Don't be surprised if you don't feel as romantic as ever following the birth of your baby. An array of physical, emotional, and logistical factors may have dulled your sexual appetites somewhat. These are just some of the obstacles you're up against:
- Exhaustion. It's hard to feel romantic when you can't even see straight, and both of you are no doubt exhausted most of the time. Especially in the early months, your baby has you on call every minute of the day and night, so you seldom (if ever) get more than three hours of uninterrupted time for each other-or for yourself.
- Lack of privacy. You may literally no longer have a room of your own. Even if you do, your baby is probably in your bed almost as much as you are, and three is definitely a crowd in the marriage bed.
- Hormones. The postpartum drop in your (or your partner's) hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) during the first weeks of your baby's life may result in decreased sexual desire. In addition, postpartum hormonal changes can inhibit vaginal secretions, leaving the vagina dry and more sensitive to abrasion and other sources of pain.
- Nursing. Breast-feeding can also dry up both desire and lubrication. In addition, breast-feeding may inhibit, or even satisfy, some of your sexual needs. (For the record, however, nursing mothers tend to enjoy postpartum sex sooner than bottlefeeding mamas.)
- Body image. You may not feel very sexy until you lose most of the weight you put on during pregnancy. (This comment is not addressed just to women, because many men gain weight during pregnancy, too.)
- Depression. Either or both of you may be experiencing a case of postpartum depression. Even a mild case of depression will inhibit your sexual desire and certainly your feeling of sexual desirability.
- Jealousy. Your partner's (or your) intense relationship with your baby may satisfy needs for intimacy in a much less complicated way than the intimacy between two adults. In turn, this intense relationship can make your partner (or you) jealous of the time and devotion you (or your partner) lavish on your baby.
- Fear. During the initial postpartum months, you (or your partner) may fear that intercourse will cause tearing, pain, or (yikes!) another pregnancy. Unfortunately, none of these fears is entirely groundless.
- Pain. In the first few months after giving birth, intercourse may indeed cause some pain, until (or even after) the perineum heals. (The perineum-the soft external tissue between the vagina and the anus-gets stretched, bruised, and sometimes torn during childbirth.) Decreased lubrication may also cause some discomfort.
- Divided attention. You may not be able to relax or stop thinking about your baby long enough to entertain sexual desire, especially if your baby sleeps in the same room with you. With so much of your energy and emotions focused on your baby, you may feel drained of loving impulses toward anyone else, even your partner.
- Different priorities. Making love may not be at the top of your list of priorities. If you have any time at all to spare, you may prefer to do something else (sleep, take a relaxing bath, exercise, whatever).
- Attitude. Either (or both) of your feelings about the breasts and vagina may have changed in the wake of childbirth and breast-feeding. After seeing your baby drawing nourishment from them, for example, you or your partner may view breasts in a different light. The apparent shift in function (although actually it's a split in function) from sexual stimulation to nurturing might inhibit your sexual foreplay. Likewise, the feeling or sight of your baby emerging from the birth canal may have altered the way you or your partner feel about the vagina. Either of you may feel certain inhibitions about intercourse as a result.
If you have any of these problems or concerns, don't leave them unspoken. Talk to your partner openly about the obstacles that stand in the way of resuming sexual intercourse. Don't let your partner think it's him (or her). If your partner doesn't know the reasons for your reticence, he or she may end up feeling unattractive, abandoned, and resentful.
So talk about sex even if you're not doing anything about it. You may find out that your partner shares your concerns or has worries of his or her own. Bringing them out into the open may not solve all of these problems, but it will allow you to decide together when you want to try to pick up where you left off.