days the thought of sex had all but vanished from my mind. And when, after two weeks, a friend told me she and her husband had already fooled around I was amazed.


Of course there’s no reason why she shouldn’t. The post-natal bleeding lasts four to six weeks and for many the prospect of pain can be enough to make you hold off. But as long as you use protection, it’s fine to have sex as soon as you and your partner feel ready.


It took us five weeks to brave it. I wasn’t in pain any more but I still had some bleeding and my stomach felt tender around my scar – oh and did I mention we had a five-week-old baby in the room?! It wasn’t our most imaginative session by any means but we just wanted to tick it off. And after being physically separated by my enormous belly for the past couple of months it felt amazing to be so close to one another. I’d been slightly nervous of having an orgasm as it can cause the uterus to contract which I thought might hurt but it was fine – fantastic, actually. “This is it,” I thought. “I’m back!” But it was another few weeks before we did it again.


Of course the early weeks and months of having a new baby are always a blur. But after a while I began to pay attention to my sex drive. Naturally I was tired, naturally I was hormonal – in fact I couldn’t remember the last day that went by where I didn’t cry at some point, whether out of joy, frustration, or just sheer exhaustion. But I realised it wasn’t just a case of not feeling horny, I didn’t even have the mental space to begin to consider it.


At my six week check-up I’d talked to the doctor about the importance of pelvic floor exercises and I’d already seen a physiotherapist to discuss ways to help strengthen my stomach muscles after the c-section. That I had to put in some work to make a physical recovery made complete sense. So why, I thought, shouldn’t the same logic apply to my sex drive?


For me, talking, thinking and reading about sex has always been a big part of how I get turned on. And the best part was, I was totally in control of it. I started to use my five minute shower in the morning as a time to think about sex. The fantasy didn’t need to be complicated, just a memory of a hot encounter I’d had in the past was enough to remind me that I used to have hobbies outside of expressing milk and removing stains from baby clothes. But while I was able to recall good sex, I still couldn’t quite see my way to having it again.


From my deflated belly to my brand new scar, the constant breastfeeding and the mastitis I’d unfortunately ended up with at around six weeks, my body didn’t exactly feel like a place in which I could find pleasure. It barely even felt like my own.


I’ve always loved yoga but now it took on a new significance. The first time I attended a class after my son was born I almost cried. It felt incredible to spend some time really focusing on my body and how I felt in it. And while a 90-minute class was a luxury I wouldn’t be able to manage every week, it was a start. And the same was true of any form of exercise. Even the five minutes of physio exercises I’d been given were an opportunity to tune in to how my body was feeling that day. I had neglected my pelvic floor exercises in the weeks immediately after birth, I now started doing them again with enthusiasm.


I also asked my husband for massages. Not the kind of “sexy massages” people usually suggest but genuine knot-kneading pressure. The feeling of his hands on my skin, even in a non-sexual context, was a reminder that I was more than just a tired, aching, milk machine.


Of course, the problem of timing still remained. Sex for us used to be preceded by an evening together, eating dinner and chatting. Now we seemed to go directly from changing nappies and hanging up washing to getting into bed. It didn’t exactly leave much room for “setting the mood”.


For some people the idea of scheduling sex would be an immediate turn-off but needs must.

“Right,” I said to my husband. “On Saturday night we’ll put the baby to bed and once he goes down we’ll pour ourselves a glass of wine and retreat to the spare room!”


And guess what? It worked. Not so much the wine and the spare room but the fact that we’d carved out a piece of the week just for us. It felt luxurious, almost naughty, to be focusing entirely on ourselves and our pleasure. Plus we’d had a few days to look forward to it so we were ready and relaxed, rather than feeling like we had to suddenly change gears.


Nine months on and the main difference I’ve found in my sex drive has been the return of my periods and my hormonal cycle. But we are still scheduling our sexy time and I am still using exercise as a way of feeling better both about and in my body. And while our sex life isn’t exactly what it used to be, it feels like we’re on the right track.


You will need to start using contraception 3 weeks after your child’s birth, for more information head to Sexwise: Contraceptive choices after you’ve had a baby

couple lying in bed together