Whether it’s your first baby or your fifth, navigating intimacy and sexuality in the fourth trimester is a struggle, even for a women’s health nurse practitioner and certified nurse midwife.
“Is the baby feeding well?” Check.
“How is your bleeding? Check.
“Are you feeling okay?” Check.
Disclaimer: If you are navigating birth trauma, postpartum mood disorders, or have a history of sexual trauma, I highly recommend speaking with a trauma-informed sex therapist, if needed.
After a quick 15-minute appointment, you’re heading home with pamphlets and a resource list in your lap for you to call if you have any additional questions. It’s been six weeks, and now you’re officially cleared to get back to “normal” (whatever that means).
And if you’re anything like me, you know that as soon you walk through the front door of your home, your partner will be standing there practically naked because they are ready to get back in the saddle.
But are you?
I know I wasn’t.
A midwife shares her intimacy-after-baby journey
With the birth of my first daughter, I experienced emotional and psychological birth trauma that left me anxious and nervous. I had D-MER (dysphoric milk ejection reflex), so every time my milk let down, I felt like the world was going to end.
And, to top it off, every drop of moisture in my body was going towards making milk. Breastfeeding had left me a dry, barren wasteland between my legs.
No, nothing is wrong with you. You can thank your hormones for your vaginal dryness.
There were so many things I should have said to my partner before we started being sexually intimate again.
“But my poor partner,” I thought to myself.
His love language is physical touch, but what fills his cup is sex. Sure, he’ll hold my hand, cuddle on the couch, or accept a foot rub, but what he really wants is *Siri, play “Let’s Talk About Sex” by Salt-N-Pepa.
We got back into the proverbial saddle, but my mind was spinning. There were so many things I should have said to my partner before we started being sexually intimate again, but let me tell you the three that stick out to me the most.
Maybe you can relate?
1. I’m just not ready
You would think this would have been the first thing out of my mouth, but I felt terrible even considering it.
We live in a society that bases readiness for postpartum intimacy and sexuality on an arbitrary six-week marker. We constantly hear that we should be healed and ready to resume sex with our partners, but it’s not black and white.
Some are ready to start being sexually intimate very soon after delivery. Good for them. And for others, the six-week mark is just too soon to begin thinking about sex. Good for them, too.
We live in a society that bases readiness for postpartum intimacy and sexuality on an arbitrary six-week marker.
With my first daughter, I had a first-degree periurethral laceration, so things had been a little uncomfortable down there for weeks. My best friends were the peri-bottle and Tucks wipes (raise your hand if you can relate!).
Quick anatomy lesson: the urethral meatus (the opening where you pee) is located within the vestibule below the clitoral gland and hood. So, you can imagine why I was so uneasy with the thought of letting my partner anywhere near me.
I needed time to fully heal mentally and physically.
Instead, I did what was “culturally appropriate.” I had the quickest, least pleasurable, and most highly awkward sex imaginable because I wasn’t comfortable admitting that I needed more time.
2. I’m a little embarrassed
“The front door is still the same, but inside, the couches have been spread apart and mixed and matched like a hurricane hit.”
THAT’s what Scott Disick decided to tell Kim Kardashian when she was looking for reassurance about her vagina being the same after having more kids. Those words rang in my ears whenever I thought about what my husband was experiencing.
I mean, I just had a baby.
I was embarrassed that my body didn’t “snap back,” that I needed lube to help get things going, and that I had no clue what my vulva even looked like.
Our bodies stretch and spread to make ample space for delivery. Cervixes dilate, and they are never the same again. The labia minora begin to project out more and more with every delivery.
That’s a lot of changes. A lot of changes that I hadn’t even had time to embrace.
I was embarrassed that my body didn’t “snap back,” that I needed lube to help get things going, and that I had no clue what my vulva even looked like anymore.
Everything I was experiencing was normal, but some of me still felt I needed to apologize to my new body or that I needed to hide away this “new me” from my partner.
3. I don’t even know what I look like anymore
I spent all day and night trying (*and achieving* please, hold your applause) to keep a tiny human being alive.
Did that red onion on my salad from lunch make her gassy?
Did I accidentally use the wrong detergent?
Is that Cadbury Creme Egg I accidentally dropped on her head going to cause long-term damage???
So much of my life was about my baby now that I had forgotten about myself. I lost myself in those early days of parenthood.
Trying to be sexually intimate highlighted that I didn’t know myself as I used to before our baby came along.
Things felt different. They were different, but I didn’t know how to express that to my partner.
I used to love massages, but I was so touched out that the thought of a massage made my skin crawl. Staying up late to watch a movie together was a thing of the past. I was exhausted and lucky to stay awake long enough to pick out a movie in the first place.
My favorite sex positions? They left me feeling vulnerable, or even worse, feeling nothing.
I literally didn’t know what I liked or needed when it came to being intimate. So many things had changed, including me.
Three things that helped me create intimacy with my partner
1. Being intimate with myself first
“If you can’t love yourself, How in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” No truer words have been spoken than this quote from RuPaul.
Let me ask you a question. What’s your love language? Is it acts of service, gifts, physical touch, quality time, or words of affirmation? Whatever it is, this is your permission to start doing those things for yourself.
Need words of affirmation? Set reminders on your phone with compliments. Leave sticky notes on your mirrors with your favorite quotes.
Physical touch? Get your favorite serum and use your gua sha. Or, pull out one of your favorite toys and begin reacquainting yourself with your body.
Once you can tune into what makes you feel like YOU again, it’ll be easier to express those things to your partner.
2. Talking about it
And I don’t just mean to your significant other.
Call your besties, your mom, or even the lady from your job who had a baby last year.
Many of us have been taught to put our heads down and keep trucking along through postpartum, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The more we talk about our experiences, the more we realize that we are not alone.
“Oh, you experienced vaginal dryness too. What lube did you use?”
“What positions worked for you?”
“I had an episiotomy too! How long before you felt ready?”
We’ve got to remove the shame of being postpartum and lean into the people around us who have been here before.
But talking to your partner is essential, too. Let them know where your head is. Have them check in with you frequently. Things might feel new and awkward but so did the first time you were intimate with your partner, and look how far that got you.
3. Learning the art of letting go
Do any other toddler moms instantly think of Anna and Elsa? No, just me? Cool.
But seriously, this can often be the biggest hurdle: letting go of society’s expectations, letting go of what intimacy used to be like, and letting go of the old version of ourselves.
This experience is your opportunity to lean into the newness and be uninhibited in your intimacy with yourself and your partner.
Final thoughts on intimacy after baby
A new version of you was born the same day as your baby. It’s time for you and your partner to get to know her.
So, maybe it takes you a little longer to get aroused. So what if you aren’t quite ready yet? Who cares if you want a back massage and a nap? Your feelings and experiences are all valid and worth communicating.
Other resources you might enjoy
Mother to two sweet girls, women's health nurse practitioner, and certified nurse midwife that realized after the delivery of her first daughter that so much was lacking in regard to postpartum care and support so she created the community that she wished she had. Fiat Midwifery provides evidence-based and accessible content, support, and memberships all aimed at empowering women from pregnancy, postpartum, parenthood, and beyond.