When you’re recovering from birth, there’s a lot to worry about: whether your infant is feeding correctly; when you’ll get more than two hours of sleep; if you’ll ever be able to go to the toilet without a small human clinging to you again. Not to mention trying to figure out why your little one is constantly crying.
But there are other fears we may not speak about that can weigh heavy on our minds, and even cause distress. One of those is sex. Or, more specifically, how soon after birth we ‘should’ be doing it.
The word ‘should’ there, says it all. Women and men can both feel an inordinate amount of pressure to “get back to normal” as quickly as possible in the bedroom. A quick straw poll of my female friends tells me: some people got back in the saddle after six weeks, others even sooner. Some didn’t have sex for six months after childbirth, and others waited more than a year. But one thing’s for sure, it was a weight on all their minds.
There are no hard-and-fast rules around sex after giving birth. The NHS advises women not to rush it, with reminders that you can get pregnant again as soon as three weeks after having a baby. You could wait until you’ve had your six-week postnatal check with a doctor, and have discussed contraception options, to resume a regular sex life.
Cathy Ranson, who developed an information video to help women decide when they should be having sex again, believes the answer is waiting until you feel comfortable.
“If you’ve had a tear or c-section, what feels comfortable will be very different from someone who had a ‘straightforward’ birth,” she says. “Every body and every vagina is different, so take it from your body’s cues, don’t feel pressured. Do it only when you want to, to keep the experience loving and positive.”
We spoke to three HuffPost UK readers, to find out how long they waited to have sex again after having kids – and what it really felt like.
‘I had no interest in sex. I was sleep-deprived and didn’t feel attractive’
Natalie Roberts, 35, has four children, aged 14, 10, two and one
“I had my first child when I was 21. I had no idea what to expect from birth, apart from a few horror stories told to me by other parents. I had quite a normal delivery with an epidural, but needed stitches afterwards. It took my body four months to fully recover. During that time, I had no interest in sex. I was sleep-deprived, didn’t feel attractive and the thought of sex repulsed me. I felt ready around five to six months later, but I didn’t feel the urge to have it. My husband at the time – now divorced – was understanding and I never felt pressured. It felt strange the first time we did it because I was apprehensive and expected it to hurt, but I’d given my body time to heal and was good to go.
“The same happened again with my second child, three years later. I also developed a postpartum infection – so was vomiting and unwell for several few weeks after. Sex wasn’t a priority when having a newborn and a toddler.
“Fast forward 10 years and I’ve had two more babies. I recovered much quicker with these two and was ready to have sex around 10 days after giving birth. I went to my GP the same week I had both children to get contraception. It wasn’t painful at all and I had my sex drive back very quickly. I think my partner was shocked I was ready to have sex so soon, although he wasn’t complaining!
“Every woman and every pregnancy is different. Whether you’re ready for sex straight away or don’t feel ready for months – it’s perfectly normal. Being a parent is exhausting and sometimes sleep wins over sex. Never feel pressured, and if you do, you should be having an open and frank discussion with your partner about how you feel.”
‘I got through it with lots of foreplay!’
Samantha Francis, 34, has two daughters aged 12 and eight
“I’m a mum of two girls. I had sex again two weeks after giving birth to my (now) 12-year-old, and eight weeks after having my (now) eight-year-old. I was quite anxious about it after having my eldest, because I had third-degree tears from giving birth. I was a little anxious after having my youngest, too, but not quite as much, because I hadn’t experienced any tears.
“What helped was discussing my fears with my partner. He was really understanding, and I think a little frightened himself! To get through that fear, we did lots of foreplay. We went slow and gently. My partner was very careful, followed my lead, and he kept checking in if I was okay. Because of that, I was able to enjoy the experience and even looked forward to the next time.
“I’d advise women who’ve just given birth to take your time and connect with your body and what feels right. With my first child, I knew I was ready at two weeks postpartum, but with my second, I felt my body needed more time. Definitely discuss this with your partner, as I guarantee they are just as nervous as you and will want to know what to do so they can have that pleasurable moment with you.”
‘I bottled up my fears and pushed through’
Clio Wood, 37, has one daughter, aged five
“My daughter is now five and my postnatal sex experience is part of the reason we don’t yet have more kids! We had sex around six weeks after – I think I remember I was still bleeding, so with hindsight, I definitely shouldn’t have been pressuring myself to do it. It was definitely pressure from myself, not my husband. I’ve always had a perfectionist personality and thought I should be healed, ready and sexy again already – after all, it was a month and a half later.
“The cultural perception is that we should be ready to jump back on the horse pretty quickly afterwards and besides, with our newly-stretched vaginas, it shouldn’t be painful, should it? I bottled up my fears and pushed through, but it was incredibly painful and we had to stop. My husband and I tearfully discussed what had happened, he was very supportive and felt awful I’d put myself through that.
“The whole intimacy question was complicated for us for at least two years after giving birth – a mess of mental health, identity change issues, hypertonic pelvic floor (when the muscles are too tight and inflexible), and scarring; added of course, to the change, ignorance, panic and fatigue of new parenthood. I had a great, supportive husband, a brilliant physiotherapist (in the end) and fantastic therapist to help me through.
“The thing I’d advise most is honesty and courage: honesty to open up to your other half and to be honest with yourself – if you’re not ready, you’re not ready, whatever your physical or mental issues might be. Also, have the courage to push for answers if you find you do have more serious issues that need dealing with. Try to arm yourself with knowledge and push for referrals when you need them. Remember, whatever you’re experiencing might be common, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s normal.”