By Dr Ritambhara Bhalla
The journey to parenthood is a blessing and every couple aspires for a healthy mother and happy baby. You have been carrying a baby for nine (or even 10) months; you might have been trying to become pregnant for a while; and your entire world changes from being a couple to being a family. However, you can get back to resuming sexual intimacy after delivering a baby, but it may take several weeks. But before that, here are a few things couples need to keep in mind:
Following childbirth, you may have to rest for at least four to six weeks before you can have sex. This is because your birth canal, aka your vagina, has probably gone through quite a bit of stress following childbirth. It needs time to recover, which means that penetrative sex has to wait. The recovery time may even be longer if there is an episiotomy or a surgical intervention. Before resuming intimacy, couples should remember that there are other ways to show affection, such as cuddling or kissing. Both partners need to be patient and understanding of one another’s needs and reactions. Couples can resume sexual intercourse after delivery when the vaginal bleeding of the female partner has stopped and stitches are healed. “Puerperium”, the period of about six weeks after childbirth during which the mother’s reproductive organs return to their original non-pregnant condition, is an important time post-delivery. During this phase, the hormones are usually settling and a gynaecologist must be consulted before resuming sexual intimacy.
Many a times episiotomy stitches are given to patients that repair the perineum (the area between the anus and vulva) by stitching the wound closed. Practitioners almost always use dissolvable sutures (also known as absorbable sutures) for an episiotomy. These can be painful and also one of the reasons for disinterest in intimacy among the female partners.
Due to the feeding schedule and short sleeping periods of infants, many new parents only get two or three hours of sleep in a row. Fatigue for both mothers and fathers can lead to feelings of depression and relationship conflict. Decreased sleep can lead to increased arguing and feelings of irritability. More relationship conflict can also make it less likely that partners will feel like having sex. After a period of adjustment, many couples find that their amount of sleep increases and that they have adapted to the change.
The role of husbands is extremely important and they need to be supportive and patient during this postpartum phase. While a woman’s physical ability for sexual intimacy may have returned, other factors, such as lack of sleep, may affect her emotional interest. It is very common to have weight gain after childbirth and many of them feel that they are so tired by the demands of being a new mother, that they have little time for their partners. Also, motherhood, especially in breastfeeding moms, can be so physically demanding, that sex seems like another physical demand on her body, not a time of emotional connection with her partner. Likewise, fear of pregnancy may also be an inhibiting factor.
Many women, however, do feel guilty about their own libido changes after childbirth. Even if you’re not really feeling in the mood yet, it can sometimes feel like there’s something missing in your role as a wife. However, it’s important to recognise that these changes are actually natural. Don’t feel guilty about something that you can’t control. If it really bothers you, it might help to talk to your partner about your feelings. You’re most likely to find that he actually understands.
One very common concern that could affect one’s sex life is the possibility of another pregnancy. It is very important that women discuss with their partner and the doctor about proper forms of birth control after giving birth. Many people believe that breastfeeding is an effective birth control method; it is very important to remember that you can become pregnant again even before you have your first period and that breastfeeding is not a form of birth control.
Whether they gave birth by vaginal delivery or C-section, most women report a decrease in sexual desire. There are lots of hormonal changes in a female’s body right from the day conception happens to delivery. So it’s important for couples to be patient and things will be normal soon.
While your sex life during the year following childbirth may be full of ups and downs, it’s important to keep in mind that things are will normalise. But over time, as you and your partner both settle into your newly transformed relationship and your roles at parents, you can still find ways to make your sex life work just fine.
To resume sexual intimacy after delivery, new parents should start physical exercise early as it helps to regain shape and releases endorphins or “happy hormones”. It’s important to stay hydrated at all times and eat well as breastfeeding generally leads to loss of energy. Yoga and breathing exercises help. Couples should be patient and with each other and desire will eventually return.
(The writer is Senior Consultant– Gynaecologist and Obesetriction, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Chandigarh.)