Couple lying on bed facing each other

The World Health Organization defines sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships”. It also considers sexuality as “a central aspect of being human throughout life that encompasses […] eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction.”

Although sexual health after giving birth is somewhat taboo, sexual concerns are natural and very common in new parents.

Some of the questions couples ask after birth include: “When can we have penetrative sex again?”, “Will sexual intercourse hurt after birth?”, “When will my sexual desire come back?”, “Can I resume my sex life while breastfeeding?”

Here are a few things to know about intimacy and sexuality after birth:

Hormones can get in the way of penetrative sex. A combination of prolactin, oxytocin, relaxin and oestrogen can prevent you from wanting any sexual interaction with your partner. Our bodies are designed like this, so that after birth, we pay maximum attention to the baby. 

Prolactin increases dramatically after birth, as this is the hormone that stimulates breastfeeding. Oxytocin helps you bond with your baby. It stimulates the letdown reflex and it is also likely to be present during intimacy. Relaxin, as its name suggests, relaxes ligaments in preparation for childbirth and can remain high through postpartum and breastfeeding, possibly affecting balance and exercise.

Oestrogen drops after birth and remains low as long as you’re breastfeeding. Low levels of oestrogen can cause vaginal tenderness and dryness, which can result in painful penetrative sex.

Postpartum depression is characterised by strong feelings of sadness, anxiety (worry) and tiredness that last for a long time after giving birth. Although one in seven women can develop postpartum depression, this is a difficult topic to address among new mothers, new parental couples and their family members. Women suffering from postpartum depression could be afraid to talk about it. Today’s society dictates that after birth women are supposed to be happy with their bundle of joy and ignore any other feelings.

When you’re suffering from depression, sexuality is not a priority. The most important thing is to take care of yourself and to contact a specialist that could help. Having the support of your partner is obviously very important as well. 

Taking care of yourself means making time for yourself, which is the first step toward being able to reconnect with your partner. After birth, your new life can be quite demanding and making time for yourself can be difficult. Set aside 30 uninterrupted minutes per day. Once you feel good with yourself, you will be in a better position to connect with your baby and with your partner.

Adina Inescu is a Brussels-based clinical sexologist. After the birth of her second child, she decided to help break the taboo around postpartum intimacy. Adina also specialises in older age sexuality, teaches sex education in schools in Brussels and consults both in private practice in Brussels and in Dinant hospital.

Read more about Adina on her website and follow her on social media.