Ask any new parent if their sex life has changed postpartum. If they answer with a quick and cool “not really, why?” they are lying to your face. Or at least hiding something. Because babies. Change. Everything.
And let’s not forget mom’s physiology. Hormonal levels drop more dramatically after giving birth than at any other time in a woman’s life, and it can wreak havoc in both physical and emotional ways. So, it’s fairly common for new parents to struggle sexually—at least for a little while. Why does this happen, and what can you do about it?
6 Truths about Postpartum Sex
Physical recovery from birth is paramount and must be respected.
The time it takes for a new mom to feel like herself again is dependent upon many variables, and intimacy can only happen when she is ready. Intercourse is commonly off limits until 6 weeks postpartum (because it takes that long for the uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy size, and it’s generally when most women return to their midwives or OB’s for a follow-up appointment). Many women are too leaky, sore, fatigued, emotional, etc. to even consider sexual engagement until after this stage is over.
What You Can Do: Call in the troops! New mothers need lots of rest and support. Don’t let anyone enter your home without a meal in hand or a commitment to do laundry, empty your garbage, hold the baby so you can shower or nap, etc. while they are there. Have a friend start a meal train, accept help from a relative to assist you with overnights, add a postpartum doula or baby nurse on your baby registry. If you don’t have a support network nearby, reach out to your local house of worship, community center, mom’s group, or birth network.
Pelvic or vaginal pain is not uncommon.
Your body has been through a marathon of intense sensation over a period of hours (sometimes days). Yes, we are designed to do this, but we don’t experience it every day. Organs, tissue, muscle, skin, and bones might speak to us while they return to business as usual.
What You Can Do: See your care provider or a sexual dysfunction practice. Treatments might include topical medications, behavioral recommendations or a referral to a pelvic floor physical therapist (your new best friend who can treat a variety of postpartum issues – you can find one near you at www.pelvicrehab.com).
Women who breast-feed might encounter a decrease in libido and increase in vaginal dryness.
Hormonal shifts (particularly oxytocin, estrogen, and prolactin) can put a temporary damper on mom’s desire for sex and can cause some changes in vaginal tissue, making things extra-sensitive.
What You Can Do: There are many ways—from medical to behavioral—to rekindle the flame that kicked off this whole baby thing in the first place! Ask your provider for resources and referrals.
One in 7 new mothers experience Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, which can be anything from the baby blues to a more serious experience with depression or anxiety.
Women often experience mental health challenges due to a sharp postpartum decrease in hormones, or because of interrupted sleep, a lack of support, feeding issues, etc.
What You Can Do: Be secure in the knowledge that you have done nothing to bring this on. Enlist your support network to help with all things baby (and to help you prioritize some daily self-care). If the emotional roller coaster doesn’t come to a stop after two or three weeks, seek counseling with a behavioral health expert that specializes in perinatal and postpartum issues. You can find one by visiting Postpartum Support International (www.postpartum.net).
ALL parents—whether biological, adoptive, or those who employed assisted reproductive technology—will be challenged by copious amounts of unrelenting exhaustion.
We aren’t at our best when we’re stressed and sleep-deprived, especially when it comes to interpersonal communication. We become short-tempered and easily frustrated with our partners and that’s just not sexy.
What You Can Do: It bears repeating—support is critical during this time, and you’ll need all that you can get. See What You Can Do No. 1, snag a bit of rest wherever you can, and let go of whatever is not absolutely necessary. Then, set aside a few minutes every day to sit with your partner and engage positively. Really hear one another, really listen. Everyone is getting used to this new normal, so don’t forget one another in the process. As soon as you are able, plan a date (even if just for a half hour to start). You’ll need time to reconnect romantically on a regular basis.
Adjustment to parenthood is epic in just about every way.
There is no other life event that triangulates colossal exhaustion, utter cluelessness, and the weighty responsibility of keeping another human alive the way that parenting does.
What You Can Do: Make parent friends! It’s comforting to be around others who are sharing your experience, especially a herculean one like this. And give yourself time to adjust. You are transitioning into an important new role—it’s a process, so be kind to yourself. If none of this helps and you feel as though you are floundering, seek out a professional counselor who can offer support and guidance.
Of course, no matter how you slice it, any new parent might say to their initiating partner, “Sex? Now? You’ve got to be kidding.”
Before you put sex on the back burner indefinitely, try a little reframing. Having a little one can change your sex life for the better once you get your bearings. For instance, when you’re ready, change might translate to creative thinking, as in “let’s do it on the kitchen table ‘cause that’s hot (and we won’t wake the baby who’s asleep in another room),” or it could mean that you work The Quickie back in to the repertoire, or maybe you’ll be inspired to buy some toys that are just meant for the grown-ups! If you’re lucky and have trusted family members with whom you can leave the little one, change of scenery can be one of the best changes of all.
Obviously, all of the above will require some planning, and even when you do plan, babies don’t always cooperate. Just when you think you’ve nailed down their nap specs—BAM! HA! No sex for you!
So, just as in every other aspect of parenting, flexibility is key. Take things slowly, use lots of lube, manage expectations, and find your way.
Treating any sexual health issue requires trusted clinical guidance, self-compassion, and patience. If you are facing fatigue, lack of arousal, stress, pelvic pain, or communication problems with your partner after birth, don’t sweep it under the rug (because you’re not going to have much time to sweep up much of anything). Reach out for help. Qualified professionals can help you get back on track when you are ready both physically and emotionally. After all, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy your new addition and a satisfying sex life!
Since 1998, Maze Women’s Sexual Health has been dedicated to helping women solve their sexual health challenges with care and compassion. Our team of experts, from multiple disciplines, are specifically trained in female sexual health specializing in painful sex, orgasm, low libido, and menopausal symptoms. At Maze, we take a multifaceted approach to resolving sexual problems by integrating education and psychological counseling with medical techniques and therapies. We believe every woman deserves a full and satisfying sex life.
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