Sex & Intimacy after Childbirth
Kellie Eason RN, RM, IBCLC
Kellie is a Nurse, Midwife & International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
It’s not rocket science that sleep deprivation and anxiety associated with a young baby, often trumps sex & intimacy after childbirth.
One study found that at 6 months post partum, 46.3% of women reported a lack of interest in having sex. That's almost every second mum!
First time mums report more pain during sex than mum’s who have given birth before. Research has identified that may be because there are higher rates of perineal trauma & birth complications in first time mums.
It is well documented that first time mums are most likely to have a forceps & vacuum birth, which means that they are more likely to have more perineal trauma. It is also important to note, mode of birth has not been found to impact on sexual function. In other words, if you have a straight forward vaginal birth without intervention Vs a forceps or caesarian birth, sexual activity in after birth is likely to be the same.
On a high note, has been found that breastfeeding mums report higher levels of comfort with their sexual function compared to mums who bottle feed their babies.
I honestly, found this to be surprising, because breastfeeding mums have lower oestrogen levels and higher prolactin levels. These hormones cause a decrease in vaginal lubrication and libido. The effect of this is causing vaginal discomfort, tightness and/or tenderness.
Did you know that due when a breastfeeding mum has an orgasm, breastmilk to be squirted due to the high oxytocin levels involved in milk release (aka ‘letdown’) with breastfeeding?
It appears that further studies are needed to explore why breastfeeding mothers express increased comfort with their sexual satisfaction compared bottle feeding mums. It is also important to note that some bottle feeding mums exclusively feed their baby breastmilk, whereas others exclusively formula feed, some mums even do a combination of breastfeeding, breastmilk and formula feeding. So it would be good to see some research that takes these variables into account.
Regardless, whether you breast or bottle feed, sex & intimacy with your partner is going to be change and will be influenced by many factors such as your:
Sexual relationship and intimacy requires motivated partners, undivided attention to mutual gratification, and freedom from outside interferences.
Having a baby/ies is replete with factors and events that interfere with all or some of these dimensions.
Many studies and policy documents have highlighted that insufficient number of parents' attend prenatal and early parenting education.
Studies have indicated the need for an improvement in parents' preparation for parenthood, the importance of including fathers in antenatal education, and that inadequate preparation remains a concern to both women, their partners as well as health professionals.
Prenatal Support, education & counselling regarding post partum intimacy and sexuality, needs to be addressed with your close peers and trusted health providers. This can help couples to engage in best supporting one another and be most likely to have positive attitudes towards parenting.
My take home messages here:
1. Gutzeit, O., Levy, G., & Lowenstein, L. (2020). Postpartum Female Sexual Function: Risk Factors for Postpartum Sexual Dysfunction. Sexual medicine, 8(1), 8–13. doi.org/10.1016/j.esxm.2019.10.005
2. Mohrbacher, M., Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple, Hale Publishing, Amarillo, TX, 2010, p. 489.
3. O’Malley, D., Higgins, A., Begley, C. et al. Prevalence of and risk factors associated with sexual health issues in primiparous women at 6 and 12 months postpartum; a longitudinal prospective cohort study (the MAMMI study). BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 18, 196 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-018-1838-6
"The best thing to hold onto in life is each other." ..AUDREY HEPBURN