Long nights of interrupted sleep, baby brain, endless nappy changes; these are some of the things most people associate with rasing a new baby. Yet there are some less expected things that also come with being a parent, and a reduced sexual libido is one of them.
While getting hot and steamy in between the sheets may be the furthest thing on the mind of most new mothers, a study from The Journal of Midwifery Women's Health has shed some light on why there may be a reduced sexual libido after becoming a mum – and it's not just exhaustion.
Unsurprisingly, of course, fatigue and the presence of a newborn, or other children at home, were the most commonly cited issues impacting on getting busy in the bedroom as a new parent. But the study also showed that mothers who had depression, were exclusively breastfeeding or had a caesarean had significantly poorer sexual satisfaction.
Kate* knows firsthand how a mum’s libido can change after having kids. She underwent an emergency c-section with her first son, and exclusively breastfed for the first year of his life.
“Sex was the last thing on my mind in those early months. My body ached from the trauma of the c-section, my breasts ached from the breastfeeding, and if I had a moments rest at the end of the day then that is exactly what I wanted to do – rest,” she says.
When those early months did pass, Kate says that sex was certainly different to the way it had once been. “My body had changed and the way that I achieved pleasure in the bedroom had changed,” she says. “It took a great deal of patience and many conversations to build a new sexual relationship together.”
For Michelle*, a mum of two, her post-baby libido wasn’t an issue – it was more a case of discovering what worked for her changed body.
“We were pretty quick to get back into it after our first daughter was born, but it just didn’t feel the same,” she says. “Of course I expected it to be a bit different, after everything my body had been through, but as time went on I realised the old positions and moves weren’t going to get me to orgasm.
“We’ve always been pretty open about sex, so we just had to start experimenting with new things. We talked a lot about what was happening and I think we came out of that time stronger as a couple, really.”
Cyndi Darnell, a sex therapist and relationship coach, says that the impact childbirth can have on a woman’s body is incredibly profound.
“Sometimes the body’s way of coping may be to have a reduced interest in sex afterwards, the body needs to be honoured in that case,” she says. “The first year after a baby, especially if it’s the first baby, couples find it really, really difficult. I’m not surprised – we don’t live in a culture where sexual intimacy after baby is openly discussed, and many relationships suffer under the weight of this.
“Partners don’t quite understand what has happened, they miss their wives or girlfriends, they want the intimacy to come back, and they don’t understand that things have changed.”
Cyndi says the she asks women who are having unsatisfying sex a question: “Why are you having sex?”
“When you have an understanding of why you are doing something, you are going to be in a better position to measure satisfaction, and this is where self-inquiry and communication is so important,” she says.
Cyndi encourages women to chat to their partners about what they would like from sex, and what is going to be more satisfying. “Sex is not a reflex. It’s something we go into consciously, and couples need to understand that arousal, passion and desire can change after baby.”
While things may be different in the bedroom once you’ve got kids, that difference shouldn’t be a scapegoat for it all being unsatisfying. Couples need to work together to bring the spark back into their sexual relationship post-baby, and might want to try the following.
- Be patient: Be patient with your body and with each other. Respect that healing after childbirth is important, and in time the intimacy and satisfaction will return.
- Explore your options: Being intimate with your partner doesn’t only equate to sex. You can be both sexual and intimate without having intercourse, which can take the pressure off and open new doors to pleasure.
- Conversation leads to sex: Talk, talk and talk some more. Be open and honest with your partner about how you feel physically and emotionally. Bring any fears you may have out in the open and use an open dialogue as way to grow closer together.
The assumption that couples are just going to happily work out it all out in the dark just isn’t true. Postpartum sexual intimacy takes work and patience, and it needs to be something we all talk about – both in and out of the bedroom.
*Names have been changed