Sex efter fødsel

Sex after giving birth

This article is written by Sandi Sjørup, who runs Sund Seksualitet aka Healthy Sexuality. Sandi is a trained occupational therapist, can.scient.san.publ, blogger, teacher, workshop-holder and lecturer using evidence-based sexological knowledge. She advocates for a curious, inclusive and open sexual education that breaks down taboos.

Sex after childbirth

Yes, we're going to talk about the topic that many new parents may feel is an explosive bombshell, and that the doctor (perhaps) just casually asks about at the 8-week check-up. It infuriates me to no end that there isn't more focus on relationships and intimacy after pregnancy. One third of new parents experience temporary or long-term sexual problems after childbirth - ONE THIRD! The consequence can be a breakup or divorce. Sex and sexuality can be under massive pressure as new parents, which is why it's something we need to talk about more.

Becoming parents for the first time can be the "easiest" thing in the world for some. It's a task that comes as easily to them as coming with the help of a vibrator. The dynamics of the relationship are natural and the desire for intimacy and sex with your partner is unchanged. If this is the case, enjoy it and give each other a high five - I'm rooting for you.

For others, the role of a new parent may bring despair, shame and disappointment, which takes away from the intimacy of the relationship, IF you're in a relationship. If this is the case, don't worry, you're not alone - and hey, I'm rooting for you too.

If you haven't yet become a parent, or even given it a thought, you might think this article isn't for you. But you can think of it as information that's nice to have in advance, kind of like sexual education. There are just some things that are nice to know in advance - smart, right?

We need to talk about it, because it's a pretty important part of your health and wellbeing. People who have carried a baby may find that the physical changes that occur during and after pregnancy affect their sexual function and desire.

During pregnancy, the body changes, but let's also talk about the body's changes after childbirth. Whether you're a member of the dead sausage club or the perineum-fissure club, your body can look and feel different than before. It's not uncommon for physical changes to affect sexuality. Let me give you some examples:

  • Episiotomy: Episiotomy is the cut that a midwife or doctor can make to increase the opening at the back of the vagina - allowing the baby to come out. This can make sex uncomfortable or painful for a period of time.
  • Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding can interfere with the body's natural production of estrogen, which can result in vaginal dryness and a decrease in sex drive.
  • Hormonal changes: Hormones go haywire right after childbirth (they also do during pregnancy, but let's focus on postpartum).
    I personally experienced the so-called baby blues days, where the crying (MY crying, not the baby's) only pauses for about 30 seconds, during which time you have to get something to drink so you don't dry out. I remember calling my friend in tears, as Mads (my partner) just didn't understand. Her words initially saved me, but then I got angry. She said the magic words: "It's perfectly normal" and I found peace in not being the only one dissolved in a bathtub of my own tears. But if it's completely normal, and something that many people experience, then I think maybe we should take more notice of the emotional change that happens after childbirth! Because I was convinced that I was one step away from a psych ward. That's why I'm making a bit of noise about it now. But in short, the body goes through significant hormonal changes during pregnancy and postpartum, which can affect a woman's desire and sexual function.

It can be incredibly frustrating to experience these changes first-hand, but remember that they are normal and temporary - and over time, most women are able to restore their sexual function and desire.

What other changes can you experience after childbirth?

In addition to the physical changes, many people also experience emotional changes after giving birth:

  • Fatigue: Caring for a newborn can be exhausting (and cooking, cleaning, cleaning, laundry, maternity visits, cleaning, grocery shopping and ALL THE OTHER THINGS) leaving little time or energy for sex.
  • Body image concerns: Again, we're going to talk about the physical changes, but there's a reason for that. People who have given birth may feel self-conscious about their changed bodies, which can hold them back from sexual activity (both with themselves and others).
  • Stress: While you're still pregnant, you often have dreams and fantasies about how wonderful it will all be when little baby is born. We'll be a "real" family, with the right designer stroller in one hand and the right partner in the other. All while being able to wear the same size clothes as before pregnancy asap, with a Starbucks coffee on those adventurous trips with the stroller filled with glitter and rainbows. Plus, of course, the nursery is painted in the right powder color and with the right brands. But what happens when it doesn't live up to expectations? Both as a mother, as a family or when the baby just doesn't "fit in" with expectations?

If you don't live up to your own or others' expectations, you risk feeling like a failure and being filled with shame about your own thoughts. Because the reality for most people is that the baby screams (making you want to throw the baby out the window), you don't sleep well (sometimes not at all), you can't squeeze your thighs into the same pants as before (but you're allowed to dream), and every piece of clothing you own is covered in vomit. But the worst part is that we beat ourselves up for not being the ideal mom. The demands of caring for a newborn can be stressful, which can also affect sex drive.

Tips for navigating sex and sexuality after childbirth 

To sum up, it's important to give yourself time to adjust to the changes and talk openly with your partner about how you feel.

Finally, here are some tips for navigating parenthood when it comes to sex and sexuality:

  • Be patient: Right after birth, most people haven't pulled out the sexy Sloggi's and are waiting by the door like a golden retriever for their partner to come home. It's normal for your body and emotions to take time to recover after giving birth. Don't pressure yourself to return right away.
  • Communicate with your partner: Open communication is the universal key when it comes to navigating postpartum sexuality. Talk to your partner about your concerns and desires and work together to find solutions that work for both of you.
  • Experiment with new positions and other forms of intimacy: If you experience pain or discomfort during sex, try experimenting with new positions to find what feels most comfortable for you. You can also experiment with sex that doesn't involve penetration.
  • Consider pelvic floor exercises: Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles can help improve sexual function.
  • Seek help if necessary: If you're experiencing persistent pain or other issues with sexual function, don't hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider, doctor, sex therapist or other professionals.

Either way, you'll get a standing ovation from me, with cheers, encouragement signs and pompoms. You must promise me that you will work to NEVER be ashamed of your lack of desire or your postpartum body, because if we are ashamed, we walk with our thoughts alone and then we become silent. Many of us have either had similar feelings or experiences, but it's by talking about it out loud that we find the solutions.

Read also: How can you have sex without penetration?

Also read: The great guide to sex positions

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