Grab a cuppa dads, this is going to be a long article.
This topic needs to be broken out in the open, because it’s a huge issue in the postnatal period for both women and men.
How you handle the issue of sex after childbirth can either do irreparable damage to your relationship or it can make it stronger than ever been before. The choice is up to you.
All it takes is your willingness to understand what is really going on for your partner, then demonstrating that understanding by converting it into words and actions.
Knowing is knowing; doing is understanding. So on that note willing men, let's go…
Firstly: Know That It’s Highly Likely Not About You, Dad…
Its no secret… after having a baby, the frequency at which couples have sex usually takes a dive. The reasons for this are many and varied. Every woman — as well as her birth and parenting experience — is unique. As are the reasons for her non-existent libido after she’s had a baby.
Several of the below reasons may apply to your partner, but rest assured, its highly likely nothing at all to do with her losing love or attraction towards you. Nor will it last forever. You don’t need to go nuts at the gym and get buffed, wear your best aftershave or buy a spiffy new wardrobe at an attempt to get more sex. These things are expensive, time consuming (especially when she needs your time most of all) and it probably wont make one iota of difference in her libido. This is because it’s not what is causing her sex drive to bottom out in the first place.
Dad, I really feel for you! Your partner probably does too. Despite what you may think at times, new mothers are not trying to make their partners feel miserable by not giving them the sex that they (and most likely, we) miss. It's really important not to get angry at her or blame her, because its not her fault that she feels this way. Remember this great quote from Elly Taylor, author of the brilliant book Becoming Us: “Resentment is a contraceptive, but gratefulness is a great aphrodisiac.”
After reading this article, talk with your partner and find out if any of these issues are affecting her. Then together, you can work out a solution for you both. Communication is crucial. Assumptions and grudges can be huge resentment builders on both sides.
She's just had a baby. So you’re going to get frustrated really quickly if you're looking for a quick fix, or if you think that just one attempt at these remedies will be sufficient. You will need to do these things on a regular basis and be patient if you want things to improve.
It's easy to get stuck in a trap of thinking that your life situation is horrible and is never going to end, but remember that everything in life is temporary. Nothing is permanent. If you keep focusing on how awful it is and believe its never going to end, it could cost you your relationship (and therefore money and many other things).
It’s important to understand that women and men are wired differently. While women may have unique personalities, they are wired for similar needs – especially during pregnancy, birth and in the postnatal period. Therefore, another relationship would likely present the very same problems. Thinking that another woman would be any different and give you all the sex you want, all the time, is just folly.
Losing yourself in how ‘unfair’ it is for you can be more costly than you think, when on the other hand, understanding and mastering this situation can be very rewarding, even future proofing your relationship. This postnatal period can be a very testing time – studies show it can be a time of conflict and break-ups. There is no need for her low libido to become an issue worth losing your relationship over, nor your beautiful baby living in a broken home. This is a time of great opportunity, for you to show your partner how much she means to you, by supporting, understanding and loving – and she will never forget it.
Yes, it takes two to work out relationship issues, but you're here seeking help — so I am talking to you, dad. After reading this article, you then need to go back to her and work out a way forward.
Why She May Not Want Sex #1: She’s Knackered
According to a poll in the BellyBelly forums, the most significant reason why mothers feel disinterested in sex is a lack of sleep. Almost half of the women who responded said more sleep would make them feel like more sex.
Science backs them up too. A recent study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that for each additional hour of sleep a woman has, it increased the likelihood of her having sex by 14%. They also found women with longer average sleep duration reported better genital arousal than women with shorter average sleep length.
The women in the study weren't sleep deprived new mothers, so you can only imagine how much more significant the results would have been if the women in the study were new mothers. Either way, now we have proof that insufficient sleep can result in decreased sexual desire and arousal.
Being a new mother is physically and emotionally draining on so many levels. She may have low iron from the birth, she's likely waking a great deal during the night and if you have other children, she's probably chasing them around all day too. That's not without trying to keep the house clean and meeting other obligations she may have — for example, working or studying from home.
People often suggest, ‘well just sleep when the baby sleeps!’ but going by that logic, should she clean when the baby cleans too? It just doesn’t work that way. When a mother gets that small window of baby sleep freedom, she often ends up putting herself and her needs last, and the to-do list first. A day with a baby can feel very unproductive, especially when there's nothing to show for the hours of work that has been done.
“I'm so exhausted that I feel emotionally numb. I want to feel turned on, I want to feel sexual, but there is just nothingness — which is depressing. Without enough sleep — let alone me time — my cup is empty and I just can't function. My basic needs as a woman and human being need to be met to be able to give more. Of course I want to make my partner feel desired. But when you function on autopilot, you do what you can just to make it through the day… then fall in a heap at night.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP: You need to help her get more sleep in any way you can. If she has no family or friends who can help out on a regular basis, you might like to hire a post-natal doula or get some other paid home help with your baby. If you have a spare room, you may like to consider a live-in nanny (au pair). This is a great option — you simply negotiate a weekly allowance with the nanny, which is reduced due to accommodation, food and other expenses. You can find experienced au pairs on many websites — often they are travelers taking working holidays. It works out cheaper than childcare, and it's in your home, so mum doesn’t need to be away from baby.
If money is an issue, then you’re it dad. Depending on how old your baby is, you could take bub out for a walk for an hour, or out to visit your parents at home if they are closeby, or just occupy baby in between feeds, out of the earshot of mum. On the weekends, offer to be the first one to jump out of bed with baby and do the first shift so mum can sleep in. Or a great idea which most mothers would love is extra help with housework. I’ve heard so many mums say that the best foreplay for them is seeing their partner (happily!) doing the dishes!
Its always hard at first when babies are little, but it will get easier. Parenting is a joint affair – when you’re home with mum, remember you’re a dad, not a babysitter. You both need to share taking care of bub, because her day job is the baby, yours is work. When you’re together, be a team, and support her where you can so she has energy for other things you’d like to be doing… hint, hint.
Why She May Not Want Sex #2: She’s Had Someone On Her All Day
No, I am not talking about the milkman! This is one of the next biggest issues mothers face.
Don’t take it personally, dad, but after having a bub or toddler all over her all day, the last thing she may want is someone on her all night! Personal space can be huge factor for some mothers. They may feel like everyone wants a piece of their body when they have none for themselves. These women especially need more me time.
Some mothers describe it as feeling used, invaded and even violated. Yes, these are strong words, but remember, once when humans lived in communities, raising children involved the whole village. Everyone shared and helped out with responsibilities. New mothers have 40 days ‘laying in’ in some cultures, where mum is nurtured, cooked for and taken care of, while she gets her strength back from the birth. For many mothers these days, she's alone for most of the day, even isolated. Its a huge problem going against what mothers need to thrive, dad. Its no wonder rates of post natal depression are so high.
Babies and young children love to be attached to their mothers, which is normal, healthy behaviour – they feel safe and this builds their self esteem, confidence and independence when this happens. However for mum, being clung to all day with no extra hands to take the load can result in sensory overload.
They can feel claustrophobic and wanting to repel anyone in their space. It's like when ten people talk to you all at once and don’t stop. You just want to block your ears and shut it all out because it eventually becomes overwhelming – no matter who the people are and how much you love them, your senses are overload.
One BellyBelly member says: “I’m very much in the over-touched boat, and my husband touches me in a horny way all day. It drives me batty and has the opposite effect that he wants. It puts me off.”
Another BellyBelly member says: “Between co-sleeping, breastfeeding, being a pillow, a cuddle bear, and everything else, I crave that time where no one touches me. After a week of the girls been more needy than normal I honestly feel like I have been violated. And then by the time my husband is making his moves on me, I cringe because its another invasion of my privacy.”
Some mothers actually do want to be touched, but its the type of touching that counts:
“I want touch, hugs etc, but I can do without the constant bum or boob grabbing, or the feeling that every hug must lead somewhere.”
Some women experience traumatic births and as a result, may not want to be touched. If this is the case for your partner, it's important that she seeks help to work through her birth trauma. Professional birth de-briefers do fabulous work as well as counsellors who specialise in this field.
HOW YOU CAN HELP: Find ways to take the baby off her hands whenever you can. Play with the baby while she has a break or cooks dinner or has a shower. Talk to her about scheduling regular dad and baby time each week. Alternately getting some help from friends, family or paid help during the day can help. Reclaiming some of her personal space by having regular baby-free time will make a massive difference to her – and your relationship. Some mothers may want to be close to their baby, some may want to get out the house, even just to do some shopping – talk about what she’d like most of all.
Why She May Not Want Sex #3: She’s Suffering From Depression
If your partner is suffering from depression, this can affect her mood, energy and sex drive. Unfortunately, post natal depression does affect many women, so if your partner is suffering from depression or you suspect she may be, it might be time to get some professional help and advice. Check out our article for men: Post Natal Depression and Your Partner.
Why She May Not Want Sex #4: She’s Afraid of Painful Sex
Unfortunately, some births don’t work out as we hoped. Childbirth can leave women in physical pain or with damage to the most delicate, feminine parts of their bodies. Many weeks or even months may pass, with her being fearful of stirring up any damage. Let alone worrying about how it all looks after the birth! These fears alone can be enough to shut up shop. This can become a psychological issue, because when she finally decides to have sex for the first time, she may be so worked up that it does cause pain.
One new mother says: “The idea of us having sex after the birth of our first child absolutely terrified me. I was more nervous than I was for my first time. The actual act wasn't too bad — it didn't hurt, but for me it was the emotional side of sex that had me worried… and the fear that it would hurt.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP: If she’s had any damage or repair work after the birth, its a good idea to get the midwife or doctor’s advice on when to approach sex, just to be sure. Other than that, you need to be patient while she recovers physically and emotionally. Let her know that you’re supporting her and will be ready when she’s ready.
If you are finding it difficult to cope with, keep the lines of communication open with her, and tell her that you’re having problems so you can work out a solution together. Sex doesn’t always have to be penetrative or vaginal, so find ways to nurture and love each other without that part.
Touch and skin to skin contact is so important, so find a way to do that as best you can. When you agree to resume sex, be sure to use plenty of lube in case she is tender or nervous, and keep talking. You may like to suggest seeing a sex therapist if the issue has become psychological.
Why She May Not Want Sex #5: She May Have Dyspareunia (Pain During Intercourse)
It may surprise you that its not just vaginal birth which can result in painful intercourse. A study on ‘A comparison of urinary and sexual outcomes in women experiencing vaginal and caesarean births’ (Klein MC, Kaczorowski J, Firoz T, Hubinette M, Jorgensen S, Gauthier R.) found the following results:
“Overall, both primiparous (first baby) and multiparous (subsequent babies) women who had intact perineums after vaginal birth had less dyspareunia (pain during intercourse) than those undergoing caesarean section. Vaginal birth 26.2% compared to caesarean section 40.7%.”
A mother says: “I had a caesarean for my first and the pain from sex was unbearable for six months. The second birth was an instrumental vaginal birth with a nasty episiotomy on my unstretched perineum (ouch!) and sex was uncomfortable for about 4 months.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP: As per the above point, time and patience is key with this one. Seek help from a therapist if its causing relationship issues. But especially where pain is involved, pushing your partner for sex is only going to leave you feeling more rejected, when thats not what she wants for you to feel. She needs your understanding and support.
Why She May Not Want Sex #6: She’s Breastfeeding
What the heck does breastfeeding have to do with sex?! As disappointed as you might be hearing this, but: mother nature is very, very clever. After a baby is born, she makes sure everything is geared towards baby’s survival. Hormones are working beautifully to make sure milk is feeding your baby – as well as preventing a pregnancy too soon. However as wonderful as this sounds, these hormones are not pro-libido.
Yes, there is a biologically normal, justified reason why her libido is on vacation, and just for fun, this is why she may also be experiencing vaginal dryness. Vaginal dryness can make sex uncomfortable, painful and can even do some damage. You can find out more information about this in our article on breastfeeding and libido.
Please do not ask your partner to give up breastfeeding for the sake of your sex life! Her libido will return when her hormones build up to levels high enough to start ovulating and menstruating again, which is when it will likely be more like normal.
It is so important that a breastfeeding relationship is supported and nurtured. It's laying the foundations for your baby’s health for the rest of his or her life, protecting baby from illness, infection and contains many wonderful ingredients for health. See an impressive list of what's in breastmilk and what's in formula.
It can be really hard for a woman when she cant ever seem to feel turned on or horny. It's like a switch flicked off – as much as she may want to, it just doesn’t happen. Some mums say, “I want to want to!”
We want to enjoy sex like we used to, feeling all yummy, pleasured up and turned on. It is a concern shared by both men and women.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Firstly, if you do have sex, be sure to use lots of lube. Dry sex, even if just a little bit lubricated, can be irritating or painful. Show concern for her by taking initiative and using it on her, telling her if she needs more to let you know. Secondly, some mothers say that sex after a baby is a bit like going to the gym – when you get motivated enough to get there, you are glad that you did.
I am not saying you need to convince her, push her or force her – absolutely not on. But being kind and attentive, putting her first and doing little things for her that she likes, can go a long way here. If you can spark a little something then you may find she is receptive. Remember, women take a great deal more time to warm up than a man, with or without a baby.
A man can be ready and up for it in two minutes flat – on average, a woman needs 20 minutes. So take your time with her, focus on giving her pleasure, reminding her how good it feels, starting with everywhere apart from her vagina and work your way in.
Why She May Not Want Sex #7: Low Self Esteem
After a mother has had a baby, she may already be concious that she’s put on weight, and on top of that, her shape has changed. That beautiful round belly that everyone thought was adorable has transformed into what she may see as saggy, squishy, jelly belly.
A mother's post-baby shape isn’t one that rates highly in society, nowhere near as much as it should. Everywhere she turns, she may see images of something she is not and may find it hard to understand how she could look sexy or beautiful to you. When a mother is anxious or stressed about her appearance (which is extremely common in post-natal mothers), the last thing she tends to be able to do is feel like a sex kitten and ravish you (or be ravished) in the bedroom. She may feel ashamed and worried about what you’re thinking of her body.
One BellyBelly member says: “I feel so unsexy after having a baby. I’m all stretched and saggy, I’m bigger, I’m tired so hair and makeup is minimal if done at all. PJs and trackies are the norm. It makes a huge difference when hubby makes me feel sexy. When he kisses me in “that way”, when he touches me as he passes. If I feel like he thinks I’m sexy I start to feel it myself.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Remind your partner how much you love her and how beautiful she is. Let her know (in a non-horny way) that you love and adore her. When she feels your genuine loving comments, she will likely open up a great deal more. If you make comments like, ‘so when are you getting back to the gym’ or, ‘are you sure you should be eating that?’, she’s going to think her appearance is an issue for you. It took months to put on the weight of pregnancy, she needs months to slowly get back into things.
Give her massages and other non-sexual acts where you are enjoying other parts of her body. Maybe tell her what you love about that part of her as you go along. Even if it's not perfect, who cares, I am sure you can find many things that are beautiful about your partner. Show her that you’re looking beyond external appearances.
Other things can effect a mother’s self esteem include depression, isolation, loneliness – so if this may be the case for your partner, you might like to suggest some things to help her connect with others, get help and so on.
Why She May Not Want Sex #8: Are You A Car Thief?
You know, gone in 60 seconds?! Well, it might not be 60 seconds, but you get my drift.
Say she does feel like having sex, and you've been gagging at the opportunity. Then when it happens, its all over in a flash, leaving your partner feeling used and her own needs unimportant. She may feel like it's another demand on her body, giving to others without it being returned.
What incentive are you giving her to want more sex with you? Some mothers say that combined with the low or no libido from breastfeeding, she couldn’t be bothered having sex. When the pleasure is all yours, don’t expect her to be a repeat customer too soon.
After giving all day, she needs someone giving to her too. Did you take time to kiss her and hold her? Stroke her hair? Did you touch all of her body, not just her hot spots that you want to enjoy – her boobs and vagina? How about a massage first or something else she likes?
A resource I recommend to my male friends (and their partners), is the work of Jason Julius. Now I apologise because the landing page of his website here uses strong language, but what he teaches is effective and not pick-up artist style. It is not pornographic in nature, nor does it contain any nudity. But it offers some very effective tips for giving women great orgasms, as well as a guided meditation to relax her.
If sex is more enjoyable for her and you know how to press all her buttons, she may want it more often. When she has an orgasm, she gets a shot of oxytocin – the hormone of love and bonding. Orgasms are beneficial for physical and mental health in both men and women.
HOW CAN YOU HELP: Focus on her more. Make sex about her, not you. And trust when she’s gotten her mojo back, she will make it more about you too. For those who are thinking it, yes, sex is a two way street, but you’re reading this article seeking help how to fix your situation, right? I’ve also got advice for women too, but since you’re wanting to know how to help, here it is! She just needs a little nudge in the right direction because her body isn’t priming or encouraging her to want sex right now.
Why She May Not Want Sex #9: She’s On Contraceptives
Pharmaceutical contraceptives, especially the pill, are well known to reduce libido – and that's without even having a baby or factoring in all the above other issues. No wonder she’s not interested!
One BellyBelly member says: “I had been on the pill my entire adult life until after having my first baby. Once my period came back and my libido came with it I lamented all those years of lost libido I had on the pill. I’d never take it again.”
HOW CAN YOU HELP: Trying to avoid another pregnancy too soon (or at all) is a really tricky issue to deal with. If you’re done having children, have you thought about offering to have a vasectomy? It saves your partner from having to take medication which involves health risks and has side effects, and a similar operation for her is more complicated.
Or if you plan on having children in the future, have you looked at natural fertility management? Looking at another form of contraceptive is a great idea, low libido or not. Hormones that are not supposed to be in the body normally pose risks. Here are 6 effective alternatives to the pill.
Why She May Not Want Sex #10: She Wants Your Presence
Men and women are very different, so don’t assume what you would want is what she would want.
Women are wired for connection. Most women need connection before they can have sex, whereas men need sex to feel connected. So while a man may feel resentful that he isn’t getting the sex he craves to feel connected (or even loved), she may resent that he isn’t connecting with her and making her feel loved – which leads to an increased desire to have sex. Therefore, you have a stalemate, and because she is also tired and the above issues come into play, sex goes nowhere.
In the BellyBelly poll, one of the runner-up reasons for not having as much sex was because mothers wanted more affection or quality time with their partners.
New mothers (and no doubt fathers) feel a sense of disconnect, which is understandable to happen when a baby is on the scene. But it’s important to fix this as quickly as you can to prevent any problems from occurring or getting worse.
Being a mother is a very giving, nurturing role taking care of another – just like a bank account, if you keep making withdrawals, you’ll end up bankrupt. Her needs for connection are important, so focus on ways to help her feel connected with you. A big way you can do this is face to face communication. Little things make a difference too – for example sending her loving texts during the day, making calls to see how she’s going, but whatever you do, make it a priority to include some undivided face time.
I read a comment about this topic on a page of Facebook, where a mother posted something like, ‘At the end of the day, I am tired and touched out and he expects me to perform like a seal for him in the bedroom. A little affection and attention during the day would be nice.’
HOW YOU CAN HELP: You can help by giving her your undivided attention, without distractions – even just for 10 minutes after work or while the baby sleeps. Of course, aim for more than this if you can. Turn the tv off and ask her how she’s going, how her day was, how she’s finding motherhood, what her concerns are, what she’s enjoying about being a mother – anything that shows that you’re interested in HER and her answers. My partner and I sometimes talk while giving each other a foot massage by sitting at opposite ends of the couch, which keeps us face to face too.
There isn’t much else as sexy as a man who can give his presence to his woman – it builds her trust and safety with you. So to accomplish this, it means shutting off the thoughts in your head, being open to listen, minimising or getting rid of distractions and focusing on her. When she feels your focused energy in this way, she feels safe to open up to you and loved. Heck, she may be more inclined to jump your bones according to our poll! If you’re interested, you might like to get involved in some mens groups – they teach things like the important of presence (being masculine) and mastering all areas of your life. There are some great groups around – I seriously recommend it if you want to bring your best self to your woman, family, job and life purpose for yourself.
Why Pushing Her For Sex Wont Get You What You Want
One common complaint women have is that their partners will do something that they really appreciate, for example, give them a massage – then push for sex so it becomes like a trade – ’I’ll do something nice for you if you give me sex’. Some women feel pressured by their partners, some daily, which not only builds resent, but also makes them back even further away. What she needs are your acts of kindness and nurturing – unconditionally, because you love her and care for her, not because you’re hoping to get sex for it. It's like having a best mate who only comes to your dinner parties for the food then leaves. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and the more it happens, the more you start to question if you'll invite them again.
Or, imagine that you’re really stressed at work – your boss has been on your back all day and you’re completely exhausted, with a really big headache. You look forward to going home, having a shower then getting an early night. But you come home, your partner is bubbling over and wants to invite family over for dinner. You’re just not in the headspace right now, but she’s insistent that it wont be too much trouble, and she’ll do all the work so you can relax and not be burdened. But you sit there at the table, in an almost zombie-like state, just wanting to get some sleep. It really is a mood killer.
With the wrong approach, you wont get the outcome you hope for, and put pressure on your relationship, which can be quite damaging for some couples.
A book I highly recommend is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, which has sold millions of copies around the world and has saved countless relationships. Just like we speak different languages, we love in languages too. For example, a woman may grow up in a household where she saw her mother cook beautiful meals for her husband and keep a spotless home. Her mother channelled all her love into a language called ‘acts of service.’ Where in some other households, ‘touch’ is important – another love language. So this may come into play with how she wants to be loved right now. Whatever language she and you have adopted, knowing (and then speaking) your partner’s language can unlock a big mystery.
A Mention For Diet And Exercise
This is something important to discuss and plan together. It's so much better eating nourishing, nutrient dense foods, while avoiding quick, easy processed junk food. Processed foods, sugars and grains will make both of you feel flat and lead to illness.
How’s her diet and water intake? Especially if she’s a breastfeeding mamma, make sure the fridge is stocked with plenty of healthy, nutritious foods, especially quick and easy things she can grab for a snack. Fibre, veggies, leafy greens, protein and good fats (containing omegas) are important and can make a difference to her wellbeing, libido and mood. If you have time, prepare some snacks for her before you go to work – or hold the baby so she can. Healthy, ready made soups or snacks like carrot sticks, almonds, salads, cut up fruit etc are great. Add chia seeds into the diet, swap cooking oils for coconut oil and these will help nourish her too. Far too many mothers skip meals, including breakfast, which is detrimental to energy levels and breastmilk production. Breastfeeding mothers need hundreds of more healthy calories each day for breastmilk production.
If she seems particularly tired (despite expected tiredness from lack of sleep) but is eating well, it may be worthwhile getting her iron levels checked, especially if she had a traumatic birth or lost a fair bit of blood. Ask for the ferritin level, and a full thyroid screen may also uncover some common reasons for fatigue and lack of libido that doesn't shift.
Make sure she’s drinking plenty of water. Good quality water is very important, especially when breastfeeding. If the body’s cells are hydrated, they have more energy, and while breastfeeding, you need more water for breastmilk production. Not drinking enough can result in fatigue, lowered milk supply, constipation and other health problems. Unfortunately most water we drink is not as healthy as we think. Everyone can benefit from investing in a great water system and drinking filtered water.
Exercise can also increase energy levels, help with depression, anxiety and back pain. You might like to suggest gentle walks with her after work or on weekends, given that she has cleared her recovery time and is well. Just half an hour a day can make a difference – and if you go with her, it provides a great opportunity for some connection time.
HIGHLY Recommended Reading
- What To Do When She Prefers Sleep Instead Of Sex by Jared Osborne
- The Way Of The Superior Man: Mastering the Challenges of Women, Work, and Sexual Desire by David Deida (book)
- Why Women Lose Interest In Sex Plus 6 Tips For Better Sex by Dr Andrew Orr
- Half A Dozen Hacks For A Thriving Sex Life by Jordan Gray