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The Reality of Sex After Baby

Some women can’t wait to jump back into the sack with their partners after giving birth. If you’re one of them, good for you. Really, I’m super happy for you and even happier for the very lucky person you’ve chosen to spend your life with. In fact, you can stop reading now and just go put on some Al Green and do your thing.

To the rest of you: Welcome, my sisters. Let’s talk.

For most mothers, the six-week postpartum checkup is the appointment at which the doctor gives the green light to “resume normal activities” — namely exercise and sex. And even though I felt like I had an unusually easy C-section recovery (especially considering my 30 hours of labor prior, followed by four hours of pushing), I dreaded that damn appointment. At the six week mark, I hadn’t lost any baby weight, I was fretting over my milk supply, a tiny human was sucking the life out of me every few hours, and I wasn’t sleeping. Plus, my nipples were raw, my boobs were leaking, and I was still experiencing light bleeding and discharge. The idea of sex exhausted me, and while it didn’t quite disgust me, there were a million other things I would have rather done: spending an hour alone at Target, taking a bath (or even a quick shower), sleeping, exercising, or cleaning the bathroom.

A friend who had a baby around the same time I did “joked” that she told her husband if he really wanted, she’d give him a sad handjob while quietly weeping.

Yeah.

According to Mary Jo Rapini, an intimacy expert and sex therapist who co-authored RE-COUPLING: A Couple’s 4-step Guide to Greater Intimacy and Better Sex, my friend’s feelings were perfectly normal. In fact, Rapini says that while every woman is different, breastfeeding mothers often aren’t ready for intercourse until at least three months postpartum. And for many, even that is optimistic. “You may not have a libido for a year,” she says — which was more in line with my experience.

Hormones play a big part in sex drive, and for women, they’re highly affected by nursing. Estrogen, the hormone responsible for maintaining the flexibility and moisture of the vagina, is reduced, which can make sex uncomfortable or painful. Increased prolactin and reduced testosterone can also tank your libido. And then there’s the new baby to consider — a sweet, grunty, gassy bundle of joy who’s completely dependent on you and almost always physically attached to you. For many mothers, breastfeeding or not, that’s way more than enough touch.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do (even if you don’t really want to) to feel closer to your partner in the months after giving birth.

Do Things (That Aren’t Sex) Together

Rapini suggests finding non-sexual ways to be intimate, like cooking dinner together, taking a walk, talking about things you used to talk about, and reading the same books or seeing the same movies — even if it means you each see the movie separately and come together to talk about it. “With a baby, you’re going to be more tired, and all of those things are going to feel like burdens,” she says. “But it’s so important to save some of your energy to keep things going.” (And seriously, how amazing does it sound to go to a movie alone, even if you just sleep the whole time?)

Talk It Out

Taking a break from sex is fine as long as you maintain emotional intimacy, says Rapini. And emotional intimacy can only exist if you’re both honest about what’s going on in your heads. “For the most part, no one will be overwhelmed if they feel like they can tell their partner how they’re feeling – and their partner understands and offers to help.” And the less overwhelmed you feel, the more energy you may have for sex, or even just an adult conversation that’s not about baby stuff.

Realize It Can Go Both Ways

While some men (like my husband) are always ready to go, others may need some time to adjust to post-baby sex themselves. Maybe they see their partner differently after giving birth, or feel like they’re on the sidelines of the mother-baby relationship. Luckily, Rapini says this almost always fades eventually, but if it’s really serious (say, a PTSD-type reaction after witnessing the actual birth) a few therapy sessions may be in order.

Be The Queen

At the end of the day, if you’re not completely touched-out and you enjoy massage, Rapini also suggests getting regular massages from your partner. I had to put that in italics because it’s so, so right. “If nothing else, what’s going to bring back libido faster is if you can get a really good massage with no expectations to have sex,” she says. “Sometimes women will tell me they weren’t into sex, weren’t having that need, but once they started touching each other, massaging, they started feeling more sexual.”

To recap: TO GET YOUR GROOVE BACK, YOUR PARTNER SHOULD GIVE YOU REGULAR MASSAGES WITH NO EXPECTATION OF SEX AFTER.

Show this to your husband. You’re welcome.



Emily Farris lives in Kansas City, MO with her burly husband, toddler son, and two rowdy rescue mutts. She's written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and The Cut. When not busy cleaning up somebody's pee, she's posting about drinks and home decor on Instagram @theboozybungalow.