Reclaiming your body after childbirth
Sexpert Chantelle Otten shares her tips to rediscover intimacy after baby (when you’re ready)
The thought of sex postpartum can seem daunting for new parents, especially given all the factors at play: recovery from delivery, potential baby blues, your new identity as a parent, a changed body...and exhaustion.
So it’s no surprise if sex is not a priority. It may even be a source of anxiety.
We put your questions to Psycho-Sexologist Chantelle Otten to find out when, how and why to reclaim your postpartum body for bonding, intimacy and pleasure...even if right now you think you’ll never be in the mood again.
Above: Chantelle Otten, Psycho-Sexologist
What’s the most common concern you hear from women and men about resuming sex after birth?
The most common concerns I hear about sex after birth are exhaustion, limited time, and vaginal pain. Remember that every parent's journey is different, and both parents have to be open about how they are feeling.
A lot of new mums feel fear about the timing of postpartum sex, and if you’ve had a vaginal delivery, your vagina may still be healing from being stretched out, or possibly from trauma.
Whether you’ve had a vaginal delivery or a C-section, the recommended time to wait to jump back into bed is around the six-week mark, but if you’ve had stitches to your vagina or belly, remember incisions take time to heal so it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before hopping back into the sack.
Other factors which may mess with your post-baby sex life include your hormones, fatigue, vaginal dryness, pain or low sexual desire.
How do you know when you’re ready to have sex postpartum?
You might not know whether you’re ready to get back to it, and it might take a little bit of trial and error, in fact, you might feel like you never want to have sex again!
However you’re feeling, it’s good to have a conversation with your partner, and be patient with each other. I recommend not rushing, but dedicating some time to rebuild intimacy by thinking about sex as the end point rather than the beginning.
Take time to build physical affection, such as giving each other head scratches, massages, spooning the kids or gazing into one another’s eyes, and take some time just for the two of you – whenever you can.
Remember, you can still learn to be erotic, without having sex. It’s about a feeling, and you need to dedicate some time to cultivating that feeling. Set your own timeline, after all, it’s your body, and your life.
Is it normal/common to feel anxious/afraid about having sex for the first time postpartum?
It’s super normal and common to feel a little anxious about having sex for the first time after having a baby. So even if your body has healed, you need to do some preparation to be mentally ready to have sex again. Remember that a lot has changed since giving birth, hormones can wreak havoc with your libido, and both parents can feel the strain of drained energy. Have a conversation about starting slow, and not expecting penetration, but aim for pleasure instead. Be open and give each other feedback as to how to reach this pleasure, and communicate what feels good, and what doesn't.
What are the benefits of resuming sex after having a baby?
There are plenty of benefits to getting naked and sensual with your partner after having a baby, and it’s all about endorphins. If you can start by talking to and touching your partner, you’ll raise your oxytocin levels – the bonding chemical we release when we hug, make love and breastfeed.
Directly after giving birth a lot of that oxytocin is given to your child, and we need to redirect that into your intimate relationship, so plan time to start touching each other to nurture that all-important bonding.
How important is it for women to rediscover their sexual identity postpartum?
It’s very important for mothers to rediscover their sexual identity postpartum, and to remember and acknowledge that you’re not just a mother, you’re an individual who has a lot of amazing traits. You might be a partner who was loved and adored prior to your baby being born. You’re also an erotic being.
It’s easier to find that person if you were in touch with your sexual self before giving birth, but perhaps that self has become difficult to find. Working with a sexologist can definitely help, and there’s something about being a sexual being that can keep you feeling alive, in touch with your imagination, your creativity and your sensuality. And I believe these are all very important elements of who we are as human beings.
Of course, becoming a mother can have a significant impact on your identity and sense of self, and understandable, for the first few weeks of motherhood the focus is primarily on keeping your newborn alive. Your body and perception of who you are has likely changed, and that’s OK.
Unfortunately, there’s a perception in society that motherhood and being a sexual being don’t co-exist, and it takes confidence to separate caring for a child and prioritising your relationship and pleasure to integrate the two.
Start with small steps such as simple self-care, like making time for a shower and wearing things that make you feel beautiful to help reclaim your sense of identity. Prioritise your partner and quality time together to reinforce the fact your relationship is vital to who you are. Realise that it may take some time to find your feet, but if you’re struggling, reaching out a sexologist can help you reclaim your sense of self-worth.
Any tips for ‘getting out of your head’ and ‘back into your body’ when it comes to postpartum sex?
Feeling disconnected with your body, and getting distracted by thoughts during sensual activity are common issues for people post-babies, and if you find your mind wandering during sex, or you’re struggling to feel present in the moment, know that you’re not alone.
Many of us need to do some things prior to sexual activity to help us tune into our bodies, like having a relaxing shower or bath, massaging yourself (or each other), meditating with your breath or even some simple stretching can help you let go of the day’s thoughts and distractions to focus your mind on the embodied experience.
Focus on your senses...smell, sight, touch, tase and sound. What does the room smell like? How does your body feel? What can you see? How does your partner’s skin taste? Are you listening to your breath...or a song during sex?
Here’s a few practical tips to try to be more mindful:
- Making a sex playlist, or listening to my playlist on Spotify ‘sex vol 1 & 2’
- Make eye contact with your partner
- Ask your partner to focus on areas that are not you breasts or genitals to start
- Bring a clitoral vibrator into partnered sex
- Pop some essential oils on or light a candle
- Start with massage and have a happy ending
Acknowledge that pregnancy and childbirth can change your body in many ways and it can take time for your body to return to some sense of normality. Be patient and kind with yourself, we are all unique, and everyone’s post baby body is different.
I suggest taking some time to get to a place where you feel stronger within your body by eating well and returning to light exercise to help you feel good. Spend some time in front of a mirror, putting some body oil on, or lying around naked in the sun. I often tell my patients to start taking some selfies of their nude bodies, in poses that they find flattering, and this tends to help. Remember, you are perfect no matter what.
Any advice on body positivity and accepting changes in your body after giving birth?
In the early days, your boobs, they don’t belong to you any more, they belong to the baby and they might feel engorged, sore, leaky and sensitive – and not in a good way. Same with the cooch, it might feel a little dry and sore.
As a result, if you’re feeling like these are no-go areas, communicate that with your partner. Each experience is individual, and it might be a good idea to have sensual play and take the pressure off those areas. Additionally wearing beautiful lingerie can help cover the areas that make new mums feel self-conscious, while still making you feel sexy. Focus on intimate touches, hugs, kisses and holding hands to foster emotional connection and intimacy. And remember that the newborn phase is only temporary and your body will become yours again.
Any advice for partners to help make this a positive/pleasurable experience?
Partners play a very important role in the sexuality of new mums. But they need to know what to do to make you feel better. Communicate with them, if you’re not feeling sexy, tell them you don’t feel sexy, but you need some help to get to that place. Ask them to help you relieve stress to get you in the mood, and have long foreplay periods during the day where they can run you a bath, light some candles, rub your feet, and just show you they love and desire you using little actions. I suggest revisiting your love languages during this time, as it will help with the process of feeling cared for.