Sex After Childbirth – What’s Your ‘New Normal’?
- Written by Heather Jeffcoat, DPT
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You counted down the weeks until your baby’s arrival…
now you and your partner are counting down the days until your doctor gives you the green light to have sex again.
That’s a good thing; intimacy is an important factor in your relationship and your own well-being. But whether this is your first baby, or you’re sure it’s your last, your anticipation might be tinged with some anxiety. After all, your body has been through a lot since that positive pregnancy test result.
Sleepless nights, fluctuating hormones, and breastfeeding challenges can take a toll. Perhaps you’re still healing from a C-section or a physically challenging delivery. Even if giving birth was a breeze, and this is your easiest baby yet, you may worry that your expectations aren’t in sync with your partner’s.
When it comes to your postpartum sex life, what’s the new normal? And how soon can you get there?
Every birth experience is different; but by the time you celebrate your baby’s first birthday, your new normal will probably look a lot like your old normal. That’s not just my opinion; I’ve got the scientific data to prove it.
According to the results of a study recently published in the Journal Of Sexual Medicine, researchers recruited more than 500 women about to give birth. Each one was asked to describe their sex life four weeks before they became pregnant, as well as their expectations for sex after their baby’s arrival. The researchers tracked each woman’s delivery experience and checked in with them at three, six, and twelve months postpartum.
For all the reasons you’d imagine, a significant number of women reported ‘decline in sexual function’ at the three- and six-month marks; but the research found that neither their earlier expectations nor their method of delivery altered their sexual function after twelve months. This was true even for patients who experienced C-sections, physical trauma, or birth-related injury.
Similar data was also found in a 2015 study. This study found that nearly 9 out of 10 women experienced painful sex on their first attempt after delivery! This was also found to be influenced by mode of delivery, with women having an emergency or elective c-section or vacuum extraction vaginal delivery showing substantially higher odds of dyspareunia (the medical term for painful sex) at 18 months post-partum. This study highlights the need for early intervention in post-partum care. 18 months post-partum, nearly 1 in 4 women were still experiencing painful sex (23.4%)! Other risk factors were reported to increase painful sex post-partum, one of them being preconception dyspareunia. Many physicians will tell my patients “having a baby will cure their painful sex” – But NOT TRUE, and certainly not evidenced based! These problems do not get significantly better with time (and in some cases, will get worse). Additionally these rates are especially interesting, as the largest group of women represented in the study had a University degree or higher.
Two equally important takeaways
It’s completely normal not to feel normal during sex after childbirth, sometimes for several months. You’ll get there; in the meantime, ditch the baggage of expectations and timetables; just enjoy the journey with your partner.
And if you haven’t found your rhythm after a year? Don’t be discouraged by this data. Let me encourage you, instead, to seek help – especially if you’re experiencing painful sex. It’s more common that you think; and a qualified women’s health physical therapist can treat it successfully without drugs or surgery. Don’t suffer in silence any longer, though – schedule a consult with Femina PT today.
Childbirth is challenging; but your body is amazing. With time and patience – and, if necessary, a little bit of help – you and your partner can once again enjoy the sex life you deserve.
Spaich S., Link G., Ortiz Alvarez S., et al 2020. Influence Of Peripartum Expectations, Mode Of Delivery, and Perineal Injury on Women’s Postpartum Sexuality. J Sex Med June 10, 2020, online.
McDonald E.A., Gartland D., et al. Dyspareunia and childbirth: a prospective cohort study. BJOG 21 Jan 2015.