Postpartum Sexuality

Many individuals or couples have questions or concerns about postpartum sexuality. Resuming sexual relations takes time and patience. During the first 6-weeks postpartum, the birth parent’s body is in recovery mode – much more than simply a return to the non-pregnant state!  Almost every culture advocates 6 weeks of abstinence for medical or spiritual reasons. 

After giving birth, some people have no change in libido and a rare few experience an increased drive.  However the majority notice lessening or lack of sexual desire; it’s a normal result of the physical and hormonal changes that accompany birth and post-partum. Most researchers report a return to pre-pregnancy levels of sexual desire, enjoyment, and frequency within a year. The hormones of breastfeeding often lead to suppression of sexual desire. Other factors that play into the temporary decrease in sexual feelings include:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Exhaustion or fatigue
  • Feeling “touched out” due to constant contact with infant
  • Time constrains with duration of sex due to infant needs
  • Loss of privacy as a couple
  • Individuals in a partnership dealing with new pressures such as how to be a devoted parent or deal with increased financial responsibility
  • Many birth-mothers find themselves feeling dependent on their partner partner in new ways – a major mental and emotional adjustment
  • Self-image – postpartum people may feel self-conscious of their body and it’s workings
  • Relationship satisfaction, which is a predictor of postpartum sexual desire and frequency of intercourse
  • Baby blues or postpartum depression

Did you Know?

  • It takes 6 weeks for the placenta attachment site to heal. During that time there’s actually an open wound in the uterus, at risk for infection or injury.
  • The perineum can take 4-8 weeks to heal after incisions or stitches.
  • Vaginal secretions are decreased due to postpartum hormone levels.
  • Either or both partners may feel shy.
  • Jealousy of baby, mother-baby relationship, or partner’s perceived freedom is normal.
  • Nipples may be sore or tender. Breasts may leak breast-milk with sexual stimulation.
  • Some people feel sexually aroused when their milk lets down.
  • It is not normal to have pain with intercourse or using the toilet after 8 weeks postpartum.

The top concerns by both genders at 4 months postpartum include when to resume sexual penetration, birth control, recovery from delivery, and postpartum body image. Have open discussions as a couple.

When to Begin Again…

  • To prevent infection or discomfort, wait until whichever is LATEST:
    • Postpartum bleeding has fully stopped
    • Perineal tears, injuries, sutures heal
    • 6 weeks
    • **Everyone involved is ready physically, mentally, emotionally**
  • Start slowly,  especially in cases of traumatic birth
  • Stop in case of pain or discomfort
  • Patience may be required during the time-period before resuming sexual relations. Try:
    • Mutual caring and love
    • Cuddling, hugging
    • Kissing
    • Other sensual, nonsexual contact such as massage

Challenges to Sexuality

  • Relationship as both parents transition to parenthood
  • Perceived or actual inadequate support and presence of partner
  • No time for intimacy, especially if in survival mode
  • Difficult or traumatic birth, including Caesarean, can have physical and emotional lingering effects
  • Trauma to perineum during birth process
  • Religious or cultural beliefs

Other Strategies

  • Postpartum support to ensure rest and recovery from pregnancy and birth
  • Daily connection and even romance
  • If partners find each other attractive or beautiful then tell them, or find something to compliment
  • Set aside time for sex when neither of you are tired or anxious e.g. weekly date (day or evening) when someone takes baby for a couple of hours, or a weekly rendezvous while baby sleeps
  • Use a lubricant, as it’s normal to be dry or drier than usual, especially if breastfeeding
    • Water-soluble are “healthiest” and help with irritation or sensitivity
    • Silicone-based last longer and are more slippery than water-soluble
    • Avoid petroleum products (Vaseline, baby oil, or mineral oil) as they’re toxic and can dissolve latex condoms or barriers
  • Don’t take it personally if if your partner isn’t interested in resuming sexual relations; this will improve with time as hormones and schedules normalize.

Contact Health Care Provider, such as Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist in Case of…

  • Pain with penetration or using the toilet beyond 8 weeks that isn’t lessening each week.
  • Any questions or concerns regarding sexuality postpartum.

Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy

  • Specialists in female pelvic floor care and recovery after birth; also help with prenatal pelvic floor health.

Other Practitioners who can Help

  • Painful penetration may be referred to a pelvic floor physiotherapy specialist or gynaecologist.
  • Sex therapist in case of non-physical or unidentified origin.
  • Couples counselling if relationship is strained.

References

Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. (2006, Sep). Postpartum Counseling – Sexuality and Contraception. Retrieved Sep 2011, from Association of Reproductive Health Professionals: http://www.arhp.org/publications-and-resources/quick-reference-guide-for-clinicians/postpartum-counseling/contraception

Calgary Health Region. (2007). From Here Through Maternity. Calgary: Alberta Health Services.

Davis, E. (1997). Heart & Hands (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.

Lim, R. (2001). After the Baby’s Birth – A Complete Guide for Postpartum Women (Revised ed.). Toronto: Celestial Arts.

McCabe, M. A. (2002). Psychological Factors and the Sexuality of Pregnant and Postpartum Women. The Journal of Sex Research , 39 (2), 94-103.

Pastore, L. P., Annette Owens MD, P., & Raymond, C. ,. (2007). Postpartum Sexuality Concerns Among First-Time Parents from One U.S. Academic Hospital. The Journal of Sexual Medicine , 4 (1), 115-123.

How to Celebrate your Amazing Placenta

There are many ways to celebrate your amazing placenta! 

  • Simply tell it, “thank-you for nourishing my baby” after your birth
  • Ask your doula or medical staff for a “placenta tour” – take pics or video if you like
  • Plant a tree over it
  • Placenta prints
  • Bury it in the earth and do a little ceremony to honour it
  • Cord keep-sake
  • Placenta capsules
  • Tinctures 
  • Smoothie cubes

It’s easy to take it home from the hospital. Just bring a labelled container, ask your nurse to put the placenta in said container, and then keep it cold. If it won’t be used within 3 days then put it in the freezer. The hospital may ask you to sign a “Release of Live Tissue” form.   

Contact me for more information about our placenta services.

Perineum Care and Recovery

Calendula Pads

For swelling, pain, heat.  Make 5-10 pads 6 weeks before due date.
Calendula flowers promote healing and are soothing when applied topically.

  • Calendula Mixture: Make tea from dried calendula leaves (1 full tea ball per cup water steeped for 10 min) or use tincture (20-30 drops per cup water).  Add 1-2 drops of lavender essential oil or some lavender tea to mixture.
  • Partially dip maxi pads – preferably long, organic – in calendula mixture briefly, just to soak top layer. Another option is to use a sprayer to wet the tops.
  • Freeze pads in bowls so they’re curved like the female body. Store in Ziplocs (labeled with your name) in freezer.
  • Bring the pads to birth-place! Hospitals and birthing centers may have a freezer you can use. If not, consider bringing a cooler or just wait to use them until you return home.
  • Apply immediately after birth.

Perineum Care after your Birth

Peri-bottles are one of a new birth mom’s best friends. Kind of like a bidet in a bottle or “A soothing spritz for your lady-bits!” according to Ninja-Mama.

Here are some tips and advice about using peri-bottles:

  • Plan ahead – find out if your local hospital provides one. Most do for use during the postpartum stay and beyond. Your midwife may also provide one for homebirth.
  • If they provide at one the hospital, take it home. It’s not fancy but it works fine.
  • Plan to have one peri-bottle in each bathroom the birth mother will use. The Frida Mom (sold locally at Groovy Mama and Hello Baby) and Ninja Mama are genius peri bottles. Most hospitals provide the one pictured 3rd on the link above, and it’s also sold locally at Jolly’s.
  • Use it every time you use the toilet. Just spray while peeing or after as a rinse.
  • Warmed water or a peri-rinse such as calendula infusion feel best. Room temp will feel cold but it’s okay too.

Perineum Rinse

Soothing and healing for swelling, pain, abrasions, tears, bruising.  It’s safe to use with stitches.  This can be prepared during early labor or ahead of time and frozen/refrigerated.

  • Fill a peri- or spray-bottle with calendula mixture (above), a healing solution (below) or warm water.
  • Hospitals will provide a peri-bottle.  A spritz bottle works too.
  • Squirt solution on perineum after every washroom use, shower/bath, or in between if extra relief is needed. Do not rinse solution off.
  • If urination burns then squirt during urination – start just before releasing urine – or pee in the bath.
  • Allow the area to dry between applications. Air-time or even a cool blow drier can be helpful.
  • Note: if the rectum is sore or stitched, support the perineum with a cloth during bowel movements (like pooping into a cloth).

Sitz Bath

(Not sure why we call it that; it’s just a shallow bath! Full tub works just as well.)

  • Soak your perineum in a bath for 15 minutes, 3 times daily. Shallow water is fine.
  • Add Epsom salt and if you wish to use herbs, add 1-2 cups raw herbs or healing herb tea, ¼ cup tincture, or up to 5 drops of pure essential oil. If you wish to use plain water then spray the healing solution after the bath.
  • Some women like cool water for inflammation while others find warm water soothing. Experiment with temperatures but avoid extremes during the initial postpartum days, and keep the rest of your body warm.
  • Do not sit on a donut-shaped vessel in the bath as it adds pressure.

Healing Herbs

Calendula is healing, along with other herbs such as comfrey, lavender, witch hazel, tea-tree, yarrow.  Feel free to ask me about the various healing properties of the different herbs.  Nice sitz-bath blends can be purchased – look for an Epsom salts base with herbs or pure essential oils; no fragrance or additives.   There are some nice soothing perineum sprays on the market, such as Earth Mama Angel Baby New Mama Bottom Spray, sold in Regina at Head-to-Heal Wellness and Groovy Mama in Cathedral, or Hello Baby in East.

Recovery from a Difficult Birth

After a difficult birth follow the above recommendations plus:

  • Keep knees together as much as possible for the first 2 weeks, even while walking
  • Avoid stairs
  • Lift nothing heavier than the baby
  • Allow area to “breath” – air time or cotton panties (no synthetics)
  • Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Avoid perfumes, chemicals
  • Avoid straining on the toilet – good nutrition and lots of water, support perineum with a cloth during bowel movements (like pooping into a cloth)
  • See a Physiotherapist who specializes in women’s pelvic floor to heal pelvic floor muscles; recover from perineum tears; avoid or heal incontinence, painful intercourse and pelvic pain
  • Consider seeing a complimentary practitioner who specializes in and is experienced with maternal postpartum recovery, such as a Webster certified chiropractor or an osteopath, to help ensure pelvic organs, bones, ligaments are healthy and aligned.

Angie The Doula – Postpartum Support and Maternal Mental Health Resources

At two weeks postpartum, the realities of new parenthood can be a whopper. Many new parents find this time hard, especially during this pandemic when most people don’t have the support they’d normally have. Remember that new normal that most families find around 4-6 weeks? That might feel like forever at this point. 

This is a good time to check in about maternal mental health. Partners can struggle with mental health too. Here are some good resources:

Postpartum Support
  1. Maternal Mental Health Issues This online article includes risk factors (any of these that can be addressed can help make postpartum life easier), things to help, local resources, what partners can do.
    There’s a big range between thriving and needing clinical mental health services. This article has suggestions for things that can help in that space.
  2. Self assessment tool: This version of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), Edinburg Screening & Care Guide, includes valuable information about risk factors and where to find help. This is the form your health care provider would use if they screened for maternal mental health.
  3. Self assessment tool: The Postpartum Progress Checklist has more questions than the EPDS. It can be used to facilitate discussion between postpartum clients and their health care providers.  

If you’re struggling, then here are some things to consider as next steps:

  • Gather up support. I have a list of postpartum doulas to share in a range of experience and fees. (My list includes several doulas not on the DofR site. I train them and only recommend people I trust. If fee is a barrier or consideration, I can likely help you find someone that fits your budget and needs.)
  • Ask the public-health nurse to come in for a chat.
  • Take your self-assessment tools and/or concerns to your 2-week medical checkup. 
  • Make an appointment with your doctor or midwife.
  • If you have a health plan at work or in-house mental health counsellor, then that will be your fastest route to get counselling and psych services.
  • Call 811 if you need non-emergent medical advice as they are supposed to be well-trained in postpartum mental health.
  • Get medical attention today if you have thoughts of harming self or baby. Unfortunately, that usually means a trip to the ER.
  • In case of psychosis, call 911.

I want to reassure you of two things in case medical help is needed:

  1. Breastfeeding is still possible with almost all mental health drugs. (Many women are reluctant to get help for fear of not being able to BF.)
  2.  Families are kept together during mental illness, as long as there’s one healthy adult (parent, grandparent, relative or close friend as guardian). If a parent has to be admitted to the psych unit then the baby stays with the other parent or guardian. Visits with the mentally ill parent are arranged as soon as possible. A few of my clients have been down this road and it’s not easy but they received excellent care and recovered.   
postpartum support

I teach a variety of Child Birth Education classes and prenatal workshops online for people all over.  I have been a birth doula since 2002, and have helped over 300 clients with their births and over 1000 through prenatal classes. Learn more about my birth doula services, and contact me with any questions you may have.