Welcome to one of our favorite topics! We were so pleased to have two health care providers willing to help us shed some light on common issues that are all too often kept in the dark. We welcomed Katie Page, CNM, and Dr. John Pierce, MD to our cafe' morning on February 8, 2016.
Our bodies go through a number of changes during pregnancy and birth. We spent some time talking about what to expect, what’s “normal” after baby and what are signs of possible problems. Too often women feel uncomfortable discussing these topics, but our sexual health is important, which is why we do this cafe' each year! Continue reading for a recap of our February cafe entitled: "Sex, Love and Other Things after Baby."
Q: Could you give us a brief description of what our most delicate, feminine parts of our bodies have gone through in the birth experience, etc.?
Katie shared an excellent graphic with us that detailed the variety of ways in which our vaginal area can be affected during and after birth. From minor swelling to 4th degree tears...some of the more severe tears were hard to even think about...but it showed that there are wide variations of 'normal', and healing will take different amounts of time for each woman. Also, our pelvic floor muscles will be weaker than before and need to strengthened.
Q: I’m curious as to your thoughts why a morning on this topic is even necessary? What have you seen women in the postnatal period (or later) struggle to grasp and understand regarding sex after having a baby?
John: It's a topic that needs discussing because women (and their partners!) need to understand, from a medical perspective, what is going on physically and emotionally in a woman's body after giving birth. He has actually walked in to a hospital room to find couples having sex after just having had a baby (!) ... while each woman's body is different and the timeframe will be different, that's definitely not recommended, and we need to understand why. Also, it's important relationally...for true intimacy and depth of relationship.
Katie: It's important physically, yes, but also mentally and emotionally...there are so many changes that happen in pregnancy and birth. Also, a birth experience, whether positive or negative, can dramatically impact sex.
Q: Our bodies physically undergo quite the transformation, but often women describe changes in their feelings about their partner and sex. What types of changes did your heart and mind undergo after becoming a mother? Did you feel the same? Different?
Katie: It was a big change, however, some of that is also cultural. We tend to be over-committed as a culture, and let things take over our whole life to the detriment of other areas of our life. I'm still ME. I'm a mother, but also all of these other things that I was before too...recognizing that this a new part of us, and a BIG PART of us, but not letting go of who we are as a person. That being said, there are lots of big emotions and big feelings that come and go after becoming a mother, and it is important to talk about them with your partner. It will take a lot of time, practice and patience, but it's worth it.
Q: Why is there a 6 week freeze on intercourse? What is going on in a woman’s body during this time?
John: It's different for everyone (although 2 days IS too short! see above). There is trauma, even in a good delivery. Muscles and nerves are stretched and nerves take longer to heal. To check how muscles are, you can 1) start to urinate then stop the stream or 2) put 1 or 2 fingers inside vagina and tighten, then release. This will help give you an idea of how well your muscles are healing (although the 6 week check is designed for your doctor to check on these things). If there has been a bad tear, it could be more than 6 weeks; if things are going smoothly, it could be as little as 3-4 weeks. Overall, take it slowly. There will probably be some vaginal dryness (use lubricant...even just some olive oil!) but there should not be pain.
Katie: There are some exercises that you can do to help...what John already mentioned are good things to do; if there is pain involved, you are not ready for sex. The 6 week check up is checking so much more than just the vagina; it's testing for soreness or issues in a host of other surrounding muscle groups as well. Kegels are good, but need to make sure you're both contracting AND relaxing...you need to be able to do both. Also, focus on good GENERAL health. When you feel better about yourself, you'll feel better about sex. Don't expect the baby weight to disappear in those 6 weeks, but give yourself some grace; be patient. Take time and space to take care of yourself, and you'll be more content and happy, which will have a positive impact on sex.
Q: What is 'normal' when it comes to having sex/frequency after baby? (note: when polled, the average time for the audience to have sex after baby was 'before 6 months'.)
Katie: There is such a wide range of normal! For some couples, sex everyday was normal before, but for others, sex once/month could be healthy and functional. Don't compare. If you and your partner are both comfortable, it's healthy. We as women tend to need to be aroused first, while for men, they think about it first and are then aroused. Add in abdominal/vaginal changes, and it's a lot! Talk about expectations and desires...both of you need to work together to find what works for your specific relationship.
John: Be aware of 'creeping separateness'. Where you slowly are drifting apart but don't really realize it. It will take time to figure out, but work at it as a team and together. It's important to continue to date one another and set aside time to talk as a couple about plans/dreams/desires for yourself, your relationship and your family.
Q: So many say that the “best” foreplay is seeing their partner doing the dishes! But seriously, what types of foreplay would you recommend? Is foreplay even necessary?
John: Referred to the phrase, "Men are like a frying pan, women are like a crockpot." In essence, if things are going well outside the bedroom for a woman, things won't get well inside the bedroom either. (editor's note: it was at this moment that we all wanted to record Dr. Pierce's insights and play them in the background of our homes.) Men NEED to talk about expectations too! Learn each other's 'love languages'...how does the other one best receive love? Is it by doing the dishes for them? Then do them! Is it by saying 'I'll take care of the kids, you go take a bath'? Then do that! Recognize that this is a season, and there may not be a lot of time for foreplay, but if you can try to put each other's needs first when you are able, the sex will come a lot easier. Also, lube. Again the lube...it can be your best friend during this season!
Q: How have you personally maintained and found time for a healthy sex life? Any tricks of the trade? Has anyone ever shared any particular pearls of wisdom that stick with you?
Katie: When they're a newborn and can't roll yet, it's a lot easier...just put them somewhere safe: the floor, their crib, wherever, and you're good to go! :) For a while...schedule it. We schedule everything else in our lives, why NOT this?! After a while, you'll start just finding the time and it will become a new rhythm. (although, she noted, our short maternity leaves do not help in this area...we barely have time to adjust!) Schedule parental 'nights off' for each other, split up chores and tasks...use an adult chore chart! Also, if it's scheduled in, it helps your partner to know and anticipate taking over some parental duties so that you can prepare.
John: We need margin for time and space. Focus on your family; personally he and his wife made a clear boundary: the parents were prioritized and it was not all about the kids. Also, use 'code words' for sex, so you can talk and plan when you have a few minutes, even if the kids are around! Example: I'd like to go to a restaurant. Fast food, not gourmet. (get it? wink, wink.) Or having a cue, like him coming home to a lit candle means that you're thinking about it and in the mood...but also realizing that sometimes the best-laid plans can still go awry, and the baby will start crying, need to nurse, etc. Remember that it's not just the act of SEX, but how we promote acts of LOVE.
And that is a great way to end! If you have additional questions or feel you'd like more info on something we touched on here, please feel free to contact our blog editor at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll help you find the answers you need!