A decrease in sexual desire after childbirth is common. The difficult period when a couple is first caring for a newborn baby can cause a reduction in sexual desire, or even an avoidance of sex for some time.
According to a "BJOG" Women's sexual health after childbirth study, 83 percent of participants had experienced sexual problems in the first three months after delivery.
The good news is that the same study also reported that 89 percent of respondents resumed sexual activity within six months after giving birth.
Even though it is likely that sexual desire will return after some time, it is important to understand the reasons for the difficulties that can occur soon after childbirth.
A lot of frustrations can be avoided if a couple knows what to expect. Many couples are so busy preparing for the birth itself that they have trouble seeing ahead. Having a strong, supportive relationship post-labor is important, as is having reasonable expectations about sex.
There are several reasons for a loss of sexual desire in the weeks -- or even months -- after childbirth. Here are some of them:
Sleep deprivation and the responsibility of taking care of a baby lead to fatigue and stress, which decrease libido.
The couple might also find themselves worrying about waking the baby while having sex or fearing they won't hear the baby if it wakes up.
As couples adjust to life with a newborn, much of a mother's time and energy is given to her newborn child, which could replace much of the time and energy normally spent on her husband.
A woman's body goes through changes during and after labor that make sex less pleasant (or even unpleasant).
A woman may experience breast engorgement, sore nipples and involuntary milk discharge. If she had an episiotomy (a surgical incision that enlarges the vaginal opening during labor) or a cesarean section, it is likely that she will feel pain in the incision area until it heals.
Women are often self-conscious of their bodies after childbirth. This can be caused by the physical changes already mentioned, along with weight gain, stretch marks or C-section scarring, among other things. Having a negative body image can cause women to avoid sex after childbirth.
A woman may also feel self-conscious after having her spouse present during labor. She may believe that after he has seen her in such an "unflattering" situation, he will no longer be attracted to her.
However, in my experience as a sex therapist and gynecologist, I have found that only a small percentage of men actually suffer a loss of sexual desire as a result of seeing their partner give birth.
Having sex in the first six weeks after delivery is generally not recommended. In this period, any stitches are still healing, and there will likely be bleeding in the vaginal area. But even if your caregiver tells you that you are physically ready to have sex, you should wait until you feelready.
Women who breastfeed experience hormonal changes: Estrogen levels decrease, and prolactin levels increase. These changes often lead to less vaginal lubrication. You can use water-based lubricating materials to make penetration easier and more pleasant once you are ready to have sex.
The most important thing is to take things slowly. It is natural for a woman to feel some pain the first few times. Men, take it easy; and women, listen to your body. Try to find the position that feels most comfortable. It is normal to need to stop and start again a few times. In some cases, it might be too painful the first time. This is completely normal, and you shouldn't get stressed if this happens. Reaching an orgasm may be difficult the first few times as well.
Some women report an unpleasant feeling during penetration as much as several months after childbirth — a feeling that the body is "not what it used to be."
It might be hard to believe at that point, but things will gradually return to be more "normal" after some time has passed. Time, patience and good communication will help most couples.
It is a myth that women who breastfeed cannot become pregnant. It is vital that you use a reliable contraceptive if you are not interested in becoming pregnant.
If sex is still painful after six months, it is important to consult your gynecologist. If you have vaginal bleeding after four weeks, or if you have vaginal discharge that smells unpleasant, see your doctor. If your libido remains low, consult your doctor rather than sweeping the problem under the rug.
The time period for resuming sex is different for every couple. If one spouse feels frustrated, however, it is a sign that it is time to seek help.
I have had patients come to me with this issue after five, or even 10, years. It is a shame, as the problem can usually be solved after medical consultation; sometimes a short course of therapy or counseling can do wonders, too.
Understanding these things, and being open and patient with each other after childbirth will be helpful to easing back into a healthy and enjoyable sex life.