“I’ve heard sex can induce labor,” my wife said to me on a November evening back in 2013. “So get over here. I want this kid out of me.”
We both laughed. And then we had sex. She went into labor about two hours later, and our first son was born the following morning.
If you’d told me then that 3-plus months would pass before we’d have sex again, and even more time would pass before we’d both enjoy it, I would have said you were nuts. But I’d have been wrong.
“Whether the hurdles are physical or psychological, sex may not be comfortable for weeks or even months after a woman gives birth,” says Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology atColumbia University.
That was certainly true for my wife and me. And from what I’ve heard from friends, 3 months isn’t a particularly long stretch.
One of my buddies told me he and his wife had to wait 6 months in order for her vagina to heal from the tearing it had endured during her labor.
Another admitted (only much later) that it took him and his partner a year to get back in the swing of things after their daughter was born. He said he and his wife were physically capable. But work and the stress of new parenthood just seemed to sap their energy for sex.
The Physical Road to Recovery
The first rule of sex after childbirth is there are no rules about sex after childbirth. Every couple is different, Dr. Hutcherson says.
But generally, she says most physicians recommend holding off on sex at least until your partner sees her doctor for her 6-week postpartum exam.
Why? This will be obvious to any guys who have been with their partners during labor. But giving birth to a small human does a number on a woman’s body. Her cervix and vagina stretch—and the latter often tears—in order to make way for your bundle of joy.
When my first son was born, my wife suffered what her midwife called a “second-degree tear,” which required eight stitches and kept her mostly bedridden for the two weeks following her labor.
Apparently she got off light. Hutcherson says more significant tears (a fourth-degree tear is the most severe) can stretch from your partner’s vagina to her anus and rectum. Those can require months to fully health.
In fact, my wife’s friend who suffered from a fourth-degree tear couldn’t walk for two months. It hurt her to go to the bathroom for several weeks. And she couldn’t have pleasurable sex for almost a year afterward.
The same rough timelines—at least 6 weeks—apply to C-section deliveries or women who undergo an episiotomy—a vaginal incision to help make room for the baby. And all of this assumes your partner doesn’t suffer any complications or infections, which can prolong recovery, Dr. Hutcherson says.
Even after my wife had physically mended, there were other barriers between the two of us and our bedroom. (More on that in a minute.)
All that said, some couples feel ready to hop back in the sack after a just a few weeks, Dr. Hutcherson says.
“If your wife is no longer bleeding and she feels that her vagina and vulva are well-healed from the delivery—and she wants to have sex—it’s fine even before that 6-week exam,” she explains.
The Emotional Road to Recovery
Even weeks after she’d delivered our son—and still to this day—I felt in awe of my wife. What she put herself and her body through to have our child seemed nothing short of miraculous. The last thing I wanted to do was put pressure on her to sleep with me.
So I kept my mouth shut about the sex we weren’t having. In fact, I steered clear of anything even slightly sexual—kissing, heavy petting—so that she didn’t feel rushed.
I realized my mistake when she burst into tears one night a couple months after our son was born. “Are you not attracted to me any more?” she asked.
My attempts to remove the pressure to have sex had made her feel undesireable. My apparent lack of interest had also heightened her insecurities about her post-partum body.
None of these things had ever entered my mind, but Dr. Hutcherson says these types of feelings are common. Many women worry their partners won’t find them attractive after giving birth, she says.
To quell your partner’s fears, Hutcherson recommends telling her early and often how sexy she looks.
“Your goal is to make her feel beautiful—not to rush her back in the sack,” she cautions.
The New Normal In the Bedroom
One night more than 3 months after our son was born, my wife said, “I want to do you.”
We were having dinner together while our little guy slept a few feet away in his basinet.
“Right now?” I asked.
She laughed. “No. I mean I want to start having sex again. Like, tonight.”
A couple hours later, my wife breastfed our son and we put him to bed for the night. Then, we jumped into our own bed to have sex.
And we failed.
Well, technically we succeeded. My penis was briefly inside of her vagina. But she was extremely dry, and we didn’t have any lubricant. (We’d never needed any before she gave birth.)
Also, the brief time I’d spent inside her had caused her pain, which was an immediate sex-ender for both of us.
Both of these experiences are normal, Dr. Hutcherson says.
The dryness had nothing to do with my wife’s arousal levels, but was a matter of hormones, she says. Breastfeeding suppresses the amount of estrogen in a woman’s body, and so can lead to vaginal dryness, she adds.
“Have a water-based lube on hand that contains silicone for both comfort and lasting power,” she advises.
My wife and I figured that out on our own, and the lube both eased the dryness and made sex less painful—though it still took several tries before my wife said she was pain free.
Dr. Hutcherson also recommends sticking to woman-on-top positions. These give your girl full control of the speed, depth, and angle of penetration, she says. (You can find a bunch in the 45 Sex Positions Every Couple Should Try.)
At the same time, you want to be sure to tell your partner how awesome it feels, she says.
“She may worry that labor damaged or stretched her vagina,” Dr. Hutcherson explains. Rebuild her confidence by telling her that the sex is better than ever.
Another thing I realized from that first attempt at post-partum sex: My wife’s breasts were going to be mostly off limits to me for a while. She told me I could touch or put my mouth on them gently. But her nipples were out of bounds, and any heavy fondling was forbidden.
Why? For one thing, her nipples were tender and her breasts engorged from breastfeeding. Also, she said it was “just too weird” to have my mouth around her nipples when they were our son’s current source of nutrition.
Again, Hutcherson said all this is common.
I remember worrying at the time that I’d never get my old access back—that my wife would somehow be permanently changed by the breastfeeding experience, and wouldn’t want me nosing around in our son’s territory.
But after a year, when she stopped breastfeeding, she wanted me to spend more time in that area again. (When she’s ready, here are The Best Ways to Touch Her Breasts.)
The Importance of Intimacy
Stress is a major libido killer. And few things are as stressful as taking care of a newborn. Throw in sleep deprivation, and sex may not seem like a priority—at least not in the way it did before you had a kid.
At the same time, your wife may be experiencing post-partum depression, which can further deplete her desire to do you.
For all these reasons, it might seem easier to just postpone sex until you’re both really jones-ing for it again.
Even if you’re not having sex, it’s important for your relationship to stay intimate, Dr. Hutcherson says. She recommends lots of cuddling, kissing, and body contact.
Oral sex or foreplay—if you’re both into it—can also help you maintain a close physical bond even when you can’t have sex, she says.
The Red Flags
After a few months, if she’s all healed and sex still isn’t happening, Dr. Hutcherson suggests something decidedly un-sexy: schedule it.
Yes, this will feel forced at first, she says. But here’s why it’s a great idea: It not only builds anticipation—which can lead to amazing sex—but it also allows you to carve out time for one another, which is something you may not have done since the baby arrived.
If you’re not both back on the same page sexually by your baby’s first birthday, there could be a larger issue in play, Dr. Hutcherson says. That’s when you want to seek out a professional’s help.
See your wife’s doctor first. “Sometimes just hearing that you’re cleared for sex can put you both at ease,” she says. The next step: Make an appointment with a sex or relationship therapist.
Maybe that seems extreme, but you’re not just worrying about the two of you any more. The happier—emotionally and sexually—you are together, the better parents and role models you’ll ultimately be.