This editorial series, S-E-X, is brought to you by the Fort Worth Moms Blog and Andrea Palmer, MD FACOG with Fenom Women’s Care. Our friends at Fenom Women’s Care sponsored and crafted this blog post for the S-E-X editorial series, and described physical and emotional changes to sex after baby and the road you and your partner can take to sexual recovery. All 15 original articles from the S-E-X series can be found on our website.
Congratulations! You had sex. You grew a human and carried him or her in your body for 36(ish) weeks. You have now pushed said human out of your body, or had him or her cut out in major surgery. You very well may be feeding said human from your boobs several times a day. You’ve had six weeks to heal and become a “normal” person again, which is super easy with all those restful nights of consistent shut-eye you’re bound to be getting. Your partner has waited six loooooooooong weeks for your postpartum appointment and for permission from your OBGYN that you’re ready for sex again. He will ask with bated breath: “What did she say? Are we good?”
But you’re not. You’re not even close.
Your mind is foggy from utter exhaustion. Your boobs hurt and are not a toy for your partner. They’re feeding your kid — all the time. And you are hormonal and hot-flashy. Your vagina (or belly) is still a little sore. Your vagina feels dry as a bone, and just NO!!!
If you’ve had kids and you’re nodding your head in total agreement, keep reading. I’m going to tell you how it does get better, and how to know if and when you need extra help from your friendly OBGYN. If you are sitting there thinking, “This was nothing like my postpartum recovery,” you are a unicorn, and I commend you. But read on anyways so you can understand and commiserate with your sisters.
The immediate aftermath of and recovery from child bearing can set us up for failure when it comes to intimacy. What we often think of as our “sexual organs” have suddenly become very utilitarian and not very sexy. Aside from the physical damage that may happen with vaginal delivery and the discomforts that may happen with breastfeeding, the psychological shift from “mother” to “partner” can be a tough one. Libido is a mental game for most women, and if our minds are not in a sexy place, it can be difficult for our bodies to go there. If we feel good, we feel sexy and want to have sex. Not many of us feel good and sexy six weeks after baby.
Let’s talk boobs. If you’re breastfeeding, it may be difficult to find pleasure or even comfort involving your breasts during intimacy. The mental block can come from the fact that these are now the sole supplier of your baby’s nutrition. They’re not playthings. They don’t belong to you, and they certainly don’t belong to your mate. They are temporarily leased to your kiddo.
It’s hard to switch our minds from milk-makers to sex goddess. They may look great in a V-neck, but underneath that shirt, your nipples may be cracked and sore. They may be leaking milk everywhere. They may be engorged and hard as rocks, and it may NOT feel good to even consider someone invading your dance space. So a part of your body that used to provide pleasure for you and your mate is temporarily out of consideration for some, and undoubtedly changed forever for us all (again, unless you’re a unicorn).
Now let’s talk vaginas. It may be difficult to think of your vagina as a source of pleasure because it’s still aching from where your baby exited your body. It will take time for you to be okay with things going back in there now that a baby has come out. Some women may feel self-conscious about how things look, feel, or smell during the first months after giving birth. The incessant bleeding, pad- and liner-wearing, and discharge that occurs after delivery can put a damper on any gal’s mood.
If you had a laceration (and even if you didn’t), you may have pelvic floor damage, muscle spasms, and vaginal laxity that could take time and effort to heal. If you’re breastfeeding, vaginal dryness may be a huge confounding factor as well. The hormonal state that exists during breastfeeding is very similar to menopause (hence the night sweats you may be having). That’s a fun preview of things to come in 20–30 years . . . yay!
Have you had enough sunshine and roses yet?
The good news is THIS ALL GETS BETTER. I promise!
Road to Recovery
The number one thing I try to encourage my patients to do is communicate with their partners. If they can vocalize to their mates their insecurities, fears, and concerns about intimacy, it will go a long way in preparing them to get back in the game. If they talk earnestly, and if they listen to their partners’ earnest responses, they will most likely learn that their partners don’t actually give one flying flip about how anything looks or feels different than before delivery. They honestly do not care at all as long as they occasionally get access to it.
The number two thing I encourage is a good lubricant. For all the reasons above, I encourage patients to have some on hand during those breastfeeding months. I usually recommend silicone-based and ALWAYS fragrance-free. If you’re in a pinch, olive oil, vegetable oil, or Crisco from your kitchen cabinet work just as well. I explicitly discourage any lubricants that produce special sensations. That doesn’t feel good in a healing vagina, trust me.
If communication and lubrication can not make your sex life happy, talk to your OBGYN. We can help! Pelvic floor damage is often the culprit when time and lube don’t work. Physical therapy, self-stretching, or potentially some vaginal estrogen replacement may be the trick to making sex great again. Please feel free to bring your partner to this visit too. It can be good for him to hear that this is a real medical thing and not personal.
With time, life settles in. You do heal physically and are able to move on emotionally from delivery and find the headspace to think of yourself as both mother and lover. Your kid (finally) sleeps, and you do too. You get your libido back. Please remember to prevent pregnancy until you’re ready to do this roller coaster again (your OBGYN can help with that too). And please remember to take time to be a partner to your partner. Find a time for a date night every now and then. And most important, take time to be a friend to yourself.
Do not abandon self-care with motherhood. Take small snippets of time throughout the week to be alone and quiet and untouched (you introverts out there, especially). Allow your partner to parent independently every once in awhile and take the time to work out, nap, go to Target alone, chat up the Starbucks barista, or have a girls’ date with a friend. When you are allowed that time, you are a better mother — and a better partner, both in and out of the bedroom.
Dr. Andrea Palmer is an OBGYN in Fort Worth with Fenom Women’s Care. Dr. Palmer sees patients for routine gynecology and obstetric care. She also sees adolescent gynecology patients at Girls To Women adolescent health clinic in Fort Worth. She does OB care for low- and high-risks moms and specializes in minimally invasive and robotic surgery. Originally from Oklahoma, Dr Palmer and her family moved to Fort Worth in 2016. They’re loving life in Texas!