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Keeping it Real

Keeping It Real: Sex After a Baby

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Congratulations, new mama – you’ve brought your beautiful new baby into the world. Sleep deprivation, feeding issues and stitches aside, you’re feeling pretty good.

But if you’re like most new mothers, physical intimacy with your partner – remember him, the love of your life? – has probably fallen by the wayside a little.

We ask public hospital obstetrician, Dr Kun Leng Sheng, about when (and how) you can start having sex again after having a baby.

Get the all-clear

Generally speaking, most doctors would give you the green light to have sex again around the six-week postpartum mark. This is also usually the time when the lochia – vaginal discharge after having a baby – stops.

But when you choose to resume relations also depends on your cultural practices, Dr Sheng said, with some ethnic Malay and Indian mothers observing a 100-day period.

“Usually, due to the pain, most new mothers don’t have the desire to have sex,” she said.

If you’ve had an episiotomy or a tear and stitches, Dr Sheng said it generally takes around 10 to 14 days to heal. Any slow-to-heal sutures or infections would usually be picked up by a nurse or doctor in the first two weeks.

If you and your husband are both keen to get intimate again, the best thing you can do is to ask your doctor or nurse directly.

“Talk to your healthcare professionals,” said Dr Sheng. “They can help you ease your anxiety for when you choose to resume sexual activities.”

Take it slow and lube up

Tempting as it is to try and do the deed as quickly as possible in case baby wakes up for a feed, you’re not doing anyone any favours.

As unromantic as it sounds, try to schedule time for sex after a feed especially if you’re breastfeeding – engorged boobs leaking milk isn’t very sexy. Not to mention, vigorous movement can be painful.

Take your time to get in the mood with candles, a gentle massage, lots of kissing and touching. Dr Sheng urged new parents to spend a little bit longer on foreplay than you would pre-baby.

If the thought of anything near your downstairs region makes you seize up with fright after pushing out a melon-sized human, you’re not alone.

Fear or worry doesn’t do you any favours in terms of natural lubrication though, especially if you’re still breastfeeding. The hormones released while breastfeeding can also make you drier down there, making sex more painful.

Dr Sheng suggested new parents pick up personal lubricant at the pharmacy – they’re usually right there next to the condoms, which brings us to the next point…

Remember contraception

Even the most maternal, clucky mother in the would would baulk at the idea of having two babies under 12 months (who aren’t twins).

Dr Sheng urged new parents to sort out contraception sooner rather than later because of the toll it would take on the new mother and her children.

“The mother’s body needs time to recover in order to prepare for another pregnancy in terms of iron storage and the like,” she said.

“If the spacing is poor, in subsequent pregnancies, the mother can be at risk of anaemia, low birth weight of the baby and a higher risk of preterm delivery.”

Dr Sheng also cautioned that there could be other effects on the newborn baby, including missing out on breastfeeding as well as attention and bonding with its mother.

She said generally, at the six week postpartum check, most doctors would have asked about contraception.

“If you’re exclusively breastfeeding your baby and not mixing with formula at all, what is called the lactation amenorrhoea method – a temporary contraception method – usually lasts for around six months,” said Dr Sheng.

“However, if your baby is not fully breastfed, your menses should return after delivery, and by four weeks postpartum we would advise you to use other forms of contraception.”

The type of contraception you choose can be hormonal, such as oral contraception, injections, implants or an intrauterine contraceptive device like the copper IUD, or barrier form, like condoms.

“For oral contraception, a doctor would usually suggest a progesterone-only pill and not the combined estrogen/progesterone pill. This is because estrogen may affect breastmilk production for lactating mothers,” said Dr Sheng.

Not ready? No rush

Mama, you’ve been pushed to the limits and the only person who really knows when you’re ready to have sex again is you.

There are so many factors at play – your physical condition, your mental health, whether you feel supported – so don’t rush into it. Talk to your husband about how you’re feeling.

If things don’t feel right, Dr Sheng suggested talking to your doctor.

“We need to find out from mothers why they’re not ready to have sex – is it because of fear, being too busy, or experiencing pain? Or is it because of reduced libido, or postpartum depression?” she said.

“Usually, Asians are not really open to discuss (depression) but if it is, they should seek psychiatric help.”

Faye is a former journalist now working in marketing and communications. She lives in Darwin, where she enjoys the best of Southeast Asia (the food and night markets) and Australia (the workday that ends punctually at 4.21pm), with her husband, toddler and small dog.