It's OK to Not Be Into Sex Right After Having a Baby
Grace Poole, 25, and her husband, spent the first four years of their marriage learning each other's sexual preferences and rhythms. But when their son was born after a 19-hour labor that resulted in three vaginal tears, their love life hit a wall. "There was no sex happening—at all," Poole said of the first six months of parenthood.
And her husband made clear that he was missing it.
Whenever the baby was napping and Poole headed to shower for some alone time, her husband would slip in beside her, not so subtly hoping one hand would wash the other. But in addition to being exhausted, Poole was depressed and anxious. "I was in an endless loop of panic attacks and tears," she said. And though her husband never said anything explicitly to pressure her into sex, she was daunted by everything she assumed he was thinking.
Welcome to motherhood
This scenario might be familiar to new moms. The baby is finally here, which is indescribably great. But there can also be challenges, such as sleepless nights, hormone shifts, and possibly a partner who's gunning to "get back to normal" in the bedroom.
If you're ready for sex, go crazy. But if you'd rather not have anything to do with it, that's totally OK, too.
"Becoming a mother is a biological, psychological and social change," explained Brooke Faught, a nurse practitioner and the clinical director of the Women's Institute for Sexual Health in Nashville. "Everything women know about their normal routines, family dynamics and personal habits shift once the baby comes home."
Physiologically, women's bodies experience extreme hormonal variation during the postpartum period, which can influence emotions and explain why some women aren't in the mood.
"Many women experience their highest estrogen and progesterone levels ever during pregnancy," Faught explained. "After giving birth, especially if a woman is breastfeeding, the hormones plummet to almost a menopausal level."
One of menopause's trademark side effects? A decreased sex drive.
Other factors are in play
Another factor that can explain why a woman might not want sex: actual pain. Vaginal tearing and lacerations that can occur during delivery take weeks or even months to heal, Faught said. And since breastfeeding suppresses hormone production, she added, the lack of estrogen in a woman's body during the postpartum period can lead to thinning vaginal tissue and inelasticity, dryness, burning and painful penetration.
Then there's the well-intentioned but burdensome messaging in much of the advice shared with women after childbirth that often implies keeping the spark alive and pleasing a partner is a woman's responsibility.
"These kinds of cultural expectations suggest that new mothers not only have to care for their baby, but they have to care for their partner as well," said Alexis Conason, a New York-based clinical psychologist who specializes in body image and relationship issues.
Feel free to ignore recommendations about scheduling sex or buying skimpy lingerie to spice things up. You can do that when you're ready. All those sexy #SundaysAreForLovers Instagram posts by new parent influencers and pictures chronicling how fast some women "bounce back" to normal make it seem like that's the goal when, in fact, it doesn't have to be. "Our culture puts a lot of demands on women," Conason said. But we can make mindful choices about what we believe and the behavior we demonstrate.
It's all about you
What do you want? Maybe it's intimacy without sex, such as cuddling or other physical touching sans penetration, or even just emotionally honest pillow talk. Maybe you want to figure out on your own what feels good before inviting a partner to share that with you.
"If something is uncomfortable and somebody else is doing it to you, it can produce anxiety," Faught explained. "However, if you're doing something to your body, you can stop or modify if it's uncomfortable. Once you feel more confident, you can ask your partner to provide that simulation for you."
The best way to move forward is to communicate with your partner about where you are mentally and physically. That can be hard—but it's the first step toward feeling heard and creating a roadmap for forging ahead. After all, Conason said, "if we can't talk about sex with the people we're having sex with, well, then where are we?"