- 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?
- Dr. Aviva, 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 after baby! 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 comments and questions that new moms bring to me about sex in the first year or so after the birth of a baby.
Lots of Factors
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.
First,It's Okay to Not Have Sex Yet
There's no rule as to when you ‘should' feel ready to start having sex after birth. And it's 100% okay not to want to – or to do so – until you're 100% ready. And there may be very real things getting in the way – fatigue, post-birth physical pain, birth trauma that surfaces when you start to get intimate, feeling ‘touched out' as so many new moms do, and a hundred other little things. Talk with your midwife or doula, or seek out healing support if physical or emotional trauma is getting in your way; seek help and support so you have some YOU time, and have honest discussions with your partner about where you're at, what you need, what you're ready for, and what's getting in the way. If you do want to, but you're just not feeling it yet, give yourself time. And consider some of the additional ideas in this article to start easing yourself back into the mood when you're ready.
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 – 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.
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.
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
Eating 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:
- 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.
Most important, remember that you get to choose when you're ready.