Sex and New Motherhood: Get the Facts

If there's one theme at iVillage that members write in most about or discuss in chat as their cry for help, it's how to rekindle sex after having a baby. Here are some tips for "sexual recovery for new moms."

There are three basic factors that affect your sexuality as you transit into motherhood. First is pregnancy itself. As you may know, pregnancy wreaks havoc not just with your shape but also with the internal hormonal soup. As the body prepares itself for the nourishment of a developing fetus and for the ensuing delivery through the birth canal, hormonal changes occur. They usually leave a woman in a perfectly natural, nonsexual state. That transition from having your body be a place for pleasure with your partner (the grown-up guy you married or live with) to a temple for procreation may be a rocky road. Don't pressure yourself -- but do keep in touch with your (and your partner's) sexual self through plenty of cuddling and loving touching. (Some women, however, do feel surges of sexual desire, and unless your obstetrician tells you to avoid sexual engagement, have all the sex you want.)

The second thing that affects our perceptions of ourselves as sexual beings is the birth process itself. When that baby passes down the vaginal canal, what once was a pleasure center is now a baby chute, and you may never think about it the same way again. On top of that, many women find that birth has altered the way they feel in the vagina -- the common complaint is that they feel "looser." Here's what you can do. Exercise the inner muscles, called the PC (pubococcyceal) muscles. These are the undergirdle of the pelvis in both men and women, also affectionately known as the "love muscles" -- even if you have not just had a baby, you need to keep these tightened up for good sex. I suggest that you do them once a day, three rounds each, at the same time each day. Use a method that will get you to focus on this act, such as when you floss your teeth at night, when you put the key in the ignition, when you watch the Today Show before your baby's morning feeding or when you head off to the tennis courts.

To find your PCs, stop the flow of urine when you are urinating. That's your locator device. Then squeeze those muscles tightly for about two seconds and then release. Repeat this process 20 times. Take a five-second rest. Then do the whole thing twice again. That will give you three hefty rounds of internal exercising. By doing the PC workout daily, you will build back your strength, stamina and vigor for your vagina. And sex will be more enjoyable. You will also begin to feel those sexual urges again while you do your home assignment. Now, start squeezing!

Third is the postpartum phase. Here you are focusing on a crying mass of cuddly flesh, not whether your grown-up honey in the other room lusts after you anymore. And you are facing the fruits of that labor, literally. If you're troubled by this phase, take a deep breath and remember: Things take time. Yes, there will come a time, perhaps rather quickly, when you will shift from being a baby-feeding and baby-caring machine back to your husband's or boyfriend's lover. But it will take some time -- and you should allow yourself that time. In fact, most OB/GYNs recommend waiting several weeks after birth before engaging in intercourse, so listen to your doctor, and your own body.

Additionally, breastfeeding can have both physical and mental effects on your sexuality. Often I read about women on our boards who are disturbed that they are feeling turned on during nursing. That's a natural response to having an infant suckle on your breasts. In fact, from a sexologist's point of view, I would say "Hallelujah!" to you. Your erotic zone is intact. Most women do report that nipple stimulation is a key ingredient in their sexual arousal. To lose that stimulus-response function during breastfeeding would be a tragedy. Just ride it out. Know that this is a human function and that it's perfectly normal to feel those feelings. On the flip side, breastfeeding can make you feel less sexual -- the hormones tied into lactation can interfere with the natural lubrication of the vagina and make sexual intercourse dry and painful. A lubricating jelly can help you if that's the case. Either way, be sure to not make yourself feel as if there's something wrong with you when this journey is taking place.

Take time to readjust to being a mom. And let your partner assist you. It's difficult to be a nurturer and caregiver to an infant while putting on your thigh-highs and teddy. But the time will come when you must focus on your own sexual bond with your partner, the big guy, standing there patiently waiting for his wife to return from Mommyland. And remember: Give yourself permission to have the pleasure of sexual play anytime your body says Yes.

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