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Although everyone’s different, a new baby will inevitably have some impact on your sex life. Here Sarah Scheller O’Donnell explains what to expect before, during and after pregnancy
It seems painfully obvious to talk about the significance of sex in relation to fertility and childbirth. Perhaps less so is observing the ever changing dynamic your sex life takes on the minute you decide to conceive.
Some couples begrudgingly wave goodbye to their masterful sex lives when they welcome the birth of their baby. For others, sex is enhanced; the empowering experience of childbirth forever in their minds. And some simply return to their former routines without pain or disruption.
Like all aspects of childbirth, there are many factors at play. Hormones, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, labour trauma and post-partum wounds can all play havoc with one’s sex life.
It begins with the pressures of premeditated sex. Ovulation days dictating the when, where and how can place enormous strain on both parties. Spontaneous lovemaking is replaced by purposeful, calculated sex, often devoid of romance. Some couples complain of exhaustion and, not surprisingly, men feel the pressure most, often resulting in performance anxiety.
Conversely for some couples this can be an enlightening time as they experiment sexually and relish the new regimen. Others say trying for a baby was the most fun they’ve had with their partners and they yearn to do it all again.
Sadly, as I’ve learned through my research, these are the lucky few. Most women embark on a fertility crusade supported by an army of assistants – ovulation predictors, thermometers and the like.
Melissa, 38 ‘We had a ball trying for our second baby. I remember trying for the first became stressful, but with the second it was fun to have an excuse to have so much sex again! And a little of the pressure was off.’
Sex in pregnancy
Pregnancy brings another dynamic. Some women enjoy a surge of hormonal frivolity and once again find pleasure in regular sex. Most, however, are grateful for the bevy of excuses they can legitimately call upon – tiredness, feeling uncomfortable, headaches, nausea etc.
Those who do have the inclination may be rewarded with heightened sensations thanks to the increased blood flow to the pelvic area. Swelling breasts and an overall softening of the figure can also work to invigorate sexuality, as most men (despite what women may think) love the pregnant body.
There are fewer risks than one may think surrounding sexual activity during a pregnancy. Old wives’ tales abound and some (usually men) become overly concerned and unnecessarily worried. Possibly the biggest myth is that sex will harm the baby. Rest assured, baby is well protected against any prodding, safe and sound in its amniotic sac. The cervix is also protected by the thick mucus plug, which works to keep any nasties out.
If the pregnancy is running smoothly, with no obvious problems, there is no reason to suggest that sex cannot be enjoyed throughout.
If the pregnancy is deemed high risk, women may be told to avoid sex. Specifically, this can occur if there is any unexplained bleeding, if there’s a risk of a pre-term labour, if the placenta is covering the cervix opening (placenta praevia) or if the woman has a history of miscarriage.
Other concerns, such as urinary tract infections, can be avoided by using a condom (during pregnancy the vaginal tract is shortened, making it easier for infections to travel).
In general, a low-risk pregnancy may follow this pattern, in relation to sex:
FIRST TRIMESTER Any afflictions such as morning sickness or overtiredness will occur in these early weeks, making sex off limits for some. Pregnancy in the early months is very physical with the body making dramatic changes to prepare for gestation. Breast tenderness, nausea, low energy and exhaustion can all be deterrents for sex.
SECOND TRIMESTER By this stage any physical ailments have usually eased off and most women regain interest in their sex lives. Belinda, 29 ‘I could not get enough sex early in my second trimester. I had an insatiable appetite and then, bang, as soon as I hit week 28 it was over.’
THIRD TRIMESTER Often, like clockwork, the tiredness of the first 12 weeks returns and many women lose the inclination for sex. Other factors that play a part include discomfort due to the ever-growing belly, heartburn and indigestion, and anxiety about the impending birth. As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, some women also feel physically unattractive and insecure about their changing shape.
Brook, 30 ‘Our biggest problem was working around my expanding tummy. My partner complained of friction from his chest hair and my belly! Still, we improvised and had lots of fun along the way.’
For any concerns or worries about sex while pregnant, it’s always best to speak to your doctor or health professional.
Post-partum, there is a gamut of attitudes (both physical and emotional) that a woman may experience regarding her sexuality. The physical are easier to identify, ranging from vaginal tenderness, sheer exhaustion from an arduous labour, breastfeeding difficulties, and feeling sleep deprived and therefore never finding a good time for intimacy. Postnatal depression will also affect a woman’s sexual inclination.
Physical health will determine when it’s safe to resume sexual activity. Women are told to abstain from sex until any post-birth bleeding has stopped and as this can vary, there is no fixed period. Labour complications such as vaginal tears, episiotomies and Caesarean deliveries will all affect the resumption of sex and all women are advised to speak to their doctor or health professional at the post-birth check-up for the all-clear. Sexual Health Australia recommends waiting at least six weeks to ensure no infection occurs and also that the cervix has returned to its original position.
Sam, 36 ‘Initially I was shocked at how painful sex was, especially because I’d had a Caesarean delivery.
I thought only natural births would cause discomfort down there. Fortunately, it didn’t last long.’
According to birth.com.au, emotional side effects that may have an impact on a woman’s sexuality include feeling overweight and unattractive (without the excuse of pregnancy); feeling overwhelmed by the demands from baby and therefore unable to give any more; being totally absorbed in the new bub and forgetting about your partner; feeling terrified of conceiving again, so happy to abstain unless contraception is available, and finally, perhaps physically traumatised after a not-so-perfect birth.
Angela, 31 ‘I found the hardest thing (for both of us) was learning how to re-eroticise our bodies and selves. I felt my body was no longer “innocent” after childbirth and I had to work at feeling sexy again.’
Equally, for some women the emotional effects are surprisingly positive: empowered by childbirth, completely “in love” with the father of their baby all over again, and sexually stimulated by enlarged breasts and genital sensations.
Georgina, 33 ‘I think sex is fabulous after a baby. Apart from the initial post-baby weight and soreness, I feel re-energised after each baby, and my partner and I seem to take more time and tenderness with each other.’
Men are encouraged to be patient with their partners at this time and to keep in mind what a physically and mentally gruelling experience childbirth can be.
Lorraine, 35 ‘For us, the main thing that suffers is frequency. Even though our kids have always slept well, between the exhaustion from them and busy jobs we just don’t have the time. On the positive though, we have sex for longer now and probably enjoy it more.’
The bottom line
Once the initial adjustments to a new baby are overcome, most couples return to their former routines. The time this takes will depend on your baby’s routine and ultimately, how important your sex life is. Some can wait happily, distracted by the needs of their new bub, while others eagerly resume at the common six-week-mark. Either way, it should be a mutual decision with each partner respecting the other’s stance.
Returning to a healthy sex life with a new baby is not impossible. Sure, there may be more interruptions and fewer opportunities, but there’s nothing that should prevent a loving and intimate relationship with your partner. Like all aspects of parenthood, it may just take a bit of juggling.
Time for sex?
Kelly Winder, birth attendant, has some great tips on how to kick start your sex life:
- Flirt with each other try to recapture some of the early day romance.
- Have an affair with your partner, go on “dates” with each other and talk about “adult stuff” as opposed to the kids.
- Spice things up, experiment in the bedroom and try to do things differently.
- Nurture each other and share moments of tenderness.
- Discuss Any problems and insecurities – it’s the only way to address tem and also helps to create a unique bond with your partner.
This article supplied by My Child magazine.
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I found the hardest thing (for both of us) was learning how to re-eroticise our bodies and selves. I felt my body was no longer “innocent” after childbirth and I had to work at feeling sexy again.