DEAR DR. JENN,
Ever since my giving birth to my daughter, sex with my husband has been ... different. My desire is not what it was, and sex feels different. What's "normal" after pregnancy? And how can we recover our sex life? —Not a MILF
This is what normal looks like. Even before parenthood, there is usually one partner with a higher sex drive. It is rare that a couple starts at exactly the same libido level. But once you throw in childbirth, sleepless nights, dirty diapers, an episiotomy, leaky breasts, and estrogen deprivation, the odds of you chasing after your husband (or him after you) for sex are low. Don’t despair. Your sex life is not lost—it's just on hiatus. With a little education and preparation, it’ll be back, and possibly better.
A recent study found that 12 months after birth, 69 percent of mothers reported that they are somewhat or very satisfied with their sex lives. How do you join that club? The biggest factor that contributed to dissatisfaction was stress. In that sense, organized motherhood means hotter sex. New mothers tend not to feel supremely sexy; getting your baby on a schedule as soon as possible can help make it easier to plan your day, and a little time for self-care—even if it's just washing your hair—can go a long way to make you feel hot and desire sex. Accept help when it is offered (from family members, friends, and paid help, if you can afford it). That does not make you a bad mother; put on your own oxygen mask first.
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To achieve your goal of recovering your sex life, you need to understand that your desire is affected by both your physical and psychological well-being, both of which have been severely impacted by pregnancy and childbirth.
Although you may feel as though you are just not in the mood, there are actual physiological reasons why your libido may have changed. I interviewed LA-based OB/GYN Jessica Schneider about this years ago, and she explained, "The main reason is related to breast feeding. Because of the elevated levels of prolactin, which are necessary for milk production, estrogen gets suppressed, which leads to vaginal dryness and decreased libido, similar to menopause." Since this can cause sex to be painful, keep a bottle of lubricant nearby until your body has returned to its former self. If you are a lube virgin, when you discover the wonders of this substance, you may not want to put it back on the shelf.
Some women, especially those who have had a cesarean or an episiotomy, need more than the standard doctor-recommended six weeks to heal. Many new moms are so afraid of hurting themselves that they would rather stick a diaper pin in their eye than get down and dirty with their partner. Provided the doctor has given you the green light, the fear of pain or injury is usually worse than the actual experience. I recommend giving it a try, slowly, so that you can experience the emotional connection with your husband that sex brings, even if it's not the hottest hookup of your life.
Of course, there are also significant psychological reasons why many new moms don’t feel “in the mood.” To begin with, becoming a new mother is all-consuming. Much like falling in love, it is powerful and intense and leaves little room in your psyche for much else. Unlike adult love, your love object is utterly dependent upon you. In the beginning, many women find that making love with their husband feels like a distraction from their role as a mother.
Some new mothers also find it difficult to integrate their new mom identity with their identity as a sexual being. A girlfriend of mine who was in my mommy-and-me group confessed to us, "I feel like an elementary school girl. The idea of sex just sounds icky!" It can be challenging to feel competent as a mom and feel like a hot, sexy women. As a result, sometimes we regress a little emotionally while we are trying to figure it all out. In addition to the fact that changing diapers and Baby Bjorns don’t scream sex, few women have had role models who discussed this transition with them. Fortunately, there are more and more “sexy mom” role models in the media, but every woman must integrate these two parts of themselves in their own way.
Another thing: There is a reason that they use sleep deprivation to torture prisoners. Those first few sleepless months can be agonizing. As someone who gets by just fine on very little sleep, I was stunned by how core-shaking baby sleep deprivation was. I would have done anything to get four solid hours in a row after my twins were born. In addition to the irritability that sleep deprivation causes, it also lowers testosterone levels, which impacts sexual desire for both men and women. To top this off, studies show that testosterone in men takes a dive after they become fathers, the more they are involved in taking care of their children, the lower their testosterone drops.
Another major contributor to loss of desire is that women often feel uncomfortable in their own bodies until they are able to take off their pregnancy weight. Women who have experienced body image issues or eating disorders before pregnancy are particularly susceptible to this problem. Though easier said than done, I encourage you not to let “feeling fat” stand in the way of getting intimate with your partner. Besides, women are far more critical of their own bodies than men are; the odds are that the aesthetic changes to your body are going to be the last thing on his mind while making love with you.
If you are one of the 10-20 percent of women who experience postpartum depression, which is often detected 3-6 months after giving birth, it is likely to zap your libido. Postpartum is caused by a combination of circumstances and chemical imbalances. If you think you may be experiencing postpartum depression, it's important to seek help before the issue worsens. The combination of psychotherapy and medication has been shown to be extremely effective treatment.
YOUR MAN AND THE DELIVERY ROOM
In addition to the lowered testosterone, many men are traumatized by the delivery room. It is not politically correct to talk about it, and no man wants to hurt his partner's feelings, but watching a baby come out of a vagina or seeing your wife cut open for a cesarean can do a number on a man's sexual vision of his partner. Too many well-meaning doctors push men to gawk at a crowning baby. You don't have to watch the bloody show to support your wife as she gives birth. Unless the partner has a desire to see the baby coming out, I recommend they stay up top to help and support the laboring partner. What matters most is the support, bond, and connection that occurs in the delivery room, not how much blood and gore you witness.
It took your body nine months to make, grow and birth a baby. Give yourself some time to recover (in my clinical experience about a year) before you expect to be back to their former sexual self.