NEW MOM explores the brilliant, terrible, wonderful, confusing realities of first-time motherhood. It’s for anybody who wants to be a new mom, is a new mom, was a new mom, or wants really good reasons to never be a new mom.
There are a whole host of ways a woman’s body might change in the weeks and months after giving birth: new moms can experience intense pelvic pain, postpartum depression, and, more favorably, an obsession with the smell of their new baby’s head. Though the recovery process will vary from person to person, one rule applies to every new mom, no matter how she gave birth: no sex for four to six weeks.
Before we get into why not, let’s state the maybe-obvious: no, this isn’t something most women protest all that much. “Patients typically don’t come to me and say ‘I’d like to have sex immediately after I deliver,’” says Dr. Shree Chanchani, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health, tells me. “It is rarely an issue that patients to want to have sex before four weeks postpartum.” Giving birth can be kind of a mood-killer, and Chanchani says many of her patients experience a low libido in the weeks afterward. Part of the reason for that, Chanchani suggests, is that new moms are too high on oxytocin to care about much beyond their new babies: “Oxytocin is triggered postpartum, and that’s one of the reasons moms bond with their babies.”
And while oxytocin levels rise, new moms’ estrogen levels drop off. “Right after birth, there is this significant withdrawal of hormones, so your estrogen gets very, very low,” which happens as a result of the body’s suppression of ovarian function due to breastfeeding, says Chanchani. “When estrogen drops after birth, it can cause a lot of vaginal dryness, which [can make intercourse painful].” When women do return to having penetrative sex, says Chanchani, it’s therefore extra important to use lubricant.
Though these are largely elective reasons, Chanchani notes that there are genuine health risks associated with having penetrative sex too soon after giving birth as well. “Whether you have a vaginal delivery or a C-section, typically you have some bleeding right after giving birth,” she says. “To minimize that, we say while you’re bleeding, don’t have intercourse.” Relatedly, those who give birth vaginally often experience some tearing, and having penetrative sex too soon can prevent those tears from healing. “Those tears take 4 to 6 weeks to heal completely, and the suture that we use in the vagina to repair that takes some time to dissolve,” says Chanchani.
Having penetrative sex too soon after giving birth can also pose a risk for infection in the uterus, says Chanchani: “After you’ve had a baby, your cervix is dilated. If you’re having intercourse while the cervix is still dilated it can increase the risk of infection.”
Most of these risks can be avoided by waiting six weeks to start having penetrative sex again after giving birth, but Chanchani says it’s important for women to see their obstetricians before doing so. “We want to examine the vagina before you start having intercourse to ensure that the stitches have dissolved, and the vagina has returned back to normal,” and that the cervix is no longer dilated, says Chanchani. And though few patients will be interested in having sex any sooner than six weeks out, Chanchani encourages those who do to book a doctor’s appointment if it’s been at least four. “If it works for my patient to have sex at four weeks, let me just do a checkup to make sure it’s okay,” she adds.
And finally, let’s not forget that penetrative P-in-V sex is not the only sex there is. “I tell my patients there are other ways to bond with your partner,” says Chanchani. “That can be foreplay, cuddling, sleeping together — maybe taking the baby out of the room for an hour or two so you can bond [with your partner] again, which is really important.” Also, there’s always oral, and hand stuff — if the mood strikes, which it might not, for a while.