There seems to be a lot of mystery and misinformation around the subject of sex after childbirth. It’s interesting that many people are happy to talk about childbirth the same way many people will cheerfully enlighten you on the details of their sex life, but once these two topics are combined it becomes something of a taboo.
Getting back in shape after childbirth
To shed some light on this area we spoke to Julia, a new mum, about the challenges and compromises she faced when re-establishing a sexual relationship with her husband after the birth of their first child.
Julia had a normal vaginal delivery and despite suffering a couple of little tears her doctor said she would be fine to have sex in two weeks time.
“At the hospital you can have free physio where you learn all about pelvic floor or Kegel exercises and how important they are for getting your girl bits back into shape,” said Julia.
“I did the exercises 3 times a day and I did feel myself getting stronger after doing them.
“It was a very strange feeling everything lifting up after having the weight pushing down for so long in pregnancy and pushing down hard during childbirth.”
Getting back to sex after pregnancy
Even though Julia was keen to get back in the game she still had some understandable anxieties over the unknown.
“I knew that if I didn’t get straight back on the horse I would worry about it so at the 2 week mark I went for it. It was a little tender so we were gentle the first couple of times,” said Julia.
“I was most scared that I would be bigger and my husband would notice it but he said to me that it was just the same as before the baby which delighted me no end.
“I’d been doing those pelvic floor exercises religiously.
“Orgasms weren’t even on my mind, I just wanted to get through sex knowing that I could still satisfy my husband and that I wouldn’t bleed everywhere.”
Have you seen my libido?
Despite having some of fears alleviated Julia was noticing that not everything was the same as before.
“Firstly, I was not as interested in sex. It used to be me with the much higher libido, but suddenly it wasn’t even on my radar and my man was doing all the initiating,” she said.
“I’d do a mental count in my head thinking, ‘oh no has it been a few days already’, then try and put myself in the mood mentally.
“I think this was due to a combination of exhaustion from never sleeping and changes to my breasts.
“With breastfeeding, I just didn’t want them to be touched, it wasn’t sexy anymore, it was strange them being fondled or having my husband’s mouth on them, they were for my baby now.
“With the breastfeeding, it also meant I wasn’t as lubricated down there, so more foreplay was required but this was difficult as we were always limited by time.
“We tried store-bought lubricant but saliva worked better.
“We had sex, just once a week or once in 10 days, not every other or couple of days like before.
“Nothing felt as good for me, not even orgasms.
“Our bub seemed to have an alarm clock to wake up when we were about half way through and there’s no greater anti-aphrodisiac than a screaming baby.
“Although, most of the time we managed to get to the ‘end’ even if it wasn’t until the following baby nap.”
Sex vs sleep
After about a year of parenthood Julia and her husband’s sex life had decreased from 3-5 times a week before the baby to once every 7-10 days after baby was born, which was leaving Julia’s husband feeling disconnected from their relationship.
“I started to get scared for our relationship but knew we loved each other very much so I just had to make myself have sex more,” she said.
“I feared that he would start to lose our close bond by not having that important physical relationship and I didn’t want it to be a nail in the coffin of our marriage.
“50% of marriages end in divorce, I didn’t want to become a statistic.”
With a baby still not sleeping through the night, working, running a house and a husband often working long hours, Julia said she would just rather sleep at the end of the day despite her best intentions.
“The more my husband brought it up, the more put off I felt and like I was somehow damaging our relationship,” said Julia.
“I tried to change the subject or give body language that I wasn’t interested.
“He was openly disappointed, not rude, just sad.
“I tried speaking with the doctor, changing contraceptive pills, getting more sleep, buying new lingerie and anything I could think of to get myself in the mood.
“It still wasn’t the same as before, he said he knew I was ‘trying’ and that he was starting to get upset that I wasn’t attracted to him anymore.
“But it wasn’t him, I just wasn’t attracted to anyone or the thought of doing anything sexual at all – it was awful, like being a pre-teen again.”
“I was scared I would never be the same again – I liked being a sexual adult and I wanted to get back to that.”
Rekindling the sex drive
After many more awkward discussions and tears from both Julia and her husband they came to the realisation that they needed to enjoy being a family when they were with their child, but enjoy being just a couple when they had time to themselves.
That meant making better use of their time in those couple of hours between baby sleeping and going to bed themselves and also setting aside time for at-home and going out dates.
“Every night after baby slept we cuddled on the couch and just chatted and kissed and held hands and laughed for 20 minutes – without pressure for it leading to anything more,” said Julia.
“We just talked about anything and everything from our days to things that caught our interest to our dreams.
“Things like spending time looking into each other’s eyes and really talking and just touching and being close, that used to naturally lead into more because we felt happy, close and in love.
“It’s hard to do have a proper conversation with an interrupting baby when they’re awake, so we decided to dedicate the time when baby slept to being together.
“Then we started having a ‘date night’ every fortnight at least. We also made a rule that we would call each other our old affectionate and silly names for each other again rather than calling each other ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ all the time, completely defining ourselves by our roles as parents.
“As a couple we started to kiss more spontaneously, touch more and we felt closer. Without realising it we started having sex more regularly. We also made the most of stolen moments, having quickies in nap times.
“He continued to initiate sex, but now I did too, we were just happier together and felt closer so it came naturally.
“Soon enough we started to feel like a couple separate to our role as parents.
“I think the exhaustion and the fact that it is a highly emotional topic meant that it took a while for us to get back into the swing of being ‘us’ as a couple again as well as now being a family.
“Sex is not everything but it is an important part of the relationship and can make you think your petty squabbles are bigger than they are because you’re not having that physical connection.”
“We also remembered how we used to deal with petty squabbles a few years ago, we would do over-exaggerated hand puppets re-enacting the situation.
“We always make each other laugh with that and it takes away all the tension, even the baby thinks they’re hilarious.
“It’s a way of communicating about petty issues right there and then.”
A beautiful (sex) life
Sex after childbirth is going to be different for everyone. In Julia and her husband’s case it took time and patience to reconnect and re-establish a sexual relationship that they were both comfortable with.
It wasn’t always a smooth road but it saw the beginning of a new phase in their relationship.
Julia and her husband are now not only a happy family unit but also a happy couple at the same time
Not letting their roles as parents define them completely and remembering why they wanted to start a family in the first place provides a fantastic balance meaning they can still enjoy being parents while not forgetting to love and appreciate one another.
After going through this journey first hand Julia has a few words of advice she thinks might be helpful to other new parents experiencing a similar situation.
“My advice to others who are feeling their sexual relationship has changed is to realise that foreplay begins with talking and cuddling and that it should be happening regularly, giving each other time,” she said.
“Placing any unnecessary pressure on yourself or your partner is not going to help, in fact it will only hinder any progress you’re trying to make.
“Maintaining open and honest communication will help to relieve any pressure.
“Then sex will flow naturally from the good times and laughs you have together.”