There are certainly different opinions out there on when to resume intimacy. Childcare guru Gina Ford, the author of The Contented Mother’s Guide, advises in her book that while the traditional advice used to be to wait until your postnatal check-up at six weeks after the birth, you may find you’re ready much earlier, or later. She outlines one school of thought as being that it’s better to have sex before your check-up so that, if you do experience pain or other problems, you can discuss it with your GP at the time of the examination. There is even a suggestion from one mother in her book that women should “grin and bear it”, for the sake of reconnecting intimately with their partner. Ford urges new parents to remember they were lovers before parents and to go on date nights and find ways to be romantic with one another, including having sex.
As a mother myself, I find this advice strange, to say the least. After I gave birth to my first child, I was in so much pain from the forceps and episiotomy delivery I endured that thoughts of getting jiggy with my husband were the last thing on my mind. My belly was saggy, my breasts were huge and tender, and sleep was a thing of the past. I felt like a zombie version of myself, and as for my nether regions – the idea of having any kind of sexual activity was abhorrent to me. I had to pour water on my stitches every time I went to the loo for four weeks after the birth, to help alleviate the pain.
General practitioner Dr Ciara Kelly says that new mothers should never feel pressurised into having sex until they are ready.
“This may be well after the six-week mark has passed and that is perfectly okay,” she says. “Sex should be a pleasurable act only. After a woman gives birth, there is a postnatal hormonal depression, where her body physically suppresses her libido. This is because they body has recently given birth and does not want to be pregnant again.”
Dr Kelly sees a lot of women in her clinic for their six-week postnatal check-up and while some are sexually active, most are not. “This notion that women ‘should’ be having sex within six weeks of giving birth is not just disrespectful to women but also to their partners. Most of the men that come to the six-week postnatal check are considerate of what their partner is going through and they want to look after and support her.”
The GP says there should never be pressure put on women to have sex before they are ready. And even when they may feel ready, it can still be difficult and even painful. “I would recommend a lubricant such as K-Y Jelly. Not one of the flavoured ones, which may irritate that area, but a plain one like K-Y, which will help with penetration. It’s also a good idea for the woman to go on top because then she can control the level of penetration herself. It’s best to take it slow and go gentle, and, if she is not ready, to stop and try again when she is further along the healing process.”
Midwife and author of The Irish Better Birth Book Tracy Donegan also disagrees with any suggestions about when couples ‘should’ be having sex after birth. “We generally recommend waiting six weeks, due to the fact that the mum has an open wound in her uterus after the placenta has delivered, so it’s mostly to avoid infection while that heals – and it’s the same reason we recommend avoiding using tampons. Most mums are still experiencing blood loss, known as lochia, at this point but if it feels comfortable for them to try having sex, then I’d tell the mum to see how it feels for her. There are certainly different opinions out there on when to resume intimacy.
Getting your groove back after having a baby is as much mental as it is physical, according to Donegan. “Exhaustion, hormones and body changes can make it challenging. Culturally, we put a lot of emphasis on ‘getting back to normal’ after having a baby – but this is a new normal for both partners. The mum shouldn’t feel pressured and she should go at her own pace. Intimacy could be letting your partner give you a foot rub or back massage or the dad taking the baby out for a walk while the mum has a bath and some quiet time. Baby steps! It takes an effort on both sides in the early days, but keeping the lines of communication open and being sensitive to each other’s needs will help.”
For a mother who has had a difficult birth, the experienced midwife recommends seeing a women’s health physio for an evaluation. “Too many women are not getting adequate care and support after birth, as seen in the recent Mammi study (mammi.ie). Mental healing is equally important, so mums need to be sure to talk about how they’re feeling. Often, mums are embarrassed to talk about healing after birth and they can miss out on much-needed support and information.”
Aside from GP and women’s health clinics, new mothers can look to their relatives and friends for support and they can engage with other new mums online, on sites such as mumstown.ie. Just knowing you are not the only one feeling tired, sore and uncertain about how you are doing is comforting in itself.
As for getting your sex life back, take it at your own pace and don’t let anyone make you feel pressurised. Instead, you and your partner can do other things to reconnect intimately. Massage, kissing and cuddling can bring some fun back into your sex life, without the pressure of ‘going all the way’ before you are ready.