We don’t talk enough about Postpartum Sexual Health as it often feels like a taboo topic. New parents are told when they are able to resume sex after birth, but don’t often get guidance on the mental, emotional, and social aspects of sexual health after birth.
Before we dive into the information, just know that there is no “one right answer” to when to resume sexual activity after giving birth. Everyone is different, and it’s important to consider whether you feel emotionally and physically ready.
The information in this post came from the conversation I had with Dr. Rachel Ollivier on my podcast Bringing Up Baby. She is a women's health researcher and practicing Registered Nurse. She recently completed her PhD in Nursing at Dalhousie University, where her research focused on exploring sexual health after birth using feminist poststructuralism.
Your New Identity
As a new parent, it can be hard to recognize yourself, not only physically but mentally. Sometimes it can be difficult to see yourself as both a mother and a sexual being.
Society tends to desexualize postpartum bodies and see certain body parts, especially the breasts, vulva and vagina as “baby serving”, but it’s important to know that your identity is not just a mother or parent.
Your body can be tied to your identity, and after going through a transformation like birth, you may have to make meaning of your postpartum body before you are ready for sex, and that’s totally normal.
Your priorities have shifted, and your sexual health may feel less important or your definition of intimacy may change.
Changing Your Definition of Intimacy
When it comes to being intimate with your partner after giving birth, your definition of intimacy may change, and that is not only okay but completely normal and common.
Most new parents experience a decrease in their sexual desire, but there are ways to maintain that emotional connection with your partner in new or different ways that isn’t sexual activity.
It could be cooking together, flirting, having alone time to cuddle on the sofa, or having time alone away from distractions.
Some people may experience a renewed sense of passion after birth, and may feel more emotionally and sexually connected to their partner.
However you feel after birth about intimacy, you can find a way to connect with your partner, sexually or not.
What Does Feeling Ready Look Like?
Feeling ready will be different for everyone. It’s important to not only be ready in terms of physical recovery and pelvic floor recovery, but also to be ready emotionally and mentally for sexual activity.
For some, they are able to resume sex at 6 weeks postpartum, but it can depend on your birth experience whether you are physically ready at that time.
It’s important to be able to have a conversation with your partner about what level of intimacy you are ready for.
The “ 6 Week Check Up”
The “6 week check up” is a visit with either a physician, a nurse practitioner or a gynecologist at the six week postpartum mark to do a physical assessment of you and your baby.
It’s amazing how much significance this check up can hold, because this is when most people are told that they are able to resume sex, exercise etc. It has become socially embedded that after this check up you’ll go “back to normal” sexually, which for most people isn’t the case.
For some it feels like crossing a finish line, and for others it feels like a deadline. Some were left wondering if they felt like they should be ready, but they aren't.
Talking To Your Health Care Provider
The conversation of sexual health with your primary care provider usually comes up at your 6 week check up, or when talking about contraception during breastfeeding/chestfeeding. It can feel inadequate, and you may be wondering what is safe, normal, and what can help.
You can always ask your primary care provider, but there are other resources such as pelvic floor physiotherapy.
Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy
Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy is becoming more and more prevalent, and that’s amazing! These specialized physiotherapists are able to focus on the pelvic floor which is so important postpartum. They are able to address painful intercourse, incontinence, diastasis recti, organ prolapse and more postpartum concerns.
Being able to see a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist can give you someone to work with on a regular basis, so you feel supported and heard. They are able to go into detail about your sexual health, and address your concerns much more comprehensively than your family doctor.
Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy is sometimes covered by private health insurance, so look into your plan, if you have one.
There’s no cookie cutter approach to postpartum sex. Everyone is going to experience their sexual health in a different way after birth, and it’s important to normalize that sexuality is individual, and that’s no different postpartum.
When you’re navigating the new responsibilities of being a parent, dealing with fatigue and stress it can be easy to not prioritize your sexual relationship with your partner, or it can look different than it did pre-baby.
Approach your sexual health holistically, don’t just focus on the act of making love, take the time to make sure you are ready physically and emotionally, and get help from specialists like pelvic floor physiotherapists when possible.
Ashley Cooley is a birth, baby and sleep specialist living in Dartmouth, NS with her husband and their three girls.