Sex after delivery

There’s no required waiting period for intercourse after delivery, though most health care experts recommend you wait four to six weeks to have sex again. This gives you time to heal following delivery or surgery.

Between the late-night feedings and early-morning dirty diapers, however, sex may be the last thing on your mind. Your body is undergoing a lot of change during this time. This includes changes brought on by breastfeeding.

Some women find that the extra attention to their breasts, as well as the engorged shape, make them feel less attractive. Others feel more attractive.

All of these things are normal. Keep these factors in mind when you feel ready to be intimate with your partner again after the arrival of your baby.

Does breastfeeding affect sex drive?

Yes, breastfeeding can affect your sex drive. Results from a 2005 study found that women who were breastfeeding were more likely to delay resuming intercourse following the birth of their child than women who didn’t breastfeed.

After delivery, your estrogen level will fall, and the levels of two hormones, prolactin and oxytocin, will rise. These two hormones have very different impacts on your body, and each can interfere with your sex drive.

The combination of increased prolactin and oxytocin may make you feel great pleasure from breastfeeding. Your emotional and physical intimacy needs may be met by breastfeeding your little one, so your sex drive may decrease. You may not feel the need or desire to seek affection from your partner.

The opposite can happen too. The increased hormones and sensual touching can increase your sexual desire. The breasts are an erogenous zone. You may find that you’re more easily aroused thanks to the surging hormones and sensations in your body.

If you think breastfeeding is affecting your sex drive, it’s important to know this is normal. Between hormonal changes and lifestyle interruptions after a baby’s arrival, your libido may peak and fall for a period. In time, your sex drive should return to what it was before the arrival of your baby.

Is breastfeeding a natural form of birth control?

Breastfeeding can be a natural form of birth control. This is known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM). If used properly, breastfeeding can be 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy within the first six months after the baby’s delivery.

However, it’s not as simple as it sounds. LAM requires a very precise method. First, you must have a baby who is less than 6 months old. Second, you must exclusively breastfeed your infant, with feedings at least every four to six hours apart. If you use formula or solid foods in addition to breastfeeding, this method won’t work. Lastly, if you’ve had a period since childbirth, this method is no longer effective.

Research shows that only 26 percent of women practicing LAM actually met the criteria for it. If you’re using breastfeeding as a form of birth control, talk with your doctor about a backup method if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy. Learn more about birth control that’s safe to use while breastfeeding.

Will sex make your breasts leak milk?

Be prepared to experience leaking if you’re breastfeeding and having sex.

Within days of giving birth, your breasts will fill with milk. Touching, rubbing, or sucking on the nipples during intercourse may release breast milk. You may even leak or spray breast milk during orgasm.

These three techniques can help you manage this:

  1. Nurse or pump ahead of time. If you have the time, try to reduce the amount of milk in your breasts before having sex. This will reduce the risk of a leak.
  2. Wear a bra with nursing pads. If you and your partner are fine with keeping your breasts covered during intercourse, nursing pads tucked inside a bra can absorb any leaks.
  3. Talk about it beforehand. Talk with your partner about the chances of this happening during intercourse. If it doesn’t bother you, don’t worry about it. It’s natural.

Painful sex and breastfeeding

While you’re breastfeeding, your body produces less estrogen. Estrogen is a key hormone for arousal and natural vaginal lubrication.

With the low levels of the hormone, you may find that getting turned on takes longer and your vagina is too dry for comfortable penetration during intercourse.

Take your time with foreplay, and keep a bottle of a water-based lubricant handy to make things easier when between the sheets.

Likewise, you may experience nipple pain because of breastfeeding. The feeding and sucking from your little one may make your flesh sensitive. If you’re uncomfortable having your partner touch your breasts during intercourse, make sure to talk about this ahead of time. Let them know you’d prefer to have a “look but don’t touch” rule. This way, your partner can get arousal from the visual while you feel more comfortable and relaxed.

How to talk to your partner about sex

During this new and exciting time in your lives, it’s important that you be open and honest with your partner. Sex postpartum can be fun and pleasurable. However, as with everything else that’s new in your life right now — like 3 a.m. feedings, runny diapers, and tiny socks — you need to work through it with your partner.

Have a conversation about sex and how you feel about it. This can be tricky or uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be. Use these talking points to guide you:

  • Be honest. Reveal your insecurities and concerns. You will be a better partner and allow your partner to better serve you if you’re honest about how you feel — the good and the bad.
  • Consider what you want. Ask yourself what you really seek in pleasure and intimacy right now. If it’s not penetrative sex, say so. If something doesn’t feel comfortable, speak up. Likewise, listen when your partner expresses their concerns and desires.
  • Respect your body. You’ll know when you’re ready for sex again. If it’s not as soon as you want, that’s fine. You and your partner can explore other ways to be intimate. If you’re worried about pain or discomfort during intercourse, talk with your doctor. You might consider bringing your partner with you to the appointment too. This way you can both ask questions and feel more secure in your choices.
  • Don’t avoid awkward conversations. Your body undergoes a lot of changes during pregnancy and in the months after your baby is delivered. If sex doesn’t feel as pleasurable anymore (delivery can stretch muscles), talk with your partner about trying a new position. Don’t assume it’s better to stay silent. Pleasure and intimacy are a two-way street.

Other ideas for intimacy

Intimacy is more than sex. Sex is more than penetrative intercourse. If you and your partner are looking for ways to reconnect and engage one another in intimate ways, consider these techniques:

  • Spend time together. You may feel like you don’t have a minute to spare when there are dishes to be washed and bottles to be filled, but make spending time with your partner a priority. This way, you both know how important you are to one another, and your sexual passion can naturally reignite.
  • Kiss and make out. And keep your clothing on. This allows you to feel aroused again and may encourage sexual activities in the future that both of you can look forward to.
  • Try new techniques. Mutual masturbation, oral sex, and sex toys may also be a good idea in this postdelivery period. These techniques allow you both to get the level and type of intimacy you need while feeling connected with one another.
  • Care for one another. When you’ve had only a handful of hours of sleep and you’re covered in spit-up, the last thing you may feel is sexy or desirable. Be honest with your partner about your needs so they can help you. You may just need them to hold the baby while you shower. These small acts of care and love can go a long way to increasing sensuality and feeling loved.
  • Take care of yourself. You may feel like the walk from the couch to the bathroom is far enough, but you may also find that some forms of moderate exercise go a great way toward helping you feel better. Caring for yourself can go a long way toward helping you feel better, more desirable, and more passionate too. Exercise for your mental health — and your sexual health.

The takeaway

The period after you come home with your baby is a time of great change, learning, and adjustment. You will sleep less, perhaps eat more, and may find that you have no time or desire for sexual intimacy. This is normal.

Likewise, breastfeeding may also increase your desire for sex and intercourse. The surge of hormones can make arousal and sensual touching more pleasurable. This is also normal.

Whatever you’re experiencing, you can find ways to engage in sexual activities after your baby’s delivery and still reap the rewards of intimacy. You may have to be more strategic. Don’t be above penciling in a planned sex date on the calendar. You may also have to be more vocal about what you do and don’t like.

With a little time, effort, and dedication, you and your partner can find comfortable and meaningful ways to reconnect and enjoy one another in this postdelivery period.