So you've had a baby.
What happened to sex?
By Jan Roberts
If you've just had a baby you might be wondering whatever happened to sex. Rest assured that many women are relatively sexually uninterested after childbirth and during breastfeeding. In fact it's quite normal and is Nature's way of spacing out your children in the most effective way. Studies show a wide variation of sexual behaviour among women after childbirth. Every woman is different and no response is 'normal' or better than another.
In fact, in some cultures, post-childbirth sexual abstinence is compulsory, and it is considered 'bad form' for children to be born very close together. For example, in Sierra Leone sexual abstinence lasts for a full year, in some Pacific Island cultures it lasts for two. Although some women experience a highly charged vitality, even in the first few days after birth, and find their sexual energy also heightened, there are many reasons why you may be less sexually motivated than before.
The factors involved include hormonal changes, your new role as a mother (and your joint role as parents), your levels of energy (or fatigue), your emotional state, physical problems resulting from childbirth, your new body image, your possible fear of another pregnancy and your partner's attitude to it all. As well as letting your body and libido recover at their own rate it's important to understand why you feel the way you do.
While you're breastfeeding, raised levels of prolactin are produced by your pituitary gland. This is the hormone that controls lactation and also has a sedative effect. Another result of increased prolactin production is that ovulation is delayed. In the absence of an ovulation cycle, normal ovarian hormones such as oestrogen won't peak once a month to trigger the release of an egg, and this affects your sexual motivation which is highest at ovulation.
Oxytocin, the hormone responsible for the 'let-down' reflex, is the same hormone that is released at orgasm, and its release during breastfeeding may make you less likely to look for sexual satisfaction with your partner. Part of the delight you take in your new baby will be sensual. The skin-to-skin contact, so vital for him, is also exquisitely pleasurable for you. This, coupled with the intense feelings of love you feel, will probably mean that you are emotionally and physically focused on your child, and on your breastfeeding relationship.
It's a common joke that birth control in the postnatal period is mostly achieved through 'baby interruptus'. The best way round this is to keep your baby in (or at least near) the bed with you. In this way he can still sense that you are close, and will stay peacefully asleep. Even if he does wake, you can tend to him without too much disturbance. This arrangement also overcomes the problem of sleep deprivation. A breastfed baby will want to feed more often, so, in order that this doesn't affect your sleep too adversely, keep your baby in the family bed, or at least within reach, so you can satisfy his hunger without getting out of bed.
However well you manage your night time feeds, you may still find at the end of the day, or at any time when you can relax, that all you want to do is sleep, and that sex is the furthest thing from your mind. Obviously the best plan is to sleep when your baby does, but this may not leave much room (or desire) for sexual activity. If you and your partner feel like ships passing in the night, make 'appointments' to at least meet and talk, and arrange to set aside special times to get together. These times may not necessarily lead to sex, but they will set the right intent for a time when libido is restored and you feel ready to resume regular sexual activity.