Having a new baby is wonderful, but childbirth can leave you with life-changing problems. Don’t be shy — here’s what you need to know about incontinence and sex
You’re a new mum and your life revolves around your little one. There’s feeding and nappy changing to get to grips with, not to mention learning what all your baby’s cries mean.
Luckily, there’s lots of help and advice out there.
But there’s a part of being a new mum that not many people talk about — and that’s the problems childbirth can cause ‘down below’.
We’re talking about the little accidents you have when you cough or sneeze, and the changes to your body that can make you feel too shy to get intimate with your partner.
It’s time to be honest about these taboo subjects, because help is out there.
According to the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), almost half of all women experience urinary incontinence after childbirth, but few talk about it.
NCT research found that
33 per cent of women with incontinence were embarrassed to discuss it with their partner, and 40 per cent were self-conscious talking about it with a health professional.
Jacque Gerrard, midwifery consultant, says: ‘Midwives need to give information about pelvic health before birth, during the antenatal period and postnatally. That includes explaining the importance of pelvic floor exercises.’
Jacque says many women suffer incontinence, bowel issues or problems after birth like tearing, but feel embarrassed. And it’s not just new mums.
‘Some women can take up to 10 years before going to their GP,’ she says.
HOW TO DEAL WITH IT
Pelvic floor exercises tone the muscles supporting the uterus and help prevent leaking. They can be done anywhere and no one will know you’re doing them. Just squeeze the pelvic muscles 10-15 times in a row at intervals.
Jacque says: ‘The impact of incontinence is huge. Some women get up in the morning and think: “Where can I go today where there is a toilet nearby?”’
Some women even have to give up work because of it.
Lorraine McGinlay, sex and relationship therapist, says it’s common for new mums to feel anxious about sex. Some women might have had a vaginal tear or episiotomy — a small cut in the perineum to allow the baby to be delivered — during birth.
‘A woman may be concerned sex will be painful,’ Lorraine says, ‘or that her partner will notice a change in sex after childbirth. It’s important you feel comfortable having sex again and are pain-free before engaging in sexual intercourse.
‘At six months, almost one in four first-time mums rate their sexual satisfaction as less than before birth. Pain during sex occurs in more than a fifth of these women and is associated with a history of operative vaginal delivery.’
Vaginal dryness is also common if you are breastfeeding.
Lorraine says: ‘Go slow and give your body time to lubricate. The hormones stimulated by orgasm can also cause breast milk to leak, so don’t be surprised if you need a towel.’
HOW TO DEAL WITH IT
Lorraine says: ‘Let your partner know your anxieties. If you suffer pain during sex after childbirth, seek medical advice. Communication is key, and you may wish to seek help from a sex therapist once any physical reasons preventing sex are cleared up.’
Many women feel embarrassed as they are different ‘down there.’
‘It can take time for women to accept the changes as part of the process of having a baby,’ Lorraine says. ‘When women do
not accept their own bodies, they often lose sexual desire as a result of fear and inhibition.’
Men may need help too, says Lorraine.
‘It’s important to consider the effect of witnessing childbirth on men,’ she says. ‘An intimate body part can become desexualised.
‘Have an honest discussion before and after birth about the expectations and realities of the impact of childbirth on your sex life and how you can manage this as a couple.’
Edited by Julie Cook
Lorraine’s sex tips for new mums
Keep talking — tell your partner if you feel anxious.
Go slow — settle for cuddling and foreplay if you’re not ready.
Check — seek guidance from your healthcare team on when it’s OK to resume sex if there’s been any physical damage after childbirth.
Do mirror exercises — stand in front of the mirror without clothing and list five or 10 things you like about yourself.
If you have pain during sex, seek help from your GP or a sex therapist.
Advice on embarrassing leaks
Do your pelvic floor exercises before, during and after pregnancy — squeeze the pelvic floor muscles 10-15 times in regular goes.
See your GP or health visitor if you’re worried about incontinence.
Don’t be embarrassed — some women wait years to get help, and the problems can get worse.