Let’s start with a fact: On average, labor takes 13 hours. Usually, four to eight of those spent actively pushing during contractions. As you might have guessed, it’s an emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing event that tends to do some (yes, temporary) damage to a woman’s most intimate parts. Once she’s all healed, new mom hormones are then hard at work in her body. In other words, if your partner has recently given birth, don’t expect a roll in the hay for at least a month. Here’s what else you need to know.
1. What really happens during labor.
The cervix is a tube of tissue that connects the vagina and the uterus. During vaginal childbirth, it widens to from about 0.4 inches to 4 inches across. That’s the difference between a blueberry and a bagel. If necessary, the doctor may also make a small cut in the vaginal opening, called an episiotomy, in order to widen it. In addition to delivering the baby, a woman also has to deliver the placenta, which takes another half an hour or so. According to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, a woman loses an average of about half a quart of blood during vaginal birth.
Double that blood loss for a cesarean section. C-sections involve cutting through the abdominal wall and uterus in order to deliver a baby. This procedure usually lasts about 45 minutes to an hour, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
2. Yes, there are probably stitches.
If a woman had a C-section, the incision will usually be about 6 inches long, running from one side to the other near her low abdomen. Some incisions are bigger, especially if it’s an emergency C-section. The doctor will use stitches or staples to close this and internal stitches to close her uterus. Women who gave birth vaginally often also get stitches due to tearing or an episiotomy.
3. You need to wait at least four weeks.
The actual time it will take to get back to sex after having a baby depends on countless individual factors, particularly how your partner feels. In general, women are advised to wait 4 to 6 weeks after a vaginal delivery and longer after a C-section.
4. The vagina is resilient.
Birth can be really hard on the vagina. “Tearing after vaginal birth is extremely common,” says Dr. Jennifer Conti, an Ob–gyn at Stanford University, who was interviewed over email. “Thankfully, the vagina heals pretty fast.” Even after you get the green light from your partner and your doctor to have sex, the skin down there might still be a little tender. Spotting, discharge from the vagina, is common for several weeks after birth, says Conti.
5. Breastfeeding is part of it.
Breastfeeding can also affect a woman’s sex life. “The hormones released during breastfeeding also put the body into a sort of temporary menopause: your periods can stop, your vagina can become drier than usual, and your sexual drive can disappear as well,” says Conti. Breastfeeding can make a woman feel out of sorts sexually. This means, if she breastfeeds for a year, she may not be all that into sex for that entire time.
6. Mental readiness.
Hormones, loss of sleep, physical changes, and the transition to parenthood can influence a woman’s mental state, individually and cumulatively. Every person reacts differently to birth and parenthood. Just because a woman is physically able to have sex doesn’t mean she’ll be mentally ready. The reverse is true also. Often, though, the two overlap. “So much of a woman’s sex drive is governed by emotional response and connectedness that it’s difficult to separate mental readiness from physical readiness,” says Conti.
7. Tips for the first time.
The most obvious advice for the first time being intimate after birth is to be careful. Take it slow. Even if it’s outside your comfort zone, now is the time to communicate excessively throughout your romp. Add in plenty of loving reassurance while you’re at it. After all that’s happened, your partner may feel vulnerable and insecure about her body. “Remind her frequently how strong and beautiful a person she is, and how amazing this thing is that her body has just done,” says Conti.
8. Problem signs.
Although weeks of spotting is common, if there is an unusually unpleasant odor or discharge coming out of the vagina, these could be signs of infection, Conti says. Fever is another potential indicator. To be safe, if she is experiencing any of these, she should see her Ob–gyn as soon as possible.