The Complete Guide to a Healthy Sex Life After Having a Baby

You just had a baby and you're feeling a lot of things right now: exhausted, overwhelmed, hormonal....sore. One thing you're not feeling is sexy. But don't worry. You're not the first couple to go through this. But intimacy and sex are important to your relationship, and worth working to get back.

Don't worry! We're here to help! Our guide to sex and intimacy after having a baby provides you with guidance, support and even some hacks for getting the mood going in under five minutes!

In this article, we'll discuss

  • Why is postpartum sex so difficult?
  • What is sex like after having a baby?
  • How to rekindle romance after baby.
Complete Guide to Sex After Baby
Table of contents

Regaining your sex life after a baby is one of the hardest parts of your postpartum life. Right after baby, you're healing while figuring out how to take care of this new little person.

Fast-forward a few weeks or months and you're probably wearing vomit-covered sweats while falling asleep with your half-eaten dinner on the couch.

Fitting in sex after having kids will always be a challenge (sorry). But we're here to help with guidance, support and even some hacks for getting the mood going in under five minutes!

Bringing Back Your Sex Life After Having a Baby

About six weeks after the birth of your baby you'll be scheduled for a routine follow-up visit to your obstetrician. He wants to make sure everything has gone back to where it was before you had the baby and that you're doing well, both physically and emotionally. Of course, if you have any unexplained pains or are feeling depressed before the six-week appointment, you shouldn't wait to call your doctor.

Be careful not to judge yourself too harshly while you're learning how to be a mom. It's easy to come down hard on yourself if you're accustomed to feeling competent at work and now find yourself confused or inept with the baby. Sharing your frustrations with a supportive friend or family member can cut down on the stress.

You'll have a pelvic exam, after which your doctor is very likely to give you a wink and say, “You can now resume all normal activities.” “You mean sex?” you ask incredulously. With all the sleepless nights recently, not to mention your still recent memory of childbirth, you just may think to yourself, “Why would I ever want to do that again?”

Rekindling the Spark

It's very common for women to have anxiety about returning to a normal sex life after the birth of a baby. The pain of labor is still pretty fresh, your hormones have not necessarily returned to their sensual best, and you've begun to think of yourself as a mother instead of a partner. It would be very easy to fall into a pattern of non-activity to avoid having to deal with the subject head on.

Meanwhile, your partner may have concerns of their own. Partners can have anxiety about sex after several weeks or months of inactivity. And if they were in the delivery room with you, they could have a very strong fear of hurting you: It's difficult to see the one you love go through the pain of labor and childbirth and not be affected by it.

Barriers to Intimacy

First, let's walk through all the barriers standing between you and a healthy sex life. The experts and Complete Idiot's Guide can help you break them down.

Don't be surprised if you don't feel as romantic as ever following the birth of your baby. An array of physical, emotional and logistical factors may have dulled your sexual appetites somewhat. These are just some of the obstacles you're up against:

  • Exhaustion.It's hard to feel romantic when you can't even see straight, and both of you are no doubt exhausted most of the time. Especially in the early months, your baby has you on call every minute of the day and night, so you seldom (if ever) get more than three hours of uninterrupted time for each other-or for yourself.
  • Lack of privacy.You may literally no longer have a room of your own. Even if you do, your baby is probably in your bed almost as much as you are, and three is definitely a crowd in the marriage bed.
  • Hormones. The postpartum drop in your (or your partner's) hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) during the first weeks of your baby's life may result in decreased sexual desire. In addition, postpartum hormonal changes can inhibit vaginal secretions, leaving the vagina dry and more sensitive to abrasion and other sources of pain.
  • Nursing. Breastfeeding can also dry up both desire and lubrication. In addition, breastfeeding may inhibit, or even satisfy, some of your sexual needs. (For the record, however, nursing mothers tend to enjoy postpartum sex sooner than bottle-feeding mamas.)
  • Body Image. You may not feel very sexy after giving birth.
  • Depression. Either or both of you may be experiencing a case of postpartum depression. Even a mild case of depression will inhibit your sexual desire and certainly your feeling of sexual desirability.
  • Jealousy. Your partner's (or your) intense relationship with your baby may satisfy needs for intimacy in a much less complicated way than the intimacy between two adults. In turn, this intense relationship can make your partner (or you) jealous of the time and devotion you (or your partner) lavish on your baby.
  • Fear. During the initial postpartum months, you (or your partner) may fear that intercourse will cause tearing, pain or (yikes!) another pregnancy. Unfortunately, none of these fears is entirely groundless.
  • Pain. In the first few months after giving birth, intercourse may indeed cause some pain, until (or even after) the perineum heals. (The perineum-the soft external tissue between the vagina and the anus-gets stretched, bruised and sometimes torn during childbirth.) Decreased lubrication may also cause some discomfort.
  • Divided Attention. You may not be able to relax or stop thinking about your baby long enough to entertain sexual desire, especially if your baby sleeps in the same room with you. With so much of your energy and emotions focused on your baby, you may feel drained of loving impulses toward anyone else, even your partner.
  • Different Priorities. Making love may not be at the top of your list of priorities. If you have any time at all to spare, you may prefer to do something else (sleep, take a relaxing bath, exercise, whatever).
  • Attitude. Either (or both) of your feelings about the breasts and vagina may have changed in the wake of childbirth and breastfeeding. After seeing your baby drawing nourishment from them, for example, you or your partner may view breasts in a different light. The apparent shift in function (although actually it's a split in function) from sexual stimulation to nurturing might inhibit your sexual foreplay. Likewise, the feeling or sight of your baby emerging from the birth canal may have altered the way you or your partner feel about the vagina. Either of you may feel certain inhibitions about intercourse as a result.

Sex After Baby

Breaking Down the Barriers

If you have any of these problems or concerns, don't leave them unspoken. Talk to your partner openly about the obstacles that stand in the way of sex. Don't let your partner think it's them.

If your partner doesn't know the reasons for your reticence, he or she may end up feeling unattractive, abandoned and resentful. So talk about sex even if you're not doing anything about it. You may find out that your partner shares your concerns or has worries of they're own. Bringing them out into the open may not solve all of these problems, but it will allow you to decide together when you want to try to pick up where you left off.

Some of the factors inhibiting your sexual relationship-stabilizing hormone levels, the effect of nursing, your body image and postpartum depression and healing-should improve on their own with the passage of time.

When you are both ready, you also can take steps to overcome most of the other obstacles to renewed lovemaking (although exhaustion may be something you'll have to learn to live with). You can get past a lack of natural lubrication, for instance, by using an artificial lubricant until vaginal secretions resume.

If pain is the problem, then try different positions until you find one (or more) that are more comfortable for you. For example, women have more control over the depth of penetration and so feel less pressure on the perineum if they are on top or side-to-side rather than on the bottom.

If you can't find any sexual position that's comfortable, talk to your doctor. A topical estrogen cream (available by prescription only) may alleviate some of your soreness and pain.

If you're finding it difficult to relax enough to make love, try your favorite relaxation techniques before you get into bed:Take a warm bath.

  • Meditate.
  • Try some of the relaxation exercises practiced during pregnancy.
  • Share a glass of wine with your partner (although you should avoid overindulging with alcohol).

Take your time. Don't force yourself to fake sexual feelings or have sexual intercourse before both of you are ready for it. After all, the normal balance of maternal hormones may not return for months after delivery.

What's more, you may do more long-term damage to your sexual relationship by rushing into postpartum sex and having bad sexual experiences than you would by waiting until you both feel good about it. So try not to obsess about sex; give yourself and your partner time.

Getting In the Mood

Note: Don't resume having sexual intercourse until your doctor gives you the okay. If you and your partner are feeling romantic before your doctor has said it's okay, find some other way to satisfy each other. Because only intercourse is inadvisable during the first postpartum weeks, the range of possibilities extends all the way from hand-holding to oral sex.

Whenever you resume your lovemaking, you may need to lower your expectations somewhat. It may be weeks or even months, for example, before you (or your partner) have an orgasm again.

In the meantime, both of you need to remain as patient, loving and understanding as you can. You need time to recapture both the mutual ardor and the gratification that marked your sexual relations before your baby arrived.

Try to expand your sexual horizons, too. Just because one or both of you doesn't feel like intercourse, you can still find many other ways to express your love for each other: talking, wining (not too much) and dining, hand-holding, lying in bed together, cuddling and a wide variety of sexual foreplay.

    Sexual spontaneity does become more difficult once you have a baby, but it's not impossible. If you and your partner find yourselves alone at last, entertain the possibility of mutual seduction.

    If you're both feeling in the mood, for example, schedule a "date" for baby's next naptime. Or if your baby has a fairly regular nighttime sleep schedule, pencil your partner in for the slot right after bedtime.

    Whether you drop everything at the spur of the moment or schedule time for each other, try to make the most of your opportunities. They may be short-lived.

    Almost every new parent has a story about the baby's bad sense of timing. Your baby may wake up just before you achieve sexual climax. She may pull herself up to standing for the first time while you and your partner are having sex. Or she may find some other creative way to interrupt or inhibit the sexual act. Try to hold on to your sense of humor if and when it happens to you.

    How Important Is Sex to You?

    Don't make your partner guess why you're too tired lately for a little romance. Tell them, even if you think it should be obvious. They've got their own insecurities now that they're a new parent, so they may not see that you're just feeling overworked—they may take your temporary lack of interest as a more permanent kind of rejection.

    Only you and your partner can answer that. Establish your priorities with your partner and arrange your schedule accordingly. If something else is lower on your list of priorities than making love, then let it go and devote that time to each other. But if something else is higher, by all means do the other thing first.

    Most importantly, talk-and listen-to your partner. Talk about your emotions, the new sources of stress in your life, and anything else that might be affecting your sexuality. Work at seeing things from your partner's point of view, too.

    Do whatever you can to keep your sexual relationship going despite the lack of sexual relations. Until you're both ready to resume sexual intercourse, work on maintaining trust, patience, understanding, open lines of communication and loving feelings.

    Even after you have resumed sexual relations, continue talking honestly to your partner about sex. If you don't feel like making love because you're exhausted (or for any other reason), let your partner know.

    If sexual intercourse feels uncomfortable or painful, don't just grit your teeth. Let your partner know so that you can both try something different.

    If something new (or old) feels particularly good, share this information, too. If you let your partner know what feels best to you, then you won't have to wait for another happy accident to feel that good again.

    Signs, Signals, and Sensuality

    If you both give signals, direct or indirect, that you want something to happen, plan a romantic evening together. Make it kind of like your wedding night. Even when you're both tired, you can be excited, too. Turn off your phones, lower the lights, light some candles, pour some wine or sparkling cider. And make sure you time your evening to correspond with the baby's sleep. You won't want to be interrupted.

    There are many fragrant oils designed for massage. Have fun choosing the one that's right for you. (I like Neutrogena sesame oil because it is not too thick and smells great, but you might consider Kama Sutra oils that give you a sense of the exotic.)

    A great way to light your pilot light is to engage in a sensual massage. Start very slowly. Remember—you're getting used to each other again. You can take turns rubbing and exploring each other's body or you can face each other as you massage.

    This angle requires a lot of eye contact, which can be very good for reestablishing intimacy but can also be intimidating. You may want to start with your eyes closed before you jump right into each other's soul.

    No matter what, don't let your partner go anywhere near the brass ring until you're good and ready. You can drive your partner crazy by massaging just close enough to what they want you to touch and then moving to another location. You don't want to create frustration; you want to build excitement that will restore your connection to one another.

    Easing Into the Mood

    Make sure you use a natural lubricant before you engage in intercourse. Every woman is different, but you may feel some discomfort. In addition to possible dryness and some minor soreness, simple anticipation can cause muscle tension. Ask your partner to rub a lubricant like KY jelly or Astroglide into your vaginal opening so that you're relaxed enough to go further you're both ready.

    Note: Don't use your massage oil as a lubricant. Some of them have fruit extracts or other ingredients that could cause a yeast infection, and you do not need that!

    Lubricants are very concentrated, so make sure he doesn't overdo it. And if you need to, don't forget to use contraception—it's best to give your body a break before considering getting pregnant again.

    Most of all, take your time. Treat your lovemaking as you would dining at a great restaurant. If your partner doesn't go for all the candles, soft music and rubbing with oil, make sure you make it clear to them that you need to take it slowly until you're used to things again.

    It's important for your own peace of mind and the health of your marriage that you do not do something just to accommodate the needs of your partner without considering your own. Lovemaking is an equal opportunity activity, but if you do not express your needs and concerns, you cannot expect your partner to read your mind.

    Keeping the Fires Burning

    Once you've started to get back into the swing of things, it's important to keep the momentum.

    Making your sex life a priority in the scheme of things will make a positive difference in the harmony of your home. Partners need to join with each other on a regular basis to maintain intimacy. This does not necessarily mean intercourse, but it does mean that you need time to focus on each other as lovers, and not as simply fellow travelers in the great child-rearing enterprise.

    Now, that doesn't mean that every sexual encounter you have with each other must be spiritual and transcendent. If you can find the time for some fun with each other, grab it—sometimes, even being a little bit naughty can be pretty nice.

    Have fun with your sex life and try to keep it as active as you both want it to be. If you have to have them sneak home from lunch during baby's nap, it's worth it—a “quickie” now and then can be exciting.

    Try to remember to spend five minutes a day being romantic with your partner. This can be something as simple as a full-bodied kiss good-bye in the morning as opposed to the half-focused peck on the cheek. You'd be surprised what a bit of body contact will do.

    When you're trying to reestablish your sexual relationship with your partner, it's important to have one place that isn't baby-oriented. Let the toys, bottles, and baby things mount up everywhere else if you must, but keep your bedroom as a place for you and your partner—you want to be able to set a sexy mood and scene when you're alone together.

    When you're having dinner, try playing footsie. Bring some candles to the table one night, even if you're serving leftover take-out food. Or serve dinner after the baby is in bed and play nice music. 

    You can rekindle romance without risking your life in a lot of very simple ways, too. Here are a few:

    • Remember how much you love each other and don't forget to say it every day.
    • Avoid criticism and give compliments as much as possible without being phony about it.
    • Reminisce about your life as lovers before the children were born.
    • Talk about ways you can sneak in some lovemaking time.
    • Ask someone to take your children overnight or for a weekend, and do not leave your bed.

    But most of all, remember to be loving to each other and think of one thing in your relationship to be grateful for each day.

    Once your partner sees the effort you're making, it will be much easier to put the right foot forward. Don't be surprised if your partner starts planning surprises, too. Nothing is as wonderful as finding notes of your own during the day!

    Sex and Co-Sleeping

    Co-sleeping should not get in the way of your sex life. You can still maintain a healthy sex life, replete with spontaneity and passion. You just have to be creative. After all, the bedroom isn't the only house place in the house you can have sex, and bedtime isn't the only time, either.

    Unless you need one yourself, nap time is the perfect opportunity to get a quickie in. Don't even bother moving to the bedroom. The couch works just as well.

    Many co-sleeping couples have found that the inventiveness needed to keep their love life alive has magnified the focus and intensity of their sex. As with most things in life, if something is really important to you, you'll find the means and the time to do it.

    If you do wait for bedtime, and you have only one kid sleeping with you, move her to another room after she's fallen asleep and bring her back when you're done.

    Couple on Couch

    What NOT to Do

    Communication is not always the easiest thing in a relationship, and communication difficulties usually find their way into the bedroom. If you don't have time to talk about things except after the children are asleep you're going to bring your problems and conflicts to bed with you. Don't do it. Your bed is for lovemaking, not negotiations.

    One way to avoid bringing conflicts into the bedroom is to set aside time to talk about things during other times and in other locations. Make appointments if you have to. Try to pick times when neither one of you is too tired or grouchy to discuss things like money matters or day-to-day problems.

    True, if you're having trouble finding the time to make love, you'll probably find it hard to find time for family meetings, but it's crucial that you try. Even if all you can manage are a few minutes here and a few minutes there, at least you're talking things out.

    Laughter Is Truly the Best Medicine

    Stay sensitive and aware of your partner's emotions. If they're feeling unloved or displaced, a little tender, loving care can make them feel less isolated. And don't be shy about letting them know when you're feeling the need for a little nurturing, too.

    The best way to redefine your relationship with your partner, when it comes to your romantic life and raising children together, is to always have a sense of humor. Your life will never be as you expect it to be—just when you're beginning to enjoy the perfect romantic evening, the baby will wake up and start crying or your toddler will decide she needs another drink of water. These little frustrations can seem huge at the time, but if you can laugh at the unexpected, you'll find it easier to keep them in their true perspective.

    Looking for more tips on keeping your marriage healthy after having kids? Check out these important tips!