Anyone who has ever had a child knows that this is very natural, “as old as time” and, frankly, the beautiful event is not a “simple” event.
Becoming a parent is truly life-changing. Giving birth is even more so. Because humans and their emotions are very complex, there are some situations that can make the “after” a bit less happy (or more stressful) than one would expect. One of these is sex after birth.
Life and sex after birth: what to expect
For many women who’ve just given birth, sex is the last thing on their minds. We get it. Maybe you are a new mother who shrieks at the thought of sexual intimacy right now, maybe you’re a pregnant woman who fears what might happen down the road. In any case, read on.
Hormones and sex drive
Let us say this loud and clear: it is normal to experience a temporary drop in libido and a decrease in sex drive after giving birth. Many women do not feel ready to have sex after birth, until weeks or months after. And that is ok. The reason for this is actually biological – yes, you got it, hormones.
After childbirth, new mothers experience a decrease in oestrogen, a hormone that is involved in libido, especially if they breastfeed. Mothers who breastfeed also experience an increase in prolactin, a hormone that stimulates milk production and can cause loss of libido.
Additionally, new mums’ brains will also be flooded with oxytocin, another hormone, that promotes mother-infant bonding. While oxytocin is also involved in sexual pleasure and possibly in libido, in the case of new mothers, studies suggest that oxytocin “flips” the priorities, meaning a mum will feel more inclined to snuggle with their baby than to have sex with their partner.
Hey, it sounds unfair, but it is really just biology. Sex after birth sometimes becomes a bit uninteresting for new mothers, but this will pass.
Self-image and self-esteem
Another reason that may cause new mums to be less interested in sex after birth is related to body changes and self-image. Which is also understandable.
It’s no news that pregnant women’s bodies change a lot during the 9 months of pregnancy. After birth, bodies will do their best to go back to “normal”, but it might take a while. Some bodies never go back to looking exactly like before pregnancy and birth, which is also completely normal.
Unfortunately, many women feel different and not very comfortable in their bodies after giving birth. And everyone knows that when people struggle with self-image and self-esteem, sex drive takes a hit.
So, it is normal for new mothers to feel averse to the idea of sex after birth for a period of time, while they adapt and get acquainted with the physical changes that occurred in their bodies.
Need to get to know your own body better? Demystifying Self-Pleasure: a guide to help you reconnect with your body.
It is important to be aware of this situation and to be patient with yourself if you see yourself feeling like this. Just do not let yourself feel pressured to lose “the baby weight”, to hide stretch marks, or whatever the absurd society standards impose on new mothers.
Mum’s bodies are beautiful. They show how strong these women are and the incredible journey these mums went through – creating a human, from scratch, inside their bodies is completely amazing if you think about it! Stop the spiral of body shaming and love yourself.
Sleep deprivation, breastfeeding and exhaustion
Do you know that common joke people love to tell new parents about never sleeping again? Well, those jokes are not as funny as one might think. New mothers have some rough days ahead in terms of sleeping after giving birth, especially if breastfeeding since new-borns normally need to be fed every two hours. Sleep deprivation can really mess with someone’s mood.
Apart from sleep deprivation, another factor that will most likely impact the mum’s interest in sex after birth is feeling “touched out”. This is what happens to many women who spend a lot of their day with their new-born babies
Breastfeeding can be exhausting and even painful sometimes and can contribute to the feeling of being “touched out” It is as if new mothers lose all body autonomy and control (or so they feel) since there is a tiny, defenceless human who literally relies on their bodies to live.
If you add maybe another small child to this image, a pet, and a dozen of friends and relatives who all want to hug and congratulate these mothers… you get an extremely sleep-deprived “touched out” mum.
In this case, some women almost feel repulsed by their partners touching them and of course, sex after birth is totally off the table. But don’t worry, this feeling goes away; it just takes a bit of time to get used to a new routine and to live with an infant.
Finally, we can never exclude the effects of sheer exhaustion on sex drive. We don’t really need to get into how the first months with a new-born can be absolutely exhausting – not sleeping, changing diapers and clothes, giving baths, breastfeeding, holding the baby, putting the baby to sleep, doing the necessary household chores that have just tripled, and the likes.
So, it is not very surprising that an exhausted woman will likely feel less inclined to have sex after birth. Just note that the fatigue is real but temporary, as the baby will gradually sleep longer and be calmer.
This is a worst-case scenario, and we can only hope no new mother has to ever go through this, but postpartum depression is real, and it happens to many mothers, around 15%.
The reasons for postpartum depression are still not completely clear but include physical, emotional, social and genetic factors. The symptoms include extreme sadness, crying episodes, high anxiety, low energy, irritability, and changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
Note that almost all new mothers feel some of these symptoms at some point in the very beginning, but if these become extreme and prolonged it might be something more serious like postpartum depression.
When to seek help
As we said, if a new mother is experiencing extreme symptoms, in the postpartum period, that last more than two weeks, there may be a need to see a medical professional.
One such symptom is low libido. If you feel your lack of sex drive has gone for too long or is affecting your life and relationship with your partner, you should seek medical help.
Myths on sex after birth
And as everything related to women’s intimacy, sex after birth is also kind of a taboo subject and is wrapped in many myths. These are some of them:
• There’s no biological reason for a woman to not have sex right after birth.
In fact, most doctors recommend to new mothers to abstain from penetrative sex for around six weeks after birth, some even eight. This is not a rule but is generally a good recommendation, particularly for mothers who had vaginal labours, since the vagina will still be recovering.
• Women can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding.
This is a long-known myth, that’s just that: a myth. Breastfeeding does impact ovulation and fertility, but it's not at all a guaranteed form of birth control.
• If women refuse sex after birth, they will be alienating their partners.
Body autonomy is a lovely thing and women do not owe sex to anyone. Partners need to be understanding of what new mothers are going through, physically, and psychologically.
Sex drive will return and only the woman knows when she is ready to have sex after birth. Plus, it is up to each couple to decide how often they want to have sex.
• Women should not be interested in sex after birth because their new priority should be the baby only.
Mothers or not, women are also sexual beings, and sex and intimacy are healthy for all humans. While it is understandable that a new mum isn’t interested in sex after birth, it is also totally valid if she is.
• Sex after birth will hurt.
This depends on the woman – it might be painful or not, but there is no way of anticipating it. Normally, doctors and nurses will offer some advice to new mothers regarding this, taking into consideration each particular case.
Remember that many women said that their sex lives with their partners greatly improved after childbirth. Having a child with someone is the biggest test of their love, friendship, and cooperation. It is only natural that their bond becomes stronger when there is a little one in the picture.
Take good care. Of your vagina. Of yourself. Of our planet.