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Sex after childbirth: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Newsflash for all new or expecting mothers worrying about sex after childbirth: You are not alone! We often think of having a baby as a wonderful time; for many people it is a long-awaited blessing. There is no denying that this life-changing event can bring immeasurable joy, however a less talked about reality is that giving birth can greatly impact sex and sexuality. Soon-to-be parents often feel intensely close during pregnancy, preparing for the new addition and planning for their new life as a family. However, once the baby arrives, partners can be suddenly launched into opposing directions with the little one resting in between.

Many women have conflicting feelings about their bodies after childbirth. Let’s face it; giving birth changes a woman’s body. Picture a bulging belly, swollen feet, sagging breasts, hair loss, skin changes, vaginal discharge, swollen legs and varicose veins and increased sweating. One can imagine that women may feel self-conscious about some of these bodily changes. They might not want to be touched shortly after childbirth. On top of dealing with body image issues, women may simply need space from touch after having an infant clinging to them day and night. Breasts can be especially prone to this issue of touch; breasts and nipples can become sore, bleed and chaffed from breast-feeding.

Related to concerns about their bodies, many women have conflicting feelings about sex after childbirth. Giving birth is a trauma to the vagina and women often feel anxious about their vaginas and penetration. Any kind of vaginal penetration can become uncomfortable or even painful because of muscles and nerves being affected by pregnancy and labor. Natural lubrication can also be an issue as women might experience excessive dryness after birth, especially if they are breastfeeding. What’s more, breasts can become so strongly linked to the mother-child bond that women can stop seeing them as part of their sexuality. Having breasts touched during sexual play can serve as a distraction rather than an erotic experience.
Women can experience urinary incontinence and flatulence after childbirth, which can be embarrassing and make women more likely to avoid sex.

Not only can women have fears about resuming sex after giving birth, they might lose interest altogether. Libido often takes a hit after having a child. Hormonal changes can contribute to decreased libido. Furthermore, women might find themselves sleep-deprived and exhausted and might have a new or increased self-consciousness about their bodies. What’s more, sex tends to be the last thing on a new mom’s mind given that she is likely to be exhausted, sore and preoccupied. A new mom might associate sex with conception and immediately after childbirth the last thing she wants is another pregnancy. Fatigue is another contributor to decreased libido; not only in the obvious way (too tired to have sex) but also by contributing to marital conflict through increased arguing. If the bulk of your interactions with your partner consist of arguing, you might both be less interested in having sex.

When resuming sexual activity, women can expect some degree of tightness after childbirth. They can also expect a certain degree of pain with the goal being to decrease it as much as possible. When engaging in penetrative sex remember that different positions will affect the perineum (which may have torn during childbirth) differently. The importance of communication about sex after childbirth cannot be stressed enough. Your partner may not know what you are going through or how to best help you ease back into a fulfilling and pleasurable sex life. Your sexual repertoire may have changed and your partner needs to partake in creating the new menu.

A sudden change in sexual intimacy can be devastating, painful and cause extreme tension. One of the best things you can do if you are struggling in the areas of sex and sexuality after childbirth is to talk to your partner. Remember that you can be intimate without having sex or at least penetrative sex. Kiss, hug, cuddle, fondle and use your hands and mouth. Couples may benefit from changing their sexual expectations. It is so important to maintain overall (not just sexual!) intimacy and to communicate, communicate, communicate!

Bringing a child into the world can be wonderful but the often-overlooked issue of sexual problems can leave women feeling embarrassed and alone. Know that you are not alone if you are struggling with changes in sex and sexuality after childbirth. We want to help you receive the support you need to adjust and get back to the intimate and sexually fulfilling relationship you had before giving birth. Call us at 514-223-5327 to schedule with one of our clinicians.

Written by: Dr. Andrea Guschlbauer, Ph.D., OPQ., Psychologist.


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