Sexuality after Childbirth

After the birth of a child, sex is often the very last thing on the mind of new parents.

If it’s the first child, the adjustment to the new baby, having to constantly feed, wind, nappy change and hardly ever sleep, can leave both parents, and especially mum, exhausted by the end of the day and desperately longing for some rest and sleep. Never mind anything else.

And if there are older children in the house too, the struggle to meet everyone’s needs and demands can be even more exhausting. Often, there doesn’t seem enough time, room or energy for anything romantic happening between the sheets for a long time.

And this is absolutely fine and normal in most families.

After the arrival of a child, sex changes anyway. What used to be possible spontaneously anytime, anywhere, anyhow suddenly only has little time-frames at certain times in the day in certain places in the house. And even these are not always guaranteed (a crying newborn, teething toddler or nightmare awoken child don’t seem to know about these sacred little times of the day).

Gone seem the days where there was time for clean sheets, lit candles or even music in the background. Instead there are leaking breasts, the smell of dirty nappies and at least one teething ring and a cuddly bear along in the bed with most parents. And this does take its toll, but again, this is absolutely fine and normal in most families.

As long as both partner are aware of this being a special and demanding time in their lives, where for a short while, the needs and demands of little people come before their own, and that this will also change again. And it does in most cases find back to a (slightly different), but enjoyable and satisfying sex life again.

But what if it doesn’t? What when the weeks turn into months or even years?

It can easily happen and can strain the relationship in a big way. In these cases, it is mostly the women not wanting sex as much as before (or even at all), while the men feel the need and want to be physically close and intimate with their partner again. And it often doesn’t take long until a vicious cycle of sexual tension, pressure and frustration builds up which can take its toll in many ways.

And this cycle is very hard to break as both sides have their legitimate reasons and background.

There are many reasons that can contribute towards the woman losing her libido and former need and want for sex.

Childbirth itself can have an effect on how a woman feels about herself and her sexuality. If the birth was experienced traumatic, forceful or involved a lot of medical interventions, many woman can be left feeling “wounded” and as a result feel anxious, fearful or even disconnected towards their genitalia. They can end up not seeing it as a sensual, enjoyable part of their body anymore but strongly associate their genitals with pain and fear (of losing control). And even if the birth wasn’t experienced negatively, childbirth itself literally leaves its “marks” and things can feel different for a while and it takes some time (and effort by mum) to get the pelvic floor back to its old strength again.

For many women the change of their body also affects their self esteem and sexual confidence. While it was absolutely great to show of a bump while pregnant, the bump that remains after birth suddenly doesn’t seem so cute and great anymore. And while it is necessary and important to gain weight during pregnancy (and is further needed for the time while breastfeeding the baby after the birth), it does take time until the body finds back to its old shape again, and in some respects, might never will. So for many woman, it can be difficult to accept their new body, the changes in weight, size and form, and feel confident and uninhibited about it in bed.

And the change of hormones plays a big role too. Especially breastfeeding mothers can be affected by vaginal dryness and a lowered libido for quite a long while (sometimes the entire time of breastfeeding).

But the biggest effect on libido can be the pure demands of parenthood itself. No matter how involved the father or other friends and family are, especially in the early days of parenthood, it’s the mums who are needed most and have to give more than they might receive in return.

And after a full day of giving (milk, and nappies, and comfort and love to a newborn, biscuits, juice, a game of cards and cuddles to a sibling, food and drink and clean clothes to the family, …), many woman can find themselves regarding intimacy with their partner as another thing they need to “give” and that they just do not feel able for anymore.

For men this can be a very difficult situation. Most are very understanding and in the early days of parenthood, don’t feel up to much sex themselves anyway. But after a while, their libido does return, and especially because of the craziness of parenthood, may feel a strong need to reconnect with their partner on a physical level to regain and maintain that adult relationship that doesn’t seem to have much room during daytime anymore.

And while most mums have had their fair share of cuddles and physical closeness through their children by the end of the day and might not long for it as much as they used to do from their partners, the dads often feel the extra need for this kind of intimacy in order to feel connected and reassured in their role as lover and partner.

So what to do if you find yourself in this kind of situation? The most important key to overcoming this situation (and any other sexual problem or difficulty) is being honest about it and talking about it with your partner. Sometimes just putting it into words can make it easier to understand for both sides and may make it easier for both to deal with, in short and in long term.

For a man it is important to hear and find out (and to be reassured) that their partners lack of libido hasn’t to do with the fact that she has lost sexual interest in him as a person, but far more in sex in general. And for the woman it can be important to get her partners reassurance that he still finds her attractive and sexy no matter what is going on in life at the moment.

The second key to this problem is to acknowledge that despite the craziness of parenthood and the demands of little people and responsibilities of having them, mum and dad are still two independent people with own needs and wants that have a right to be met, too. Of course, in the early days, these often need to be put aside, but there comes a time when mum and dad can claim some more time and space for themselves again (and are often surprised at how willing and uncomplicated their kids accept this and go along with it). For this to happen, mum and dad will have to create some space for themselves and might need to cut back on something else for it. It is very important that the parents not only talk about it (“wouldn’t it be great to have a weekend without kids somewhere”) but also make it happen.

And the last important key to this problem is accepting that things do change and need some time, and for some perhaps more than others.

The more you beat yourself up about it and problemise it, the bigger the pressure (and in return the frustration) can become. Losing your libido after childbirth is rather common and most women go through it, some longer and some shorter than others. Talking to friends about it can help to see that you and your partner are not the only ones going through this crisis, as every mum has a story to share. And seeking professional advice and support from a counsellor can be very beneficial, too. Becoming a parent is a huge milestone in every person’s life and besides the joy and love, can also bring up other emotions, insecurities and issues (often linked to our past or our relationship with our own parents), that can negatively influence our everyday (sex) life. Talking to a counsellor or psychotherapist (either as a couple or individually) can help to understand your feelings and help to find ways of dealing with this situation in a more satisfying and less frustrating way.