For many new parents, sex may feel like a distant memory. While a postpartum dry spell is very often the result of lack of time and energy, many new moms find that even the desire to have sex has completely vanished... and they're not too happy about it. In other words, it's common to ask how to get your libido back after baby. In fact, asking questions is arguably step one.
Romper spoke with Dr. Jessica McCleese, licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist, about this common postpartum issue and what new moms can do about it.
The first thing you should know is that you're not alone and there's nothing "wrong" with you. "It's extremely common," Dr. McCleese says. "In fact, having a decrease in your sex drive after giving birth is pretty much the norm for a while." Why? Well, it turns out that this issue isn't just one issue.
Dr. McCleese first points to physical components, such as significantly decreased progesterone and increased estrogen — both of which are perfectly normal and expected in postpartum bodies — and other factors related to hormones that haven't quite stabilized yet. Hormones can also be blamed for decreased vaginal lubrication, which may or may not have an effect on your libido (but it's certainly not helping matters). And if you're breastfeeding, well, that's only going to exacerbate that particular problem.
Throw in potential birth injuries (even an injury-free birth is going to leave you feeling pretty banged up for a while), the sheer exhaustion of new parenthood, and, honestly, physical components alone can leave you down for the count for while. But never underestimate the power of the mind. "The body and brain cannot be separated from one another," McCleese says. "Problems in one area can cause problems in the other."
So what are some of those psychological issues that might be sabotaging us in the sack? Well, for starters, code-switching from "I need to take care of this tiny helpless human" to "bow-chicka-bow-wow" (I'm so sorry, I'm 12, clearly) isn't exactly easy. "Psychologically speaking, it's really difficult to step outside of 'mom brain' and into "sexy hot lover" brain," Dr. McCleese tells Romper.
Instead of saying, 'We need to talk,' tell your partner that you've been thinking about ways to improve your relationship and your sex life and ask if they are open to talking about it.
All this can culminate into finding that our desire has sort of fallen by the wayside. McCleese says going for weeks without thinking about sex, even if you're usually a couple-times-a-week kinda gal, is very normal. If, however, you find yourself dreading sex and desperately avoiding it, that's a bit different.
"If you are experiencing an aversion to sex, I'd encourage you to seek help from a sex therapist that can help you get your intimacy back on track," advises McCleese.
But even for new moms with very ordinary, run-of-the-mill issues with decreased (or non-existent) libido, getting your groove back will likely take time and concerted effort. "After baby, you'll probably find that you need to be more intentional about thinking of sex and how you want to connect with your partner," McCleese says. So if you find your issue is lack of sex drive, that means broaching the subject in the first place. It can be uncomfortable, but you can set yourself up for success.
"Set aside time to talk when you'll both feel as rested as possible," McCleese suggests, and ensure as few distractions as possible. How you frame the discussion matters, too. "Instead of saying, 'We need to talk,' tell your partner that you've been thinking about ways to improve your relationship and your sex life and ask if they are open to talking about it." McCleese advises keeping the tone encouraging and hopeful rather than dire and confrontational. "Complaints are much better received when they are handled with care and surrounded by positive statements," she says.
In addition to openly communicating your needs — both the bedroom needs and when you literally need your partner to handle that 3 a.m. feeding session — McCleese advises that you're making sure to get time together as a couple.
Ask your partner to help you desire sex again. Let this be a time to enjoy learning each other's bodies, post-baby.
I know what you're thinking: I've heard this and it's easier said than done. McCleese gets it, and has a few options with "new parent" limitations in mind, such as sneaking in some cuddling while the baby sleeps, flirty texts, or even going out with your baby (maybe while they're sleeping in their portable car seat?) "It will feel different to go out to eat with your baby than it did before having children," she says, "but you can still have connecting conversation even with the little one out with you."
And let us not forget the importance of something McCleese calls "sneak away moments." Remembering to make time for a quick kiss, compliment, or even a simple hand on the lower back. These tiny gestures can communicate your enduring connection, and show your partner that even if you haven't been able to be intimate in the bedroom you're still thinking of them. "These moments may be short," McCleese says, "but they will sustain you while you have less time for one another."
The early days of parenthood can be wonderful, but they can also be trying. And, unfortunately, libido often suffers the consequences of all those challenges. But with time, intention, your partner, and perhaps professional help, it can get better.
"Understand that sex starts in the brain," Dr. McCleese tells Romper. " ... Take some time each day to think about connecting sexually .... Ask your partner to help you desire sex again. Let this be a time to enjoy learning each other's bodies, post-baby."