Resuming sex after childbirth may bring with it feelings of apprehension, exhaustion and unease, especially if the woman has had an unpleasant labour or traumatic delivery.
Some women fear they may become frigid after childbirth, as they have no interest in sex. Much of this is due to a combination of exhaustion and the fact that the immediate focus is the baby’s welfare. Talk with other new mothers about this and try not to let it become too much of an issue in the early days. Your doctor or health professional is likely to enquire about your sex life at the six week check up.
Feelings of apprehension and unease are likely the first few times, and this is not surprising, especially if the woman has had an unpleasant labour or a traumatic delivery, an episiotomy, tearing or a Caesarean. Go slowly as there is no value in painful sex. An episiotomy scar may still be tender six to eight weeks after the birth. For some women, it is possible for postnatal bleeding to continue for as long as six weeks.
Lochia is a vaginal discharge resulting from the womb shedding its pregnancy membranes. Hormone levels are still returning to normal and sometimes the vagina may need more lubrication. Choose a quiet moment when the baby is likely to sleep for a while and guide your partner by showing him where you are likely to be sore. You may wish to use a lubricant. Many couples choose to resume lovemaking with a more exploratory approach the first few times. Both of you can regain your confidence this way without feeling too self-conscious. Be ready for a little comedy too as full and lactating breasts may also require strategic positioning and handling during postnatal sex. If you are breastfeeding, you may find yourself showering your partner with expressed milk during an orgasm. If this bothers you, it is possible for to cut the flow by pressing down firmly on your nipples.
Lovemaking helps both you and your baby by releasing oxytocin into your blood stream. This is the same hormone that assists the contraction of the uterus and encourages the flow of breast milk. If your uterus is still "involuting" or shrinking to its normal size, you may feel strong contractions after sex. This is a positive sign though may be a little uncomfortable at times. A hot bath, massage or hot water bottle on the lower back and abdomen will help ease pain. Often women find their labia, the skinfolds surrounding the vagina, to be fleshier and the vagina more voluptuous and sensual. For some women sex after childbirth remains acutely painful. This is called dyspareunia and can occur when the stitches have been inserted too tightly and the surrounding tissue has responded by swelling or has become infected. This problem may be solved by a medical procedure as simple as snipping and releasing a couple of stitches. If there is an infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. If you have pain near your cervix, it may be that the transverse ligaments of the cervix have been torn during the birth. This takes time to heal.
Breastfeeding is not a reliable means of contraception. Studies show that 80 per cent of women breastfeeding will not become fertile again until after the first menstrual period and sometimes this may not occur within the first 20 weeks. It has been known, however, for women to conceive within three weeks. The question of contraception must be carefully considered when you return to your doctor for your six week check up. The standard contraceptive pill is known to disrupt breast milk flow and can have hormonal effects on your baby if breastfeeding. An alternative is the mini pill that contains progesterone only. Other options include condom, diaphragm, cervical cap, female condom, natural contraception such as the Billings Method, IUD, hormonal implants or spermicidal creams or sponge.
For some couples switching from parent role to the role of lovers can be difficult. They feel that sexual urges may not be appropriate and do not equate with the role of responsible parent. As parents it is equally as important to have a fulfilling sex life. Sex and intimacy is not a mere act of self-indulgence, it is a significant and meaningful component in any successful relationship. With another little person in the home, be prepared for a few more unexpected interruptions, but be sure not to neglect your own needs of intimacy. This is what a family is all about.