Sex. What’s that?

Why don’t I have any sex drive since the birth of my child?

As a mama who has been nursing forever, and sees no end in sight (although I am nursing a toddler), what can I do to boost my libido?

Hi! I would just like to know how to get my sex drive back? I delivered a year ago and it just has not come back yet. What do I do?

I experience discomfort and some pain during sex since giving birth six months ago. I am breastfeeding, but even using a lubricant doesn’t seem to help. Any suggestions?

I feel like my “touch jar” is full. When I do feel like being intimate with my mate, we are often too tired, and sometimes he takes my reactions to being “over touched” as a sign that I am not interested… How do we revitalize our intimacy, and do you have any suggestions on dealing with this dichotomy of feeling a yearning for intimacy, but feeling like you can’t handle any more touching?

I feel like I could go years without having sex! I feel terrible for my husband and we have no intimacy in our relationship. Now I dread that this lack of intimacy will be the rest of our lives.

These are just a few of the many questions that new moms ask me about sex in the first year or so after the birth of a baby.

You’re Not Alone

Getting back to your sex life after having a baby is super stressful for many women. According to one large study of the sex habits of couples in their first year after having a baby, 89% of couples had resumed a sexual relationship by 6 months. Of these, 83% reported that they’d had sexual problems in the first 3 months, with 64% still reporting difficulty at 6 months. Problems included painful intercourse, vaginal dryness, vaginal looseness, pain with orgasm, bleeding or irritation after sex, and loss of desire.

Compounding the problem for the new mom, is relationship pressure. Typically, your partner wants to get things going again before you’re ready. Interestingly, the husband of one of my close friends once told me that most guys actually think a sexy mom is the sexiest thing on earth! But you might be feeling anything but sexy! As a new mama you’re more likely feeling exhausted, “touched out” from nursing a baby all day (and night), overwhelmed and pre-occupied by baby’s need. You may also have some physical discomforts that leaves you feeling that you’re just not ready for anything coming anywhere near where that baby came out! Also, many women are afraid to conceive again, making intercourse an even less appealing prospect!

Having a baby also brings a new identity to yourself as a sexual being. “Mom” and “Sexy” are not words that most new mothers put into the same sentence. For many new moms, body image issues loom large: we feel less attractive, have “baby weight” we haven’t yet lost, or a belly pooch that we don’t find particularly sexy. We’re tired, and sometimes even forget to brush our teeth or hair in the midst of taking care of baby! Getting into a shower and having a meal can seem like a feat. Sex is not necessarily the first thing on our minds.

Mama hormones can also get in the way. New moms experience a decline in testosterone, dimming the sex drive pilot light, and prolactin – the amazing breastfeeding hormone – decreases arousal. Some say this diminished sex drive is a sort of biological trick of nature that protects women from getting pregnant too soon after a baby is born, thus ensuring that baby will be breastfed and cared for nutritionally. If we’re not having sex, we won’t get pregnant!

On top of it, our stress hormones are primed for baby survival mode. If you’ve noticed that you sleep with “one eye open” – always ready to respond to baby’s needs, it’s because you are! And those very stress hormones can also decrease your sex drive. If you’re all about the family bed – you’ve got a whole other problem – where to have sex if your little one is already hogging up the space! Get creative – I’ve known couples who have used every other room in the house – and even the car on the way home from a date!

Finally, new moms are particularly vulnerable to hypothyroidism in the first months to even a year after birth, and this has a huge impact on sex drive. If you are also feeling other symptoms than low libido such as cold hands and feet, constipation, relentless fatigue, or dry skin, it’s a good idea to get your thyroid hormone levels checked. Postpartum depression may also interfere with sex drive for many new moms; it can happen anytime in the first year after birth, and is generally under-diagnosed.

Nourishing Yourself

Make sure you are getting adequate sleep by taking turns with your partner getting up with baby, taking naps during the day when baby sleeps, and if need be, have a baby sitter for a couple of hours 2-3 times a week so you can rest. If you’re exhausted, you won’t want to do anything but sleep. And your mood will be miserable if you don’t.

Make sure to take some “alone time” on a regular basis. Take it from me as a mom with 4 kids, this can be really tough to make yourself do, but you’ve got to! If you are feeling touched out by baby, and have had no time to just be a whole adult woman, it’s unlikely for you to have any energy left to give to or engage with someone else. Sex is likely the last thing you want. Taking time alone will restore you and allow you to feel full enough to share yourself with your partner.

Start to get some exercise and move your body on a regular basis as soon as you can after birth – even if it’s just taking a long walk every day. It does take some work to get back into shape. More importantly, exercise triggers endorphins which give you a natural high and also helps clear stress hormones out of your system. It’s a win-win that will bring you closer to feeling great about your post-baby body! Be patient with and loving toward your body.

Find yourself one beautiful new something to wear – a sorta’ sexy dress or silky bathrobe. It’s okay if it’s an interim size until you fit back into your regular clothes. This will put a little lift in your own sense of feeling sexy, rather than trying to squeeze into your old clothes or being stuck in your pregger duds.

Nutrition, Herbs and Supplements

avocado_halfEating well is super important. Your body needs adequate protein not only to heal from the work of birth, but to keep your amino acids and thus relaxation neurotransmitters in tip-top amounts to overcome sleep deficits and stress that use them up quickly. Magnesium and B-vitamins are food for your nervous system and are abundant in whole grains, nuts, and some vegetables. Eating dark green leafies such as kale, collards, and broccoli help your body to properly metabolize hormones. And essential fatty acids (found in fish, fish oils, good quality fats such as avocados and olive oil) are important for your mental and emotional health.

Here is a selection of herbs and supplements, to be taken daily, in combination, that can indirectly boost your sex drive by supporting and restoring your nervous system, balancing hormones, and gently building energy without the use of stimulants.

Magnesium (either citrate or glycinate) up to 150-400 mg/day. (Note: Magnesium citrate can cause loose stools so is a good choice if you are constipated. Start with the lowest dose and increase as needed to stool softness and back up on the dose if your stools become too loose; otherwise use glycinate)

Vitamin B complex

– 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flax seeds daily

Maca powder energy smoothie:IMG_0598

  • 1 large banana (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 large tablespoon of almond butter (if you are allergic to nuts use coconut butter)
  • 1 level tablespoon of maca powder (available in large natural food stores)
  • ½ cup of frozen blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly ground flax seeds
  • ½ cup of almond, hemp, coconut, or soy milk
  • Optional: cocoa powder for a chocolate-y blend

Blend all on high speed and have as a breakfast or snack daily.

Maca is a nourishing, restorative tonic. The Quechua Indians of Peru’s central highlands consider it a nutritious food that promotes mental acuity, physical vitality, endurance, stamina, fertility, and libido. The dried maca root is rich in essential amino acids, iodine, iron, and magnesium. There is some concern that maca can reduce thyroid function, so if you plan to use this regularly and have a history of thyroid problems, discuss your plans with your primary care provider.

Intimacy: The Gateway to Hot Sex

While a new dad may want to get his pre-baby sex life back quickly, often what a new mama craves most is not necessarily hot sex, but intimacy. Intimacy can be a great gateway to reinvigorating your sex life. Patience is also important. While some women want to start having sex even sooner than the 6 weeks generally recommended by OBs and midwives (there is actually no medically significant waiting time – you can start having sex as soon as you feel ready), most couples find it takes about a year to fully reboot their sex life.

The key is to make space for intimacy and sensuality, talking openly and understanding each other’s needs, and finding ways to please each other without pushing past your limits of comfort. It is easy to have parenting become an excuse for ignoring or avoiding intimacy and sensuality, but for everyone’s health, it is important not to do this.

Let your partner know what you are going through, and what you need. Right now you might feel you need to be nurtured rather than to experience physical intimacy and orgasms. Our partners might feel the need for the latter. Are there ways you can meet each other in the middle so that you each get what you need?

There are lots of ways to share pleasure without intercourse until you are ready to take that step. Find ways to give you partner pleasure, and ask your partner to go slow with your body as you re-kindle receiving pleasure and your body heals – whether from a vaginal birth or a cesarean.

Many moms are so pre-occupied with baby concerns and household or work “to do” lists that we can’t unwind enough from the chatter even when things do start to get intimate. In fact, you might need to step out of your mommy mind for a few hours on a regular basis to even be able to get in touch with your sexy self. So find ways to turn it off now and then so you can get turned on!

Prioritize your relationship by creating a regular date night. It’s ok to leave your baby in the hands of a loving friend, relative, or competent babysitter, even if you’re a full time nursing mama, for a few hours to keep your relationship nurtured. In the long run, healthy parents who love each other is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child.

 

21 Comments

  1. I am confused. Dried maca root has essential amino acids, iodine, iron, and magnesium. Which I thought were good for the thyroid why would it hurt it? Would it be better not to use regularly? My daughter is going to be having a baby in September and I was thinking of getting the ingredients for her. She does not have thyroid disease but I do and she tends to take after my side of the family. I just want to help her stay healthy.

    • There is some very limited data that maca can affect thyroid function; it is likely not clinically relevant but like to give full information including potential risks. There is no reason to avoid it after baby is born. That doesn’t mean everyone should be on it, either. See how she feels and if energy is low, and she’s otherwise well supported, eating well, getting enough rest, etc, and has low energy/low libido, she can consider using maca. but getting thyroid levels checked is a first step with those symptoms since new moms are at higher risk for thyroid problems.

  2. This article has some great tips. I was dismayed, however, to read that it was “OK” to wear something in a different size “until you fit back into your regular clothes.” This reinforces the dominant obsession in our society with new moms getting their pre-baby body back. Having a baby changes your body, and that’s ok! Some women will *never* fit into the exact same size, and that’s ok. We should be told, explicitly and implicitly, that the physical changes that come with bearing children are natural and not something to be ashamed of. I’m not advocating for ignoring your health or gaining inordinate amounts of weight, but it is clearly harmful to be told it is “OK” to wear a different size until we are “regular/normal” again. We are normal no matter what size after giving birth! Part of feeling sexy again is being told that we are beautiful even before we have lost baby weight. Telling all women that they should return to pre-baby sizes is setting up a lot of women for a feeling of failure.

    • Thank you for sharing this insight. It is a great point that you raise. My intention was to say – no rush – wear something bigger than your regular duds! Most women do return to their pre-pregnant clothing size by about a year out. Breastfeeding moms often long before. So many women feel frumpy after baby – thus the suggestion to find something to feel gorgeous in! Thank you again for your thoughtful comment. I agree!

  3. thank you so much for this. my little one is nine months old and I have been feeling so alone in this, feeling like there was something wrong with me, feeling ashamed. not only is sex really painful still (low estrogen levels due to breastfeeding), and definitely feel right now like i could be fine with never having sex again. my poor husband! thank you for letting me know that I am not alone. thank you.

  4. I’m so glad you mentioned symptoms of low thyroid. I’ve been experiencing several (especially dry skin and constipation) since the birth of my son 3 months ago and wondering if these were just normal when breastfeeding. So, say my thyroid tests low…are there any specific herbal formulas to boost thyroid that won’t interfere with breastfeeding? And would you mind sharing a good online source for maca?

    • Hi Kristin,
      Well, the thing is, there are a lot of causes of low thyroid from adrenal exhaustion to gluten sensitivity, and about 50 others! So getting to the cause is the most important thing and this might take a workup with a smart integrative MD. Making sure you are getting adequate iodine in your diet and in a supplement, adequate selenium (about 200 mcg/day) and proteins needed to make the substrates to produce thyroid hormone can all help. Also, stress management and getting enough sleep (I know, you have a 3 mo old so it’s tough!) can help. Herbs are really better for hyperthyroid than hypothyroid. But a good adaptogen formula such as Vital Adapt from Natura Natural Products or a similar product from Gaia herbs can help. Taking a lot of green juice or soy can make things worse if you have hypothyroid, so cut back on these if you use them a lot. And most important, get your levels checked because you’ll feel a lot better with good treatment – even if that means thyroid meds. Oh, and maca will not be the right choice; their may be some benefit from ashwagandha, though. Best!

  5. Great article that I have saved to share with my clients (I’m a Doula)! But these 2 thoughts come to mind:
    1) In your response to Sarah you say that breastfeeding moms often return to their pre-baby size long before a year – I know from my own personal experience and from many others that breastfeeding did not do what I had heard (and prayed!) it would do. I am still nursing my 21 month old and weight loss has been impossible. I have watched my carb and caloric intake (I’m a reasonable person who loves food) and upped my exercise and cannot lose any weight. I’m waiting for after I stop nursing to shed that weight my body seems to be so darn attached to right now.
    2) The last sentence “In the long run, healthy parents who love each other is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child.” made my heart hurt a little bit. Sometimes having a baby makes a couple realize they are not meant to be together and this can lead to what seems like a low libido or lack of sex-drive but it is not. It is just lack of interest in that specific person. It is sad and hard and really confusing but in the end it is best to part ways than to stay together to try to create this “greatest gift”. There is so much pressure on couples to stay together when kids are in the picture, even when it is the worst thing for all parties involved. I think I would change that last sentence to “In the long run, healthy parents in a stable, healthy home is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child.”
    Thanks for everything you do, Aviva!

    • Hi Ana,
      Thank you for your comments
      1. Many women who are full time breastfeeding and eating excellent diets DO return to their pre-pregnant weight within a year – not all, of course. Sleep disturbance, exercise patterns, stress levels, supplemental feeding, and other individual variations women experience can all influence their rate of weight loss. It is highly variable.
      2. Of course, not all couples will make it – and sometimes having a baby presents that hard reality. Too often unexpected pregnancies bring people together, or other relationship issues become more clear after baby. Nonetheless, I hold my position that, whether together or not, healthy parents who love and respect each other – even if not as a couple – will still make for a happier, healthier child than parents who can’t stand each other. So even if i separation is inevitable, creating an environment of kindness, love, and respect is important. And if parents can stay together and ARE happy – this is such a great gift for kids. Of course, we all know that 50% of the time, this isn’t what happens – so creating so happy healthy stable homes becomes another option. And obviously, sometimes there are mental health issues, dysfunctions, addictions, etc in one of the parents that makes even this impossible. One strong parent can be a rock in a child’s life — but it’s rare that such a history doesn’t lead to some level of impact for the child.

  6. Hi Aviva,
    I have recently become interested in herbal supplements such as echinacea and elderberry, but they say on the label “if you are nursing or pregnant, ask your doctor”. Most doctors that I ever go to are completely uninformed about herbal medicine. What is the story with herbs for pregnant and nursing mothers? Thanks

    • Hi Leah
      Echinacea has demonstrated safety in pregnancy in a longitudinal study in human pregnant moms. Elder berry syrup has not been studied in pregnancy but has no chemical ingredients that would make it unsafe. Same for nursing moms. These are both gentle herbs. Some people do have allergic sensitivity to echinacea — usually the same folks who are sensitive to ragweed. They should use products made from the roots only. Warmly, Aviva

  7. AuntSue
    I nursed all six of my babies, and always had a hard time (impossible) losing the weight. La Leche League did a study several years ago to understand why some nursing mothers don’t lose the weight. They found that a diet too low in protein was responsible. Having a good protein source at each meal will allow the body to ease up on the low protein carbs. Even now, a diet with good protein sources 3-4 times a day and lots of veggies, fruits and whole grains is necessary for me to lose weight.

  8. So I do feel alone! I’m the only one in my moms group who wants more sex than my partner. Although this isn’t entirely knew in our relationship I was still surprised. Our baby is 15 months old and a joy. He goes to bed around 8:30 so there’s plenty of time. I know I have some hesitancies about getting pregnant again so maybe I’m holding back too. I feel sexy even, so I’m not sure why he’s not interested. Anyone got any advice!

  9. Hi Aviva,

    I assume that maca is okay for nursing Moms since you speak about it here? I was looking in your reference ‘Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health’, but didn’t see it in there. Also double checking that Ashwagandha is also okay for nursing Moms – those few pages were missing when I got your book from amazon, but all the other questions I’ve looked up have had super informative answers! Thank you, thank you!

    • yes, i use it in nursing mommas. there’s very little scientific data on it but is gentle and safe. oh no on the missing pages! i hope you got a replacement copy from them!

  10. Hi, Aviva. I am currently 8 months pregnant with my second baby boy. I am just curious if the symptoms for low thyroid function are the same during pregnancy? I was reading thru (trying to get pointers for after baby!) and I was shocked how many symptoms were congruent with what I’m going thru right now and have been going thru since the birth of my first 16 months ago. Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Jessica,
      so many of the discomforts of pregnancy from constipation to carpal tunnel are similar to those of low thyroid. That, however, does not mean you have low thyroid function. IF you are past your first trimester, the testing will be accurate — so I’d definitely get your TSH, Free T3 and Free T4 checked to make sure — because it is often missed in new moms because who isn’t tired, overwhelmed, and experiencing other similar symptoms after having a baby! LOL! sometimes it is just new momma hood — but low thyroid is so treatable and if you have it while pregnant, super important to treat for baby’s development, too. Joyous wishes on baby number 2! 🙂 Aviva

  11. This is an excellent article! My “babies” are 13 and 11 now, but so much of the information still applies. I see so many people getting divorced because they didn’t follow your advice in the last paragraph. I always tell my husband and friends–if we aren’t good together, we can’t be good for the kids. It is hard, but we put our relationship first. Very important to do when raising children.

  12. Hi Aviva. Great article still! I was wondering if you have advice for a mom of a toddler (stopped breastfeeding about ten months ago). I did get back to my pre-baby weight but my libido is still low. What supplements would you recommend for someone who is otherwise healthy? I also take ashwaganda.

    Thanks so much!
    Morgan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

clear formPost comment