If you are a mother, you might be thinking that it often feels more like it’s either sex or the first year postpartum … not both. For so many women, it is a veritable challenge to meld these experiences into one life. In my practice, I regularly work with postpartum women who describe their sex lives in the past tense:
- “It’s so hard to feel sexy when you have children hanging on you all day.”
- “I cannot relax at night because I’m always listening for the baby.”
- “My body just isn’t the same as it used to be. And it’s not just the baby fat that I can’t get rid of – my orgasms are harder to reach since I gave birth.”
Most women do not want to sacrifice their sex lives to motherhood. Women long for intimate connection with their partners. They want to enjoy their bodies, and they want to feel pleasure. But so many women find that all of this becomes extraordinarily challenging as their families grow – especially the first year after giving birth. Her pelvis may need time to recover from the birthing experience. If she’s breastfeeding, she probably finds lubricating difficult. Lack of sleep has a huge impact on a woman’s desire for intimacy. And her body is probably uninterested in sex because at a basic, evolutionary level, it is too soon to risk having another baby. In addition, women sometimes feel uncertain as to how to combine the roles of mother and lover.
What’s a woman to do?
First, keep in mind that you will need time to adjust to the changes in your body and in your life. Changes in your sexual experience are inevitable as you age, but they don’t have to be harmful to your relationship. It’s normal to struggle during times of transition, but keeping an open mind and heart will help transport you through any difficulties that present themselves. And the good news is that education and a little planning can go a long way in merging mothering and sexuality.
Here are some steps to get you started:
• Explain to your partner what feels tricky about making love now – emotionally and physically. Choose a quiet time when you can have a relaxed, loving, uninterrupted conversation. If there is something your partner can do to support you, let him know this.
• Learn to say “no” lovingly. Rather than roll your eyes or ignore your partner when he wants to make love and you don’t, respond to him respectfully and with an open heart. Instead of simply refusing him, suggest an alternative time for love-making that would work better for you.
• Along with your partner, make a list of alternatives to penetrative intercourse. Identify activities that might be considered “sexual compromises” – that is, sex play that offers sexual pleasure and connection but that doesn’t necessarily involve penile-vaginal penetration. For example, sensual massage, mutual masturbation, or reading erotica might be gratifying for both of you.
• Just because you aren’t being sexual doesn’t mean that you must forfeit your sensuality. Find the time for massages, hot baths, dancing, yoga, or anything that helps you connect with and enjoy your body. Staying tuned into your body will be a source of pleasure, but also help pave the way for a more active sex life when you feel ready.
• Maintain physical contact with your partner. There are so many ways to connect intimately outside of intercourse. Hugs, kisses, holding, and caresses can go a long way in maintaining your bond with your man. These behaviors are soothing and tender, and they reinforce your love.
• Between 10 to 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression. If your mood is low, seek help. Depression will make all aspects of your life more challenging, including your sexual connection.
• Remember there is no “perfect mother.” Don’t try and do it all. Breathe, and stay present in your body. Rather than focusing on the past or the future, do your best to stay focused on the moment. Focusing your thinking in this way will help you let go of stress and ultimately leave you more open and interested in making love again.
What was your postpartum year like? Share your story – we’d love to know!
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