Once their child is born and the difficult challenges of pregnancy are behind them, many couples look forward to having a normal sex life again. Unfortunately those expectations may not be realistic -- at least not immediately. Following childbirth, one partner may just not want to have sex. The possible reasons -- some physical, some psychological -- are many.
Fatigue is one. The period of caring for a newborn -- especially if it's the first child -- can be the most tiring and difficult phase in a couple's life. For many a new parent, fantasies about sex are supplanted by fantasies about sleep.
By Kimberly Goad
As Amanda Clark, 33, a caterer from Boston, walked down the aisle toward her fiancé, wearing a $15,000 gown and a 7-carat ring, she felt nothing but dread. I don't want to go through with this, she thought, with each step toward the altar.
Just two hours before the ceremony, Clark had gone for a dip in the ocean with her two sisters. When it was time to get ready, Clark wouldn't budge. "I couldn't get out of the water," she says. "It was like knowing you have a work meeting...
A woman might be self-conscious about her shape, and if she had a cesarean delivery, she may be experiencing extra discomfort or feel unattractive.
Both partners may be having trouble adjusting to their new roles as parents. A new mother could have postpartum depression (in which case she should consult her doctor).
A woman who is breast-feeding may feel that her body "belongs to the baby." The father in turn may become jealous of the time and attention that his wife devotes to the new baby.
There may be concern, too, that sex won't be the same as before delivery. Childbirth can leave soreness or bruising, and the couple may fear that sex will hurt, or cause harm.
In addition, one or both partners may be wary of starting a new pregnancy, especially if the delivery of the baby was traumatic.
On the other hand, some women find they have unusually strong sexual desires during this time.
There's a broad definition of what constitutes a normal length of time before resuming sex. In a recent study published in the Journal of Family Practice, fewer than 20% of participating couples returned to sexual activity in the first month after childbirth. More than 90% had resumed relations by four months after birth. The average time before resuming intercourse was seven weeks.
Most health care providers suggest waiting about four to six weeks before resuming intercourse, to allow the woman's body to heal. The uterus and vagina must return to their prepregnancy size, a process that usually occurs more quickly in breast-feeding women.