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Sex and Childbearing

by Corrie Bradley
05/07/20

I am a mother and a midwife. These days, the balance has shifted more towards mother after having a baby almost a year ago. I want to share my personal experience and professional knowledge with sex during the time around your childbearing year. 

Pregnancy

While pregnant, you may find yourself insatiable and ready for sex all the time, completely uninterested in sex, or wanting to have sex but not quite sure how to enjoy and navigate it while pregnant. Or you may feel all of these emotions at different times in pregnancy. Personally, it was all a whirlwind and I can’t completely remember. When I was in labor early at 41 weeks, I really wanted to have sex. It felt like we may be approaching a sex hiatus post-baby, and I wanted to hold onto these last moments when it was just me and my partner (added bonus: sex also helps move labor along.) So I hoisted myself up to straddle my partner and I enjoyed myself in all of my awkward and full-bellied glory. 

Wherever you land on this spectrum, your feelings and desires towards sex are valid! As a midwife I receive a lot of questions about sex during pregnancy. Here are some of the most frequent questions. 

Is sex safe while pregnant?

In most cases, YES! If you have a history of preterm labor or an “incompetent cervix” (which is a horrible mislabeling of a cervix that is short and may not be able to hold pregnancies in the uterus), or have a placenta previa (where the placenta covers the cervix), please consult with your doctor or medical professional. If you are low risk, it is safe for you to have sex. 

What is up with all of the extra discharge?

This is NORMAL! However, if your discharge ever has a foul smell like fish, is clumpy, yellow/grey/green color, or is itchy, this may be a vaginal imbalance (yeast, or BV) or an infection. You may have more discharge while pregnant for an array of reasons: it helps prevent infection, your hormones increase discharge, and later in pregnancy your mucus plug may be dissolving. Sometimes women experience the opposite end of the spectrum and have less discharge than usual. This is also normal! 

So, sex while pregnant. How?!

As you adjust to your growing body, sex may take some creativity (but we love a challenge). Experiment and find modifications that feel good for you - this is a time to be clear about your needs and express these to your partner. This can also be a really amazing moment to explore your growing body, and take advantage of new sensations and emotions that you may be experiencing. 

What about sex during labor? 

Yes! While many people shy away from having sex during labor, it increases your oxytocin and can help labor move along smoothly. Sex can be a nice activity during early labor to distract yourself and support the  move into active labor. Avoid sex if your water has broken. 

 

Postpartum 

Wow… your body has been through a lot! Welcome back to even thinking about sex. I recommend that people wait to have penetrative sex until at least six weeks after birth or when you are done bleeding

I don’t know why, but I was super horny in the first few weeks after I gave birth. I was spraying milk everywhere, bleeding, constantly holding a baby, hadn’t seen a shower in days, had stitches, an infection, and an abscess on my inner thigh... not exactly the typical circumstances that inspire intimacy. But I was craving my partner’s touch and we had sex too early. While everything was fine overall, I felt it emotionally and physically. 

One thing I recommend and remind people is that lube is very useful in the postpartum period (and beyond!). There is a lot going on after giving birth. First, you have a new baby with a lot of needs, and you may not have time for some luxurious foreplay or masturbation. Even if you have figured out how to have a few moments to yourself or with a partner, your hormones may play a role in your sexual ability. If you are breastfeeding, low estrogen may make you less interested in sex, tender, tighter, and you may be dryer than usual. Lube is an amazing tool during any stage of life, but I highly recommend you add some to your sex drawer (I know you have one).

A few years ago I was at a talk on sex after pregnancy. One thing that stuck with me was this agreement: create a commitment with your partner to not just say no to sex. Make a consensual agreement with your partner that you will give each other five minutes of touch and intimacy before you opt out of  sex. OF COURSE if one person says no at any time, it's a NO and no more advances will be made. But, if you are up for the experiment, commit to five minutes of cuddling, making out, or touching before you make up your mind. I often find that I want to turn down sex because I am tired, dirty, or overwhelmed. If I can give myself the opportunity to let go and settle into the moment, I am able to remember that I want to focus and place value on my sexual relationship with my partner, and I usually actually do want to be intimate.

I also want to remind you that self pleasure is important. While we talk a lot about postpartum sex with partners, self pleasure and masturbation are often overlooked. This is an important aspect to self care and getting to know your body after so many pregnancy, birth, and postpartum changes. Take time to touch, appreciate yourself, and explore the changes that your body has been through. 

Rachel Engel RM, CPM

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