When a New Mommy Body Equals No Libido
Dr. Gayle Peterson on sex and motherhood
A message from Dr. Gayle....
The birth of a baby is the birth of family. Childbirth ushers in joyful change and demanding reorganization. Family researchers identify the arrival of a newborn to be one of the most stressful events that a couple navigates during the course of their relationship. Our families are the gardens in which our children grow. Still, so few parents know about the research on what contributes to creating a healthy family. I wrote Making Healthy Families to educate parents to the common processes and characteristics that research has discovered contribute to creating and sustaining an emotionally healthy family. The key theme in developing a strong foundation for your family is promoting experiences of connection over disconnection. This month our focus is on sex and motherhood!
QUESTION: I gained 50 pounds during pregnancy and still look five months pregnant and my baby is almost one month old! My husband is very anxious to resume some sort of sex life since I wasn't interested in the last trimester. I hate my new body and the last thing I want to think about is sex (and him seeing me naked!). I feel like I will stay fat forever and never feel sexual again.
While it is true that a new mother's libido often decreases in the postpartum period due to physical tiredness and hormonal shifts, your loss of sexual drive is much more troublesome, as it is complicated by self hatred. Beware, you are treading on shaky ground, which suggests that problems related to body image, and food may have predated your pregnancy.
Certainly you may be upset about your body changes, but predicting that you will never get back into shape or be sexual again is turning your anger against yourself, ( and your husband!) which can cause depression. In fact, some of your despair (and anger) may indeed be linked to the changes of new motherhood and the hormonal adjustments described. Do not stay alone with these feelings. Share them with your husband and seek out a new mother's group where you will find other women going through similar feelings.
You will find that you are not alone, and that you may be over-focusing on body image over other changes in identity that ensue during the postpartum period.
We often protect our babies by expressing frustration at our husbands or ourselves. This is natural. Still, taking your own frustration seriously is crucial to your emotional health. Of course it is possible to take care of your needs and schedule time to exercise, join an aerobics class, eat a healthy diet, in short...get back into shape. But it is your self-hatred that must be turned around, not your body, if you are to enjoy sex again!
Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed by your new bundle of joy and working hard to reorganize your life around your new baby. This first month can bring up a flood of feelings that need to be sorted out in the next few months, as you adapt to the lifestyle change of parenthood. Feeling sad about the loss of freedom to go out spontaneously alone or with your husband on a date, for example, may be feelings you are not yet acknowledging. The fact is, if you do have traces of an eating disorder or previous obsession with body image (being "fat") then you are prone to hide from sadness or other feelings by projecting them into your loss of control over the "perfect body" image that we, as women, are so vulnerable to in our culture.
Do treat yourself to a massage, exercise and eating healthy! Make your goal one of self-acceptance. But do not stop there! Join a new mothers support group and let your husband know what you need at this time. Perhaps you need to know that he loves you and finds you attractive. Does he say so? Verbal appreciation and expressions of love and caring can go a long way between husband and wife during this emotional period. Let your husband know how you feel in a way that lets him in, rather than pushes him away. After all, this is a time when you need him the most! —Gayle Peterson
Gayle Peterson, PhD is author of Making Healthy Families and An Easier Childbirth. Her award-winning website, www.askdrgayle.com is recognized by The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy for its beneficial resources for parents.