Ask any parent and they will tell you that having a child is a life-altering experience that transforms relationships and priorities. This is especially so if it’s your first time becoming a parent. For many mothers, the journey into motherhood often involves navigating complex challenges – from physical to mental and emotional, but also in the realm of intimacy.
After the frenetic energy from the first few months of “survival mode” wears off, many new parents find themselves faced with what is sometimes known as a “dead bedroom” — where sex hardly, if ever, happens. With a brand new human being to care for coupled with the stress and busyness of modern life, it can be hard to even think of sexy times, let alone getting down to the deed.
Dr Jessherin Sidhu – better known as Dr Jess – owner and medical director of Insync Medical and Lelo Brand Ambassador, sheds light on the difficulties faced by mothers and fathers alike and offers practical advice on how to rekindle intimacy after childbirth.
1. Understand the challenges
The first step to tackling a decrease in libido is to understand why it happens in the first place. Post-childbirth, women undergo numerous physical and hormonal changes that can affect their libido. Issues like body image concerns, post-surgery discomfort and breastfeeding-related challenges can make intimacy seem daunting.
A partner’s sexual dysfunction can also contribute to a woman’s lowered sexual libido, says Dr Jess. “For example, a partner who is fearful of hurting his wife postpartum during sex or a partner who themselves are struggling with the new stress of fatherhood can see their own sexual desire dip and this can indirectly worsen a woman’s sexual libido,” she says.
Breastfeeding can also affect one’s libido as breastfeeding creates a direct drop in dopamine levels, which is one of the chemicals needed in our bodies in order to feel sexual excitement or desire. “Prolactin is a hormone that gets secreted from the brain immediately after delivery and this creates milk production in the breasts,” Dr Jess explains. “Interestingly, prolactin hormone directly antagonises the effect of dopamine.”
2. Reframe the idea of sex in your mind
“With so many things to do and so little sleep, sex is the last thing on my mind!” This is a common refrain from mothers of young children but Dr Jess advises exploring the idea that sex is a form of me-time and rest.
“Our rigid sexual scripts make us believe that sex involves vaginal penetration or helping our partner with oral sex,” Dr Jess says. “If we created flexibility and permitted for sex to be more self-focused and built on the basis of relaxation, [it could even mean carving out] private time to masturbate even if it’s a quick one through direct contact with a vibrator to erogenous zones like the clitoris.”
Dr Jess adds, “As a busy new mother, you may not have spontaneous sexual desire, so start from a place of sexual neutrality. If you permit yourself to receive some stimulation, you may become more aware of your arousal and respond with a responsive desire. It is okay to not immediately want sex, it is more important that you allow yourself to receive sexual touch that is respectful to you. That way, you can stay connected to your sexuality even after becoming a mother.”
3. Embrace little acts of intimacy
Rediscovering your sexuality doesn’t necessarily mean jumping straight into intercourse. Focus on intimacy-building activities, such as cuddling, holding hands, or simply spending quality time together. Physical closeness can reignite emotional connections.
“Put a little extra effort when kissing your partner,” Dr Jess advises. “A peck on the cheek could come across as a courtesy kiss. A kiss on the lips, and stretching it for just a few more seconds as you hold your partner close could feel more intimate. A hug accompanied by your fingers caressing over your partner’s back in slow strokes could feel more sensual.”
4. Have open discussions with your partner
It’s not just mothers who experience a dip in libido after having a baby. Fathers, too, experience challenges in regaining their sexual selves post-parenthood. This is why Dr Jess advocates for open dialogue between partners and incremental re-introduction of intimacy. After all, honest and open communication with your partner is the foundation of any healthy sexual relationship. Set aside time and space (no devices!) to have heart-to-heart conversations where both of you openly express your feelings, fears and desires.
5. Be patient with yourself
There is a lot of pressure on women to be everything all at once – a nurturing mum, an excellent worker and a loving wife (who is also enthusiastic in the bedroom!). However, Dr Jess says that this pressure is often self-imposed and it would be beneficial if women learned to practise a bit more self-compassion.
“It is okay to ask for help, it is okay to delegate tasks to others around you, it is okay to cry and share what you are struggling with,” she says. “Loop your partner into how you feel about sexual intimacy in the context of all the other things you have to do in a day. When there are honest discussions about feelings, you and your partner are more likely to co-create solutions together.”
Becoming a mother is a monumental life change, and it’s natural for your relationship with your sexuality to evolve alongside it. Remember that you are not alone in this journey. Many mothers face similar challenges, and with time, patience and effort, it is possible to reignite the spark in your intimate relationship and reconnect with your sexual self.