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Loss of sex drive after childbirth

Published:Monday | April 2, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Sacha Walters-Gregory, Staff Reporter

"Sex is the last thing on your mind," said Carlene, about intercourse after having children. "You're just tired," she added, explaining that the stress of having a baby who demands 24-hour attention leaves little time for much else.

The mother of two young boys said after attending her mandatory six-week post-natal visit following the birth of both of her children, physical hindrances still stopped her from having sex with her husband.

"I'm always bleeding after the six week check-up. With the first child I had stitches, so I was sore and had pain the doctor couldn't explain," she said. But that aside, she admits she wasn't in the mood not only physically but psychologically, as in the case of her second child.

"I just had other things on my mind: two children, I'm home, I'm tired and he comes home and wants sex, and I just want to sleep," she said. However, she believes her partner does not appreciate her fatigue because she is a housewife.

"He thinks that I'm at home so I can't be that busy. He thinks I can take a nap anytime I want and that's just not the case. It's like I can't be tired," she said.

She and her husband of five years have gone through various stages in their sex life since the birth of their two boys.

In the beginning, just after giving birth, she was anxious.

"You start thinking that it's the sex that gave you the child and you don't want anymore," said Carlene, explaining why most times sex is ruled out of the equation.

Not uncommon

Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Dr Raquel Gibson said this is not uncommon.

"If it's passed the six-to-eight- week period and if you're not solely breastfeeding, it's still technically possible to get pregnant again. and so some of these women are still anxious about getting pregnant, especially if they haven't discussed contraception with their gynaecologists," she said.

Other physical hindrances include changes in hormone levels and physical soreness because of the birthing process.

"The hormonal changes can result in some women having post-partum depression, which is actually the extreme of the scale," said the doctor who operates out of Winchester Business Centre.

"For those who are not up to that extent of the scale, the hormonal change results in decreased libido," she explained. Additionally, mothers may be physically exhausted from having to get up every two to three hours to breastfeed.

Some women heal faster than others and will be ready for sex once they've passed their six-week check-up. Others have to wait longer.

"The trauma of childbirth itself to the perineum and so, of course, some of them have vaginal lacerations, some of them might have had an episiotomy, which is when we actually cut the vagina to make space for the baby's head to come, so the area might be bruised, might be swollen and of course it will be difficult to go there until healing has completely taken place," she said adding, "Because of the hormonal changes, as well, sometimes you might have some amount of vaginal dryness - sometimes it can be up to the first three months after giving birth," she said, but this can be helped with the use of a lubricant.

"Bleeding occurs after giving birth, which sometimes can go up to 4-6 weeks. There is no contraindication to having intercourse with bleeding, but some people may not find this acceptable," she explained.

A man's sex drive may also be diminished because of witnessing the birthing process.

"Sometimes the birth itself traumatises them. So not only guilt because of the pain they think they caused their partner, but witnessing the gory details of childbirth sometimes turn off some men," she said.

No return

For Carlene, her sex life hasn't returned to normal two years after giving birth to their second child.

"Can I say I'm not there yet? I have to think of Will Smith to get in the mood," she explained. "You don't want to put sex on the back burner but sometimes you have to, depending on what's happening with the kids," she said. She also admits that the passion is not there because her husband does not help her with the children.

"My life is baby-centred, so if sex is not being asked for, it's one less thing on my list," she said.

"Circumstances need to change for me to be passionate about it, not just interested," she said. She said she does have strong sexual urges, but oftentimes she feels more comfortable reading a romance novel and snuggling with a stuffed animal in bed that having to deal with her husband.

Dr Gibson explained that physical healing doesn't always mean things just go back to normal sexually.

"Even though we have physical healing, babies get up several times for the night up to a year; exhaustion may be part of the problem," she said.

While she emphasised that each case is different she said after three months hormone levels should be restored and a woman should be totally ready to regain her sex life."If you take exhaustion out and the woman starts exhibiting depression without any identifiable cause, then I would say seek some kind of medical attention," she said.