Losing that loving feeling after giving birth is as normal as colic and nappy rash. Here's how you can get your groove back.
For many new moms, beds are less for sex and more for conking into when you’re sleep deprived, or lying on exhausted while winding, feeding or settling your baby. Between recovery from childbirth, adjustment to a new child, lack of sleep, tons more chores and insecurity about your new post-preggy body, sex with your partner often falls away.
Just not in the mood
Nadine, 29, (not her real name) had a healthy sex life before and during her pregnancy, but when her baby was born, Nadine’s sex life waned.
“It was as if a wall came up between my husband and I. Our baby slept in our bed for the first six months, but even aside from the ‘geographical’ challenge, I was uninterested, too tired, and there were too many other things to focus on. I was also worrying about the fact that I was still carrying 10kg of baby weight.”
According to Johannesburg-based clinical sexologist Dr Elna McIntosh, a lack of interest in sex is common after childbirth and for the first few months afterward. “Most women experience a gradual return to pre-pregnancy levels of sexual desire, enjoyment and frequency within a year of giving birth, but every woman has her own timetable.”
Before considering how to get back on the lovemaking track, it’s necessary to identify the factors, aside from fatigue, that could be affecting your libido, sex life and relationship.
Read: Pregnant sex 101
Why things change
Remember that hormones are still readjusting after childbirth, which could decrease your libido, especially if you’re still breastfeeding.
Most women need at least six weeks to recover after childbirth before resuming intercourse, which is completely normal and which doctors recommend. This allows any episiotomy or Caesarean incisions to heal, stitches to dissolve or be removed, your uterus to shrink, and the cervix to close up.
The fear of becoming pregnant again during those early challenging days is also a libido zapper, as is the thought of possible pain during intercourse even a few months after childbirth. Hormonal changes can cause dryness, resulting in painful intercourse. And though your baby will never know what you’re up to in the bedroom, you might be anxious about doing it in close proximity.
Even though you might not be aware of it, breastfeeding is a very intimate process, which could actually result in you feeling less of a need for intimacy from your husband.
With all the effort and time it takes to look after a baby, you might not have any reserves left for your partner.
Insecurity about your body (stretch marks, extra weight, scarring) could hold you back from intimacy and being
touched or seen naked.
But what's normal?
For many couples, the absence of sex puts pressure on a relationship, in addition to the extra time, effort, finances and angst that go into looking after a new baby.
Each couple is different, and each couple has a barometer or acceptance level about the amount of sex that’s “normal” for them. Some couples could go for six months without intercourse and not have it affect their marriage, while others might take enormous strain after two abstinent months. Some need it once a week, some once a month.
Sex provides a stronger sense of connection between two people, increased confidence and security, and pleasure, and without sex, both partners often suffer. There could be more stress and less love between the two, which is not ideal when you ideally need a good partnership so that you can parent well.
Read: Bleeding after sex during pregnancy
When he wants sex before you do
This can and does happen and you need to aim for mutual understanding. Talk about what you’re experiencing! Tell your partner that you’re tired or sore, or insecure about your body – and it could be useful for him to speak about any issues of frustration or rejection.
According to Dr Elna, it is important to be understanding of your partner. “If he has needs that you feel you cannot meet at this point, be accepting of his use of masturbation, sex toys, erotic literature, magazines or movies. It may even be fun and helpful for you to enjoy some of these things with your partner – you never know what might put you in the mood.”
Dr Elna has also formulated a programme called VENIS (Very Erotic Non-Insertive Sex) for those not wanting full intercourse, but still wanting closeness and intimacy.
Some VENIS activities that you could do with your partner include watching pornography together, fantasising and sharing, hugging, hair brushing/playing, tickling (using feathers and fingers), massaging (with oil, water and fur), bubble bathing, body rubbing with clothes on or off, masturbation with your partner watching, and the use of sex toys.
Read: Sex during pregnancy
Make time for cuddling or kissing to re-establish physical connection.
While it's commonly perceived that your man will want sex before you, on some cases, he might not want to have sex. He could be experiencing fatigue, fear of hurting you, and a loss of libido.
“Just like at other stages in our lives, maintaining a satisfying sex life after having a baby takes effort,” says Elna. “You may wish to plan times to be sexual, bring a sense of play to it with games or toys, experiment with positions and techniques, or use non-genital ways such as massage.
Sometimes attempting to be sexual is a good way to put yourself in the mood. Start with your body and your head may very well follow. "The more you have sex, the more you will want."