Hey there, mama. Remember when you were young and stretch-mark free and wanted sex more than sleep?
If the mother ship sails over different waters, take heart, good woman. You're not alone in these choppy seas.
There is barely a time in the history of relationships when maintaining intimacy- sexual and otherwise-really is the glue that holds the thing together. And yet… intimacy is like this mysterious unicorn that doesn’t like the sound of baby tears.
What to do?
First, let’s talk about sex. As you know, intercourse for the first six weeks is a no-go. Stretchy body needs time to heal and recover, so keep it calm, tiger.
After that, if the tiger seems lifeless here’s what to do.
Find out what the problem is
According to the (vastly inadequate) amount of research done on loss of libido in postpartum, sex drive can disappear for myriad reasons. While there are a number of reasons that are purely physical or hormonal, libido may be more affected by social factors than is often acknowledged. In her study “Exploring Women’s Postpartum Sexuality: Social, Psychological, Relational, and Birth-Related Contextual Factors”, researcher Sari M. Van Anders lists a number of factors that influence postpartum sexuality. Below I’ve listed many of those factors (and a few more based on other studies.) It may be helpful to review this list and add to it as needed in order to gain clarity on what is affecting you most.
Factors Affecting Postpartum Sexual Desire:
- Baby Sleeping Habits
- Amount of available time
- Amount of stress
- Amount of sexual feelings
- Amount of support from my partner
- Pain during intercourse
- Amount of stress
- Vaginal Discomfort from Birth
- Vaginal Bleeding
- Vaginal Dryness
- Amount of Intimate or close feelings with my partner
- Body Image
- Poor Birth Experience
- Partners Interest in Sex
- Amount of social support from others
- Feeling “Touched Out”
- My Hormones
Which of these factors affects you most? While you might be experiencing all or most of the above, is there one (or three, or five) that ring true for you above the rest? Once you know what’s holding you back, you can begin to remove that barrier. A few of these (say, vaginal bleeding)...well, not much to be done but wait on that. Many others can be at least partially alleviated with some planning and focused effort.
Speaking of effort....
Who actually has time for this?! Not the brand new mother with aching southern regions and no sleep and sagging belly and exhaustion and overwhelm and many tears. This heroic woman does not actually have the mental space to devote effort to sex needs for the partner adult who can manage for now.
Momma friend, you are not alone here on these rocky seas. Here are a couple of steps during the crazy time.
1. Grace. Grace grace grace. You get a pass, good reader. As mentioned, the first six weeks are a no go anyway. It can be eight weeks- and even at eight weeks, no one is expecting you to be healed and 'back to normal' (ok, maybe this crazy Western culture of ours is, but they can BACK RIGHT OFF. They know nothing of producing humankind.) That said, check out #2 for what to do about the sex thing, which gets important with months and months of waiting.
2. If you're one who, after that initial healing takes place, is really just not feeling it, have an honest conversation with your lover to come up with a temporary arrangement while business meetings are on hiatus. It doesn't have to look as it normally does; as long as you're both fully comfortable, feel free to be creative so that needs can continue to be met.
3. No matter what: Connect. You and your lover need to physically and emotionally connect, and that needs to become a practice, starting immediately. Not sex, nor even anything like sex. Just physical touch and emotional effort. Read: cuddling. And talking. These things are enormously important. It's so easy to let connection slip as you're busy adjusting to life with baby, so carve out intentional space and time for one another. Check out this post on how to do that- even when you have no time.
Postpartum hormones are tricky beasts that don’t love to be tamed. That said, their impact on your life can be minimized with the right kind of care and support. Because of the unique concoction of hormones required to allow a body to grow a human and then expel it, you'll need substantial recovery time (read: weeks to months) to normalize hormonally after birth. Beyond birth hormones, there is one major factor that influences hormones- and therefore sex- after childbirth.
A number of studies have looked into the possible connection between breastfeeding and lack of sexual desire. Vaginal dryness and even disinterest in sex is often associated with the low estrogen levels and high prolactin levels that come from breastfeeding, although the studies haven’t conclusively proven the link.
Additionally, one study found that the sex hormones testosterone and androstenedione are at extremely low levels during breastfeeding, and are associated with a ‘severe reduction in sexual interest.’ (1) Interestingly enough, postpartum fathers also experience hormone shifts, including lower testosterone levels and higher levels of estrogen and prolactin. So if your man seems to be experiencing postpartum blues, it's probably totally legit.
Breastfeeding can also contribute to loss of desire in social ways as well. In plain English, momma is TOUCHED OUT. If a thought like this has ever run through your head: Does anyone else need my boobs for anything?!!!- you can pretty much guarantee you’ve experienced the social effects of breastfeeding on your sex drive.
The Takeaway: If you’re breastfeeding, keep on! Your desire will likely incrementally increase during the first year even while breastfeeding, and at least one study has shown a significant decrease in tiredness, an improvement in mood, and an increase in sexual activity, sexual feelings and frequency of sex within four weeks of stopping breast-feeding. (2)
Consider a Thyroid Problem
A sluggish thyroid may be the culprit for extreme fatigue and low sex drive, and women miss it because these symptoms also correlate to New-Baby Syndrome. If you are feeling overly exhausted and are not having success with sexual desire, it may be worth getting tests done on your thyroid function, especially if you had trouble going into labor naturally or any of the other symptoms of thyroid problems.
Do something about it
So we’ve gone over the causes of low libido after birth. The good news is, there ARE ways to help your body and mind get back on the sexy train. This is getting long, so we’ll talk about specific things you can do to rev up that sex drive in the next post (and honestly, the most major factor is a HUGE surprise!) See you there!
2. Forster C, Abraham S, Taylor A, Llewellyn-Jones D. Psychological and sexual changes after the cessation of breast-feeding. Obstetrics and Gynecology 1994; 84(5): 872-876