Recently, I chatted with other mom’s in a Facebook group about a couple’s sex life after baby. Some of the mom’s expressed distress with their own or their partner’s lack of sex drive. Others were concerned, not so much about lack of sex drive, but of the expectation that sex would be the same after a child is born. One mom even said she wished someone would write about “The New Normal” because in her perspective, sex has not been and would never be “the same as before”.
You might wonder, “Will my sex drive ever come back?”, and wait patiently as you wipe spit up from your shoulder for the upteenth time and change the 3rd poop diaper of the day. The sexual divide might feel palpable as you peck that daily good night kiss with your partner, roll over and fall asleep.
Whether you are postpartum 1 month, 1 year or 5 years, some may consider this “The New Normal”. How each couple arrives at their new normal is unique to them. Couple’s may share the same “new normal” but not always for the same reasons.
If you struggle with your sex drive postpartum, here are some common contributors to ponder. This list is not exhaustive. Many factors can fly under the radar, undetected and unknown.
Pregnancy, birth and postpartum shifts a mom’s hormone levels in significant ways. In Psychology Today, author John Gartner, Ph.D. writes:
It’s no one’s fault. The abrupt change in sexual connection between partner’s is hormonally influenced. Throughout the nursing years, prolactin production depresses the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, biologically encouraging women to de-emphasize mating and focus energy on keeping their newborn alive. Further, as breastfeeding stimulates the bonding hormone oxytocin, it prompts a shift in attention toward the baby and away from the husband”.
While your doctor or midwife may tell you it’s “safe” to have sex after 6 weeks postpartum, most women cannot even consider having sex until at least many months later. Upon receipt of this medical clearing, you may call your lack of sexual desire into question. You may experience self-doubt, anxiety, stress and a sense of failure when you do not want to engage sexually. Know that lack of desire is extremely common amongst many women postpartum.
If you are both involved in caring for your baby and/or toddler, you are both equally exhausted, even if you share different roles in the partnership. The needs of your baby or toddler go beyond what any other chore or job requires of you. These needs often exhaust your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual selves. Add this to work, home management, extended family responsibilities, social gatherings, paying the bills, mowing the lawn and the endless chores that keep life moving – well, at the end of the day, you’re spent. You feel like you have nothing left to give. When exhaustion steps in, libido steps out and feels inaccessible.
Baby Baby Baby
When your entire relationship becomes baby-centered or child-centered, heed caution. While you can never remove the title of parent, you need to carve out time to be grown adults together, without your children. This is crucial to the survival of long-term relationships and to the health of the child. Psychologist John Gottman, Ph.D. cited studies that show how couple’s who didn’t focus 100% of their attention on their babies but instead made rituals of romance a priority were happier, and so were their babies. Their infants smiled, laughed and played more, cried less and showed an increased capacity to self-soothe as measured by their heart rate.
You might get all of your needs met from your child and stop looking to your partner. This sense of rejection can lead to resentment, isolation and anger. While it’s essential to have most of your focus on your baby in the earlier postpartum phase, as your baby develops, there comes a point where balance needs to be restored for the health and wellness of your relationship and family.
Did you once view your partner as a sexy lover but now only see her as a nurturing mother? You might have developed the good girl/bad girl conflict. This social construct views good girls as tender loving caregivers and bad girls as wildly sexual. Some partners struggle to reconcile that a mother can be a nurturing caregiver and a great, sexy lover. The conflict often results in low sexual desire. If you experience this, discuss it with her. Talking about it releases it and decreases it’s power. Create consistent time together without the baby/children so that you can reconnect with her as your partner and not just as parents.
Nursing mothers offer their breasts to their babies and children. Some do this throughout the day and night. Nursing can cause tenderness, pain or numbness in the nipple, not exactly ideal for a sexy rendezvous. You might find that you do not want to be touched beyond nursing your little one. It’s hard to accept that nursing can cause an aversion to other forms of touch but it can. Consider what forms of sensual/sexual touch feel tolerable to you and share what you are able to do with your partner. This is a particularly sensitive subject, treat it with loving care.
Stretch marks, leaky breasts, bulging belly, extra weight – mothers do not always welcome the natural physical changes required to nurture and birth their babies. Some women become self-conscious about these changes and feel too embarrassed to share their naked bodies with their partners. They cannot fathom how their partners can possibly find them desirable. Unfortunately partners, you have little control over this one. The work of body acceptance can only be done by mom. Exercise and eating right helps. Nursing usually helps to shed some baby pounds but at the end of the day, you have to love your body wholly in order to feel sexy. With practice, you can do this. You can love your beautiful, postpartum, maternal, life-giving, strong sexy body. Yes you can.
I have heard parents say to me: We can’t have sex, what if our son/daughter walks in? What if they hear us? Implementing clear boundaries are important but these concerns also call your history into question. What was the attitude about sex in your childhood home? How did your family nurture your sexual development? Was sex an off limits subject? Does your need for privacy reflect the attitude and energy of the home you grew up in?
Don’t ge me wrong – privacy is important. Healthy boundaries with your children is imperative, I fully agree. Is your goal to have your children believe that you do not have sex? If so, I feel concerned, not only for how this will inhibit your sex life but how in the long run, your children will internalize this and apply it in their adulthood.
If a woman has sexual trauma in her history before birthing, birth can aggravate the emotional wound, particularly if she has never healed from the trauma. This deeply personal issue can linger for years without the partners’ fully knowing it’s impact on sexual functioning. Often the sexual shutdown is an unconscious attempt to keep the body from re-experiencing sexual trauma. If you suspect that the birth has reawakened your sexual trauma, you may want to seek the help of a professional counselor.
When couples transition into parenthood, they enter a new dimension of existence…the “new normal”. This new normal transcends more than just sex, it’s an entirely new way of living in the world. It’s important to acknowledge where your sexuality and sex life falls in the grand picture. Given the partial list above, doesn’t it make sense that sex might not be the same? Is that okay?
Sex may have completely changed for you. For some, it may be more frequent and enhanced. For others, less so. If you both feel loved, connected, intimate and fulfilled without sex or with less sex then regardless of what the latest Cosmopolitan magazine has to say, you are okay! However, if one or both of you feels lonely, disconnected, rejected or abandoned, address the issue before it grows beyond repair.
Sex is multi-dimensional. It incorporates many emotional, physical, mental and spiritual variables. Our entire experiences from birth until death influence our sexual expression. How you express yourself sexually is not static. Throughout your lifetime, you move to various locations on the sexual spectrum. Be curious about where you are. Honor your journey.