This week we are thrilled to welcome back Katie Wise, doula and childbirth educator as she discusses the importance of trusting the process, setting expectations and defying conventional beliefs when embarking on postpartum sex.
Warning: if you have not had children yet, read at your own risk.
“A year?” a mama in my childbirth class said to me, her jaw dropping.
“Yes, a year. Maybe a little more, depending on when your baby masters sleeping through the night, and how quickly your body heals.”
It was the night where the women and their partners separate. It feels a little bit like eighth grade health class, but it’s a powerful night, and gives people the space to talk without concern for their partner’s feelings. We talk about many things, but one thing above all: SEX (or shall we say the lack thereof) after having a baby.
Don’t get me wrong – many couples grow closer during this time. There is a magic to this baby moon, this slowing down and refocusing on what is really important in life. Having a baby forces a whole new level of teamwork and has the potential to create a relationship that is unshakable.
But it’s not a sexy year.
My personal highlights from early postpartum? Feeling a crazy heaviness in my vagina every time I got out of bed; watching my breasts grow to six-times their original size, but not wanting to be touched; having uncontrollable gas; wearing a diaper (yes, me, not the baby) and strutting around our room with my beautiful post partum pooch; thinking about sex the way someone would think about washing the kitchen floor, like it’s important to do, but not at all pleasurable; wondering if I was ever going to sleep again, or if I was going to live the rest of my days in a foggy, subtly depressed state of malaise.
Not exactly boom-chick-a-boom time.
Most doctors don’t help the matter by setting up the expectation that you can – and will – be having sex 6-weeks postpartum. Partners go home and circle the date on their calendar. Many well-meaning books also lead couples astray. One couple I worked with read a book on marriage after baby and came away with the idea that every postpartum couple “should” be having sex once a week after the initial six-week healing period; that it is a woman’s duty to take care of her partner sexually, even if she doesn’t feel like it. Instead of “baby-proofing” the marriage, this nearly ended the marriage.
Your body needs time.
After attending 170 births as a doula and working with hundreds more in my yoga studio, it seems to be pretty universal: when it comes to feelings about sex in early postpartum, most mamas range from not interested to downright terrified.
There is a level of trauma in birth. Lynn Leach, a physical therapist and healer, said to me once that everything after “the moment that you don’t want to do it anymore” can register as trauma in the body. For some women this could be minutes, others could be hours or even days.
While it may be physically possible to have sex six weeks after birth, most mamas get the shakes just thinking about something going back in where this enormous baby just came out. The idea of any kind of activity down there can be daunting. I gingerly I I explained to my husband that my vagina was like the hiking trails that are closed for rehabilitation. Nothings broken, you just can’t go there right now.
I’m sure there is the rare mama who feels hot and ready-to-go at six weeks, but I haven’t met her yet. For most of us, the desire wanes and sex seems like some crazy thing that you used to do before baby came along, like pedicures and “girls nights.”
Expectations are crucial.
In my class, I focus on setting appropriate expectations. My husband and I, in our separate rooms with the couples, spell out a more realistic timeline of what to expect:
- Around 6-10 weeks: A rather awkward attempt at sex.
- Sometime after that: Another try, maybe a little more successful.
- Every month or so: Mama musters up the energy to try again.
- By six months: Mama may think sex is a good idea.
- By a year: Mama actually initiates (especially if baby is sleeping well).
This timeline is by no means definitive and it is important not to compare. Some couples find their way back to regular sex quickly, and others barely have sex once before the baby’s first birthday. I encourage couples to trust that whatever love and sexual expression they are capable of in each moment is enough. And to remember: as with all things baby, it’s always going to be in flux.
Many factors affect libido, including: breastfeeding, physical healing, stress, lack of sleep, and (perhaps most powerfully) the hormonal shift. If your body (physically) doesn’t appear to be functioning – or feeling – right after six months, consult a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic health, to make sure that everything is healing correctly. This work can instantly change the experience of sex. Don’t suffer through painful intercourse without getting checked. I secretly thank my physical therapist every day that I have sex with my husband.
That’s right, the dry spell doesn’t last forever.
I remember clearly my first ovulation, at 13 months postpartum, suddenly noticing this devastatingly handsome man in my room. I’m not sure where he’d been all year, but my husband was looking pretty cute. Perhaps the quantity of sex changes (it’s a lot harder to find the time than it used to be), but the quality can also change, to be a deep and lasting expression of the love between two people. Love that welcomed another human being into the world.
And that’s pretty hot.
Stay tuned for section two, for more about the physical and emotional “how-to” for sex in the postpartum year.
Katie Wise is a doula, childbirth educator and birth advocate, as well as the owner and founder of Yo Mama Yoga and Family Centers. Her work and writing have been featured in “Whole Life Times,” “Yogi Times,” “Los Angeles Daily News,” “Special Delivery,” the “Boulder Daily Camera,” and on NPR. Katie believes that women’s bodies have the wisdom to give birth. Her purpose in supporting and educating pregnant women is to uncover and foster that instinct and faith. Katie is also the host of the Mother’s Advocate “Healthy Birth Your Way: 6 Steps to a Safer Birth” video series. Please visit Katie’s site to read her blog or find more information.