Sex after the birth – what to do when you’re not ready 

Couple in bed

Sex might have been something you enjoyed with your partner before or during pregnancy, but hopping back into the saddle after you birth a baby isn’t always something new mums look forward to. But when sex is the last thing on your mind, and your partner wants to get things rolling, how do you let him know that you’re not interested without hurting his feelings?

This might not be an issue at first – most understanding partners are going to accept that you’re not up for sex so soon after the birth. But if a few weeks, or many months pass and intercourse is still not something you’re ready for, being kind to yourself and helping your partner to understand what’s going on for you is going to be important in keeping your relationship healthy and happy.

Not interested? You’re completely normal

The first thing to know is that there is nothing wrong with you if you want to avoid sex altogether in the weeks that follow having a baby.  You have been through a LOT and adjusting to your new role as a parent can take it out of you. Not only have you just experienced the enormity of giving birth, but you’re also likely to be completely exhausted and coping with crazy fluctuating hormones to boot. Who can blame you if having sex is a little way down on your list of priorities?

Evolution and libido – it’s a thing

According to Susie Tuckwell, Sydney-based sex and relationship therapist, it’s completely natural for a woman to experience low libido after having a baby, and hormones are part of the reason. “There’s a tremendous hormonal change after birth, as well as during breastfeeding, which is a natural contraceptive as well as a natural suppressant of the sex drive,” says Susie. This lowered libido period has an evolutionary explanation: not feeling like sex means we’re less likely to fall pregnant again too soon, which allows for ample spacing between babies, explains Susie.

Worry and stress can also interfere with women’s libido after birth – and if there’s any life event that could be described as stressful, it’s having a baby, especially if that baby has reflux, is difficult to settle or wakes often overnight.

For men, stress can have the opposite effect. “Generally speaking, stress for men tends to be a libido raiser,” says Susie. Again, this goes back to evolution, where men were faced with the pressure of finding food and fighting off predators but still needed to be ready to ‘spread their seeds’. This wasn’t the case for women, as falling pregnant while under stress would not be considered optimal for survival.

In modern times, all this means is that it’s normal for men and women to experience sexuality a lot differently after having a baby, which means that looking after the emotional side of the relationship is really important.

It’s all about the friendship side of your relationship

According to Susie, maintaining friendship and working as a team is key to staying close as a couple. “The best way to stay sexual with your partner after having a baby is to first of all work on being allies and friends. Working on teamwork, friendship and emotional intimacy will bring sexual intimacy and couple life back much faster,” says Susie. This means lots of talking and making time for connection, even if it’s just ten minutes over a cup of tea, which will give you the chance to talk about what’s going on for each of you sexually. Once your partner is back at work, do your best to stay in frequent contact with phone calls, text messages and photos describing your day, which will help you stay close and emotionally connected with each other.

Just as you should tell your partner how you’re feeling, it’s important to find out what he’s going through too. Having a baby is a momentous time for dads and the adjustment can be just as difficult for them. For example, he may miss the physical closeness you used to have together, or feel pushed aside while you and the baby bond. Getting this out in the open and talking things through will help the two of you stay emotionally close, and this is what will get you back to basics much quicker.

Physical closeness doesn’t have to be about sex

Until you’re ready for sex, there are other ways to be physically close with your partner that can still keep the intimacy alive between you, and go a long way in helping the two of you stay connected, emotionally healthy and in love. Holding hands on the couch while you watch TV, frequent heartfelt cuddles and plenty of kissing – “proper, grown-up kissing,” adds Susie – are all ways you can stay close without the suggestion or pressure of sex.

Not until you’re good and ready.

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