Grown ups

Sex and intimacy after a baby

Sex and intimacy after a baby

Sex after baby: how your sexual relationship might change

Sex and intimacy is often tough for new parents - less time, tiredness, hormonal changes and worries about contraception can make it tricky.

If you and your partner have both gone a bit cool on sex, it's no problem. But if you and your partner have different levels of sexual desire, this can add some stress to your relationship.

In most relationships, things do get back on track, but it's important to be patient. If you're concerned that your sex life is off track, talk with your GP.

Women: your sexual feelings after giving birth

After giving birth, you might feel like you'll never have sex again. But you will heal and your interest in sex will return. For many women, this happens within 1-3 months of your baby's birth, but it's normal for it to take longer.

Some mums find that they feel sensual and sexual when breastfeeding their baby. This is partly because of the hormone oxytocin, which is involved in milk let-down and also sexual arousal. It's completely normal.

It's also normal for breastfeeding mums to find that they have less interest in sex when they're breastfeeding.

One Australian study found that within six weeks of giving birth, about 40% of first-time mums tried having sex. By 12 weeks after giving birth, almost 80% of first-time mums had tried having sex. Mums who'd given birth by caesarean or had stitches were more likely to wait longer before having sex.

Your body after giving birth

Your body will probably look different after having a baby, even a few months after you've given birth. It might not be the same shape, and you might not be the same weight as before.

The changes in your body after childbirth can include:

  • loose abdominal skin and muscle tone
  • enlarged breasts (your breasts might get smaller if you aren't breastfeeding)
  • patchy colour changes to your nipples
  • stretch marks on your tummy, breasts, hips or thighs
  • vaginal grazes
  • episiotomy or caesarean scars
  • varicose veins in your legs
  • weight gain (you'll lose weight after the birth from your baby, the placenta and the amniotic fluid).

Some changes don't stay around for long. Others are more or less permanent. Some mums enjoy the changes to their body - for example, increased breast size. Others don't feel good about themselves.

Either way, healthy eating and exercise plus sleep (when you can) are likely to help you feel better in yourself. But if you're finding it hard to accept the changes in your body, talk with your GP, a family member, a friend, your child and family health nurse or your fitness instructor.

When to have sex again after baby

When to have sex again is mostly about when you feel ready (unless your doctor has advised otherwise).

If you've had a difficult birth or stitches, your body will need time to heal. Many mums feel pain or discomfort during sex, but this usually improves with time. Using a lubricant or oestrogen creams might make sex more comfortable. Sometimes discomfort can be because of muscle spasms or anxiety.

On the other hand, some new mums and their partners find that sex is less satisfying because the muscles are too loose after being stretched during the birth. The muscles will gain tone again - pelvic floor exercises can help.

If you're breastfeeding, you might find that milk leaks from your breasts during sex and that vaginal dryness is a problem. Try feeding your baby, or expressing, before having sex. Using a lubricant can help with this too.

Contraception after a baby

As new parents, you might not be ready to have another baby yet, so it's a good idea to think about contraception before you start having sex again. Your doctor or midwife will usually talk with you about contraception at the six-week check-up for mum and baby. If you and your partner want to have sex before then, talk to your GP or midwife about contraception.

Some mums are fertile, or have started to ovulate, even before they have a period. This increases their chance of becoming pregnant if they have sex without using contraception.

You might have been told that breastfeeding makes it less likely you'll become pregnant. This can sometimes be the case if new mums:

  • are exclusively breastfeeding day and night
  • aren't giving their baby any other food or drink (just breastmilk)
  • have a baby that is under six months old
  • haven't had a period since giving birth.

But keep in mind that there's no guarantee. You might still get pregnant if you're having sex without using contraception.

It's a good idea to talk with your GP, child and family health nurse or family planning clinic about your contraception options. Some types of contraception aren't suitable for breastfeeding mums.

Your feelings and your partner's feelings about sex

You might feel confused or worried if you're not interested in sex in the months following the birth of your baby. Your partner might feel rejected or unwanted.

These mixed and confusing feelings aren't much fun, but they are normal. Lots of people go through them in the early days, months and years of raising a family - you're certainly not alone.

Talking with your partner about your feelings and your partner's feelings will help you both to understand what's happening in your relationship. You can also try to stay connected and intimate in new ways that work for both of you.

I feel like I'm just a sperm donor and I've outlived my usefulness.
- Mick, new parent
He just doesn't understand that I'm not interested right now.
- Linda, new parent

Rebuilding intimacy: ideas

There are other ways to stay connected with your partner. Talking and listening with your partner about your feelings will help to keep the lines of communication open.

If one of you is home caring for the baby while the other works outside the home, check that you're both sharing the household work - or that you're comfortable with how domestic chores are being divided.

Spending time together can be more of a challenge when you're new parents, but it's still important. You might be able to go for a walk or have dinner together. If you can't find someone to look after your baby, take him for a walk in the pram while you talk, or have a meal together once he's asleep.

Think about sex as the end point, rather than the beginning. There are many ways of giving and receiving sexual pleasure. Start with simple things like holding hands and cuddling. Physical affection can build and lead to sex when you're both ready.

When our son was about three months old, he would sleep for about an hour after lunch. If we were home together we'd have a cuddle and a rest while he was having his nap. It was one way to make a little bit of time for each other.
- Marty, new parent

Looking after yourself

Regular exercise, a healthy diet and enough sleep are all ways to look after yourself. It's hard to be interested in sex if you're tired, sick or stressed. If your baby is waking at night, try to make some time to rest during the day.

It can also help to check the balance in your lives. With a young baby it's easy to get caught up in your child's day-to-day care and forget about your needs. So making time - even if it's just 15 minutes - to do something for yourself each day helps.

It could be catching up with a friend, going for a walk or reading a book. It could be time when your baby is asleep, before he wakes in the morning or during your lunch break at work. Talk with other parents about how they find time for themselves.

Where to get help

If you and your partner need help, talk with your GP or child and family health nurse. They might refer you to a therapist or couples counsellor.

Other parents can also be a great source of help and support. You could try talking to other new mums and dads in your parents group, if you're in one.

If you or your partner are feeling low and have also lost interest in sex, this can be a sign of postnatal depression (PND). It's important to let your doctor or child and family health nurse know so you can get help. You can read more about PND in women and PND in men.