Tag Archives: #parenting

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Let’s Talk About Sex (after a) Baby!


Before I had a baby, most of the conversations I heard about sex after a baby were negative. “The last thing I want to do after pushing a human out of my vagina is let a penis back in there!” etc. This was usually as an expansion of the generally negative narrative that surrounds birth. The tearing, the stitching…. why on earth would anyone want to have sex after that? Not to mention that women aren’t meant to WANT sex. Then there is the talk about the poor men who are expected to go without it – because men NEED sex. Right?

This never sat well with me. For a start I couldn’t imagine not wanting sex. Women need sex too. It’s actually a pretty basic need for humans. Women can also get a bit aggy if they go without. This being quite the irony in my house. I expect my husband to know the reason for me being bloody awful to live with and to cure it by having sex with the person who is making his life a living hell! Poor man.

“Regular sex, in particular, regular orgasms are good for our overall health and wellbeing.“

However, after birth a woman will often feel quite different about sex. Not least because of the physical rigours of birthing a baby, especially if there was some trauma to the perineum or other difficulty but also because of the rubbish expectations we have of post natal women. The lucky ones might have a doting partner around on paternity leave for 2 weeks but that is rare. Most only have a week at best and there is the expectation we will cope with running the household as well as mother an infant without missing a beat. Compared to many traditional cultures with “confinement” or “laying-in” periods of 6 weeks where women are looked after by the wider family – no chores, just rest and feeding the baby, our typical new mum in the UK gets a pretty brutal start to motherhood.

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Sex probably isn’t going to be a priority for a new mum when she is feeding a baby every 2 hours round the clock, while trying to keep on top of the shopping, cooking, cleaning while making sure she doesn’t look like she has just had a baby! The pressure we put women under is unjust and unnecessary.

Most women do not get a chance to really talk about sex after giving birth. When we are discharged from midwifery care, usually on day 10 if there are no issues, we are given the opportunity to discuss contraception which is often the last thing on our mind as we are still bleeding and leaking milk and have no idea what day it is. We are told it takes 6 weeks to heal and we can then resume sex. We have our 6 week check with the GP who will ask if you have had sex and that is often the extent of the conversation with health care professionals. Or if there is some dialogue it’s rarely positive. A friend of mine who had a particularly tough time and had quite significant birth injuries was flippantly told by a midwife she won’t have sex again for many months, if ever! Err, not helping!

As a doula, one of the reasons I am so passionate about helping women have positive birth experiences is because she will enter motherhood fit and well enough to look after her baby. It also makes sense to ensure women’s sexual health is a priority.

Regular sex, in particular, regular orgasms are good for our overall health and wellbeing. It reduces stress, boosts circulation, reduces cortisol, releases endorphins and helps fight infections by stimulating our immune system. It improves various functions within our bodies such as energising the hypothalamus gland which regulates our appetite, emotions, temperature and reproductive hormones (pretty useful when recovering from childbirth and establishing milk supply). It helps stimulate our lymphatic system and maybe most importantly it boosts oxytocin and helps us bond with our partners which amid the general chaos of having a baby might be the only time you actually connect emotionally and physically with them.

0E66ECE1-162B-4655-9C63-BE5011B40B50So, what is normal? Well that’s not easy to answer.
My own experience might not be typical. I felt like a goddess after giving birth! The power I felt on realising what I was capable of was very much an aphrodisiac. If not for having an episiotomy I would have had sex within a couple of weeks of birth but being wary of hurting myself and in particular infection I managed to wait about 5 weeks for penetrative sex but we were still intimate. Honestly no-one would have survived me on a 5 week sex ban! Enthusiasm did wain a little with each subsequent child but normal sex was resumed each time within 6 weeks.

Okay, I was fortunate to have easy, straightforward births but many women still do not get their mojo back for several weeks if not months. More so if she has had a less than satisfactory birth.

“Suggest your partner do other loving things rather than sex like running a bubble bath for you to relax in while he pops baby in the sling for a while. He can give you a massage or make a romantic meal even if you are at the table breastfeeding through it!“

The variation of normal is huge. Generally you should be healed enough to have sex within 6 weeks. If you have had an episiotomy or a second+ degree tear it may take a bit longer to heal.
Many women are scared of the first time after having a baby. Scared it will hurt (your partner might also be worried they will hurt you). Scared it will feel different (for both you and your partner) and there is also the issue of your changed body (that baby belly doesn’t just disappear overnight!) plus the leaky boobs and generally feeling not like you did before.
No-one should be pressuring you to resume sex before you are ready. No-one is entitled to sex with you and no-one is entitled to an opinion about your sex-life. Women who have had a traumatic birth may need a lot of time and loving patience before she can even start to talk about sex. The last thing a woman who has had a disempowering birth needs is yet another person taking away her bodily autonomy.

Suggest your partner do other loving things rather than sex like running a bubble bath for you to relax in while he pops baby in the sling for a while. He can give you a massage or make a romantic meal even if you are at the table breastfeeding through it! (Don’t forget moderate drinking is fine when breastfeeding so long as you aren’t bed-sharing).

The key is to take it slowly, maybe start out with non-penetrative sex to get your confidence back without the pressure of going all the way. When you do decide to go for it, don’t forget lube!
Don’t worry if your sex drive doesn’t return right away. Nature has plans to keep your fertility at bay for a while and along with suppressing fertility, breastfeeding can lower your hormones that drive sex. (Breastfeeding is not a reliable contraceptive mind so do take the opportunity to discuss family planning with your doctor).

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It does take a while for your body to recover from childbirth. After a vaginal birth you will be a bit looser but the vagina is a muscle so you can train it back into shape and having sex is a fun workout! Don’t forget the importance of your pelvic floor exercises either. Doing postnatal Pilates or Yoga will not only prevent you leaking when you sneeze but will make sex better for you.

If sex is still painful/uncomfortable after 12 weeks then see your GP. Don’t be fobbed off! Women complaining about their sex drive or sexual function are all too often dismissed. We are conditioned to think sex is not something we should expect to enjoy or demand help with if it’s not working. Sex is an important part of adult health so make sure you get some “me time” in your me time!

 

Lynsey is a psychotherapeutic counsellor and a birth & post-natal doula, a feminist and mother of 4.

Lynsey is a psychotherapeutic counsellor, a birth & post-natal doula, a feminist and mother of 4.

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World Breastfeeding Week 2016

It’s World Breastfeeding Week 2016.

 

This has either escaped your attention entirely or if like me during the last few days your social media algorithms will have shown you article after article relating to the biological function of female breasts. During this week of the year I brace myself to be subjected to an onslaught of articles lamenting either breastfeeding itself or those of us who support and advocate it. I never fail to be disappointed.

Having breastfed for nearly 10 years straight and over 8 of those dedicated many hours of my time, mostly unpaid, working with women in my local community to support them to achieve their breastfeeding goals as a trained breastfeeding peer supporter and in recent years as a birth and post-natal doula, I can wax lyrical with the best as to the many benefits successful breastfeeding confers. To be fair you’d have to have been living under a rock to be ignorant about why breastfeeding your baby gives them the best chance of reaching their full health potential.

So, riddle me this Batman, why on earth are so few babies breastfed? Less than 2% are breastfed at 6 months, (the UK has the world’s worst rates) and why when we dedicate 7 days out of the year to celebrate this seemingly rare but unparalleled method of infant feeding, are we told to lower our voice lest we upset the not insignificant majority of mothers (almost all) who use infant formula to feed their babies?

The answer is both complex and simple.

We’ve been cleverly manipulated over the years to pit ourselves against one another. Infant formula milk sales in the UK were in excess of £420m last year. Infant formula is said to have one of the biggest mark-ups of all supermarket products and the big corporates certainly don’t scrimp when it comes to marketing. Expensive, clever, divisive and often illegal marketing. These guys invented the so called “mummy-wars” in order to push sales up. Divide and conquer.

Those clever advertisers, with their blue-sky thinking and expense accounts, know how powerful women are when we come together, so they go to great lengths to stop that happening. They really don’t want us to succeed. Our success means their failure.

I’m lucky enough to see the power of women coming together to support each other and lift each other up. It’s pretty much what my job is. I counsel, I support, I empower, I listen. What I don’t do is judge. Oh THAT word! Ok, so I do judge, I judge all sorts of things for myself. I, like most mums am my harshest critic, but thankfully I too have support. I’m surrounded by loving, understanding people who hold me up and tell me I’m good enough, so when that voice of doubt whispers in my ear I can tell it to shush. But for many women it’s not so easy. When we have a sisterhood, we can be open and honest about our failings and celebrate those who manage to pull off the things we at times, feel incapable of. If I had a pound for each time the look of relief crossed a new mum’s face when she finds out she’s not first or only mother to struggle or feel unsure or useless or inadequate, well, I could probably fund a breastfeeding support service to replace one of the many that have been cut in recent years. Then more of the women who want to breastfeed, which we know is the majority, will be adequately supported to breastfeed for as long as they planned to, which is longer than most achieve.

Whether you have breastfed or not, whether you wanted to and didn’t manage it or just didn’t want to do it at all, whether you breastfed for 7 days or 7 years, this week isn’t about what you did or didn’t do. In fact it’s not about you. It’s about the next mother, and the one after her that needs to hear the truth not the lies, myths and misnomers that too many women who “fail” hear.  Its about celebrating breastfeeding. Acknowledging it’s importance and it’s power and making it more accessible and a true choice for women, rather than the superfluous “superior” method of feeding a baby that those who want your money want to make it out to be.

We know that the more visible breastfeeding is in our communities the more likely other women will breastfeed. We are social mammals after all. It’s biologically normal and what our infant bodies are designed to expect.

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Whenever I read an article about breastfeeding the comments section is always awash with statements about how breastfeeding isn’t for everyone and how difficult it is and you are guaranteed to find someone saying how guilty the article makes them feel and how “there is nothing wrong with formula”.

It’s an emotive topic. I know. I really know because I’m in the thick of it listening to the stories from women who stopped breastfeeding after weeks of sore, cracked nipples or about a baby who didn’t gain weight or repeated bouts of mastitis or thrush or a baby who was never satisfied. What support did they have? Often well meaning friends and family, even healthcare professionals, who offer passive support along the lines of it not being “the be all and end all” because “formula isn’t failure” are really sabotaging us. The answer to all breastfeeding issues is invariably “just use formula”. I hear these women with their sadness and their feelings of failure and I explain they did not fail. They were failed. They were failed by an over-stretched maternity service who cannot afford to give additional training to support breastfeeding or enough midwives to spend the time needed to teach women to breastfeed. To teach them with kindness and patience rather than a hurried “grab baby, grab boob and shove them together” approach so they can discharge with the box “initiated breastfeeding” ticked. They were failed by a society that tells women they must do the “best” by breastfeeding, but then gives her a ridiculous list or arbitrary limits to how this should be done, when, where and for how long: Be discreet (what ever the hell that means!), don’t do it in restaurants (where other people eat!) or swimming pools (where most people are nearly naked) or planes or trains or parks…. Don’t, for pity sake, do it for more than 6 months or a year or 2, 3, 4, 5 years or when they have teeth or can talk or walk or….whatevs. If you really have to do it (and you do because if you opt out of this minefield you’re a terrible mother) then do it nicely so it looks like you aren’t doing it. Got it?

Then there’s the relatives. Your mum, your mother-in-law, sister, cousin, aunt, your gran and pretty much everyone you know, they have an opinion and advice. Oh Lord, THE ADVICE! It’s loaded with their own stuff and it’s often with the unsaid intention of “don’t make me feel GUILTY”. So the myths are perpetuated and they become facts. The sabotage happens, not with malice, but with a well meaning intention to make the inevitable less painful. Because it is painful. The sense of loss can be profound. So the cognitive dissonance can be strong. We are silenced and told it’s not important. Fed is best they say. Just use a bottle they say. And we do. Nearly everyone does.

So this world breastfeeding week. When you see the articles about how wonderful breastfeeding can be and it really can be SO wonderful, please think about why we have this week. When I support women, who have previously failed to breastfeed, to successfully breastfeed subsequent babies, they GET IT. It’s bitter-sweet as they come to understand what they lost, though but for that reason and many more we must continue to talk about breastfeeding positively. To correct falsehoods and myths and to truly support it. We don’t need to “balance it” with support for bottle feeding. Everyone supports bottle feeding. It’s given as the solution to all breastfeeding problems. It’s welcome everywhere we take our children. It’s never done under cover or in the toilet for fear of chastisement.

So please, let’s have this week. These 7 days to celebrate, promote and welcome breastfeeding. Lets do it for the vast majority who want to do it and for the tiny minority, who against the odds, succeed.