Have you noticed a loss of libido after baby was born? Is lack of sex inevitable once you’re a mother? If you are one of thousands of women across the country who feels their mojo just isn’t what it used to be ‘pre-kids’, you’ll love this simple, sensible advice from Baby Hints & Tips resident GP, Melissa Homewood.
Loss of libido and/or lack of sexual enjoyment after having a baby is really common. Unfortunately, it is an issue that often goes unspoken about. They say that babies are the best form of contraception and although we may laugh about this, there’s certainly a ring of truth to it! (Note: I am not advocating this as a sole form of contraception!)
There are usually multiple reasons for your sex life taking a tumble after you have a baby. In a lot of cases most of them are normal and there’s not a lot you can do apart from giving it time, taking the pressure off yourself and (most importantly) communicating with your partner. Sometimes correctable medical factors are at play which can be addressed so it is always worth talking to your doctor or midwife about what you are experiencing.
Don’t feel embarrassed to do this because 1. It’s a common problem. 2. It’s probably happened to us personally. 3. It’s our job and lastly – 4. We’ve probably heard a whole lot worse before!
Following childbirth a range of physical, emotional and hormonal changes occur that can affect a woman’s libido and potentially relationship. Most women only experience a slow return to pre-pregnancy sex in the first year. In one study over 80% of women reported problems with sex in the first three months and about 50% in the first year. Most of those didn’t discuss this with anyone. It was more commonly a problem in breastfeeding women (although this is not a reason to stop breastfeeding).
Below are some common causes for affected libido:
• Vaginal dryness – due to lower oestrogen levels (especially if breastfeeding), making sex uncomfortable or even painful
• Trauma from delivery – scar tissue, infection, wounds that haven’t healed properly, stitches that haven’t dissolved as they should
• Pelvic floor weakness or tightness
• Fatigue – commonly due to lack of sleep, your body recovering, the demands of breastfeeding and looking after a new baby (or an active toddler). Other possible causes may include anaemia/iron deficiency or thyroid dysfunction so again, seeing your doctor to discuss this is worthwhile as some of these problems can be corrected relatively easily.
Emotional and interpersonal reasons
• Postnatal depression is common and affects about 15% of Australian women(2). It is not an uncommon cause of loss of libido and fatigue. This is an important diagnosis to make so that you can seek appropriate help to reduce your symptoms. A common tool used to assess risk of postnatal depression is the Edinburg Postal Natal Depression score. If you are worried you could be suffering from depression seeing your GP is a good first step.
• Relationship issues – having a baby is one of the most stressful events in a relationship – no matter how ready you thought you were. If your relationship is strained and there is tension, it often follows (particularly for women) that your sexual desire will reduce. This can then set up a cycle of lack of intimacy/resentment & tension/further lack of desire & intimacy and so on…
• Body insecurity – stretch marks, engorged breasts, leaking nipples, weakened pelvic floor, loose skin on the stomach can seriously lower our self-esteem and in return can affect libido. This is where women need to go a bit easy on themselves and remember what their bodies just produced (and remember that those women who manage to erase all signs of having had a baby very quickly are most certainly in the minority).
Hormonal changes and breastfeeding
Your hormone levels undergo a big change after childbirth and particularly if you are breastfeeding, low oestrogen levels can cause vaginal dryness and therefore pain during intercourse. One study has shown that upon cessation of breast-feeding women experience a reduction in fatigue, improvement in mood and increase in sexual activity after stopping breastfeeding(3). This is not to suggest that stopping breast-feeding is the answer, but more to reassure us (and our partners) that it is normal and not permanent.
…And the practical issues
• Time. When there is some, usually sleep (or a coffee, or a shower, or using the toilet by yourself) is higher on your list of priorities. You do need to look after yourself too. If you are lucky enough to have family or friends close who can take baby out for a walk/cuddle that can be a godsend and give you time to spend together – even if it is just chatting, a cuddle on the couch for starters. Just spending time together with some physical contact will be good for your relationship.
• Coitus interruptus….so, you finally got there but someone decides to wake up screaming. A mood killer if ever there was one! No solutions here… all you can do is have a good laugh! (That’s probably good for your relationship too!)
Tips…No magical cures here but some pretty common sense ideas…
1. Talk to your partner. Communication is key because a healthy relationship is much more conducive to regaining a lost libido when everything else settles down. As you could imagine, lack of physical intimacy even if initially for other reasons could start to create some distance or even resentment so talking about it and trying to make time for each other is important.
2. Be intimate in other ways – kiss/cuddle/hold hands, without putting pressure on yourselves to take it any further every time. Keep the romance up even if it doesn’t always lead to anything more. If you take the pressure off, with time it probably will.
3. Make time for each other – date nights (even if at home date nights), baby-sitters or relatives to look after your baby to give you some uninterrupted quality time
4. Pelvic floor exercises are important for a number of reasons (both now & later in life), but if you are feeling not a lot down there, this will help. There are some great physios who specialize in this area
5. Lubricants to help combat vaginal dryness. Water based are usually best.
6. Try different positions to find what is most comfortable for you.
7. Consider some new lingerie (that you can leave on particularly if tender, leaking breasts are an issue)
8. Sleep when baby sleeps during the day so that you are not quite as absolutely exhausted at the end of the day. Give permission for yourself to do this (and if it helps with your libido you will find your partner may not mind a messy house so much)
9. Gentle exercise – take baby out for a walk in the pram. As well as the exercise which can help with weight loss and general fitness, it gets you out of the house & some “alone” time as well
10. For the partners out there – compliments!!! Make your partner feel great about herself!
11. See your GP if you are concerned about post natal depression (symptoms like crying all the time, feeling low and nothing making you happy)
12. If you are experiencing pain, see your GP for an examination to check that any wounds have healed properly/exclude infection.
13. If you feel your levels of fatigue are beyond what they should be, or just don’t know, again see your GP to discuss whether it is worth checking some blood tests to rule out medical causes
14. Most importantly if underlying medical causes have been ruled out or corrected, be kind to yourself and give yourself time. Realise that it is within normal and you are not the only one! Talking about it to a friend/GP/midwife can take a weight off and reassure you of all of this.
About Melissa Homewood: I’m a GP working on the Sunshine Coast with an interest in paediatrics and women’s health. I have just returned to work after 6 months maternity leave looking after my beautiful little boy – who I have realised is much harder work than my paid job! You can see all of Melissa’s article here.
1. Barrett G, Pendry E, Peacock J, Victor C, Thakar R, Manyonda I. Women’s sexual health after childbirth. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2000; 107(2): 186-195)
3.Forster C, Abraham S, Taylor A, Llewellyn-Jones D. Psychological and sexual changes after the cessation of breast-feeding. Obstetrics and Gynecology 1994; 84(5): 872-876