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After growing a baby and giving birth, you've accomplished quite a lot, mama. And trying to heal while feeding and caring for your new baby is round-the-clock work. So finding your balance in your new role might not include having sex—even well after the 6-week "go-ahead" from your doctor or midwife. You might feel fine about this (after all, you have a lot to adjust to), but you might also be thinking, "Nope. Not gonna. Don't wanna... What's wrong with me? " *Sigh.*
There's nothing wrong with you, mama. Having a low sex drive for a period of time postpartum is a normal evolutionary adaptive response designed to ensure that you survive to continue to reproduce.
Here's why so many new moms experience low sex drive postpartum.
You're likely too tired to have sex, but also too hormonal to want it.
You're probably exhausted. Maybe you feel sore—and sex isn't pleasurable at the moment. Maybe you're worried about changes to your body or getting pregnant again. Or maybe you're just touched out and feel like the only thing you have control over is your body.
But underneath all of these perfectly legitimate reasons is a current of raging and waning hormones that have an even more powerful impact on your sex drive.
When you're pregnant, the levels of your reproductive hormones are at time 1000 times higher than when you are not pregnant. And once you give birth, those hormones come crashing down to menopausal levels. The low estrogen that results can cause uncomfortable vaginal dryness—especially if you are breastfeeding—and a loss of sex drive.
This is how evolution ensures that you "don't want it" while you are healing and investing your energy into keeping your new baby alive before you start to work on the next.
You're being fulfilled in other ways.
Oxytocin is the bonding hormone released when you hug, have sex and breastfeed. Before birth, touching your partner triggers the release of oxytocin that helps you feel good and bond to each other. But after giving birth, with all the snuggling and feeding, "the mother winds up getting her oxytocin from her kid," explains clinical sexologist, Dr. Kat Van Kirk. "This transfer of emotional energy is thought to decrease sexual desire and increase responsiveness to infant stimuli in postpartum women by activating the brain regions associated with reward."
Whether breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, the skin-to-skin contact between you and baby increases the release of oxytocin, causing you and baby to bond, ensuring that you will take care of them and they will survive.
The hormone prolactin also plays an important role in maternal behavior. Prolactin causes your breasts to grow during pregnancy and prepares them for the milk production starting after birth. This hormone helps you relax while you are nursing, but it also depresses your libido. This is biology once again making sure you remain focused on the biological investment you just made in your baby.
Your partner may be affected by low sex drive, too.
Though the research is still preliminary, elevated prolactin levels in new dads are thought to induce child-care behavior, just like in moms, while reducing testosterone levels after birth.
Studies have shown that the more dads interact with their baby, the lower their testosterone levels dip, decreasing libido and causing them to focus less on wanting to have sex and more on wanting to nurture. This serves to ensure that dads invest more energy in parental care than in making a new baby, while helping them relax and enjoy their newborn.
Breastfeeding can diminish libido.
Not wanting to have sex postpartum is perfectly normal, and in any case, it's temporary—especially if you're breastfeeding. In a study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers found a significant decrease in tiredness, an improvement in mood and an increase in sexual activity, feelings and frequency within four weeks of stopping breastfeeding, once hormones return to pre-pregnancy levels.
When to start having sex postpartum is up to you.
Even once you've been medically cleared to have sex, it might be a while before you feel like you want to have sex again, and it's completely OK to wait. However, when the time is right for you and your sexual desire has returned, you may still harbor some concerns about getting things going. Here are some tips to help you restart your sex life after baby:
- Carve out couple time. Make time to be alone to remember that you are still a couple, even after you've become parents.
- Be honest with each other. Talk about your physical changes, how it might feel to have sex or be intimate now, and anything else you might be worried about.
- Get closer. Look for other ways to express affection while you work up to having sex. Spend time just being close to each other, kissing and cuddling—without the pressure.
- Use lubrication. When you are ready, using lube can combat vaginal dryness and make sex more pleasurable.
- Get in touch with yourself, first. Rediscovering your body and what feels good to you alone is an important step in regaining intimacy with a partner postpartum. Check out the toys from our friends at Dame Products below for inspiration.
Bottom line: You are not alone if you lack the desire for sex postpartum. And like many other things that may be challenging about pregnancy and postpartum, this will pass. But for now, low sex drive is likely just evolution ensuring your reproductive success—protecting the enormous physical and emotional investment you have already made and ensuring the survival of you and your baby so that you can pass along your genes to future generations. Pretty powerful stuff.
Editor's note: Other medical conditions can contribute to your lack of desire. And it is important not to confuse lack of sexual desire with postpartum depression. So be alert for signs and symptoms, like severe mood swings, loss of appetite, overwhelming fatigue and lack of interest or joy for the things that are important to you. If you think you might have postpartum depression, contact your healthcare provider for prompt treatment and recovery. Painful sex also should be evaluated by a doctor, midwife and a pelvic floor physical therapist.
If you're hoping to rev things up, or just looking to take a little time with yourself, explore the vulva-approved options from Dame Products. As a women-owned sex toy company, they are on a mission to cultivate pleasure—and we're here for it. Motherly readers can save 15% on Dame Products with the code MOTHERLY.
Finally, a vibrator that can bend to your needs. Brilliantly shaped for targeted or broad stimulation, the five vibration patterns and five vibration speeds will ensure you hit just the right spot. Rechargeable and powerful-yet-compact, Pom is a great way to get in touch with your body—whether for solo or coupled time.
With pulses of air and a gentle seal, the Aer Suction Toy delivers the arousal of oral stimulation even if you aren't ready to share your body in that way yet—or want your partner's attention focused elsewhere. With multiple intensity levels and vibration patterns, your road map to the big O will be easy to follow.
By delivering dual sensations, the Fin Finger Vibrator is a great way to synchronize the pursuit of pleasure. Just the right size for all the right places, Fin won't get in the way of any positions. The unique shape and vibrations empower users to get the sensation they want during foreplay, sex or solo time.
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