Sept. 1, 2010 — When her ob-gyn said she could start having sex again six weeks after giving birth, writer Heidi Raykeil’s first thought was, “Can’t I have another six weeks?”
“I wanted to want sex, but I just didn’t,” she tells WebMD. “I had absolutely no interest.”
More than a year later, when the prepregnancy passion still hadn’t returned, Raykeil began blogging about it. She quickly realized she was not alone.
“I heard from all these women who were feeling the same thing, but nobody was really talking about it,” she says.
New Baby, No Sex
It’s no surprise that sex is on the back burner or not even anywhere near the stove for most new moms. Constant exhaustion combined with the biological changes that come with new motherhood combine to do a number on the libido.
A newly published review of the research finds postpartum passions typically ignite again three to six months after delivery.
The review, which included nearly 50 studies, found that vaginal dryness, bleeding and pain during intercourse, difficulty reaching orgasm, and hormonal changes related to breastfeeding all dampened sexual desire.
Three months after giving birth, 83% of the women in the studies reported having little interest in sex, but most medical symptoms associated with loss of libido had resolved within six months and nine out of 10 women had returned to sexual activity.
The research appears in the latest online issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
San Diego sexual medicine specialist Irwin Goldstein, MD, who edits the journal, says women who continue to experience lack of desire six months after delivery should talk to a doctor about it if they are concerned.
Docs Aren’t Talking About Sex
Gynecologist Rachel Pauls, MD, says if sex is talked about at all during postpartum medical checkups, the discussion is limited to the type of contraception a woman plans to use.
Pauls is director of research in the division of urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati.
“Doctors need to be more approachable so their patients feel comfortable talking about this topic,” she says.
Pauls followed more than 60 women through pregnancy and the first six months after delivery in her study of the topic.
She found that sexual activity peaked before pregnancy and did not return to prepregnancy norms six months after women gave birth.
Even though most of the women in the study had lost their baby weight by this time, body image was significantly worse six months after delivery than it was before pregnancy.
“It may be that even though they may look the same, many women don’t feel the same for a long time after having a baby,” she says.
Desire: ‘Light Switch Went Off’
As the mother of three children, Pauls knows firsthand how overwhelming the first months of motherhood can be.
Although some women never lose their sex drive, others may not feel normal again for a long time.
It took Lillian Arleque nearly three decades to discover that a lack of testosterone was behind her loss of libido after giving birth to her first child.
“It was like a light switch going off,” she tells WebMD. “When you eat, you don’t have to think about chewing and swallowing. You just do it. That’s the way sex was before I had my daughter, but afterward my body stopped doing what it was supposed to.”
Arleque says she told 11 different doctors about the problem before finding Goldstein at the age of 55. When she started taking testosterone, she says the light went back on.
“My issues with lubrication, desire, and orgasm intensity all got better with treatment,” she says.
She and Goldstein’s wife, Sue, co-wrote a book titled When Sex Isn’t Good: Stories & Solutions of Women With Sexual Dysfunction.
‘Perfect Moment May Not Come’
Writing a regular online column about her loss of libido helped Heidi Raykeil rekindle her love life, but it took a while. Her experience led to two books, Confessions of a Naughty Mommy and Love in the Time of Colic.
Raykeil says it takes work to stay sexual when your life is focused in a totally opposite direction.
“If you wait for that perfect moment when both of you have it on your mind and you have the opportunity because the baby isn’t crying and there aren’t a million other things to do, sex isn’t going to happen,” she says.