It’s 6-weeks post baby. You’ve been cleared for sex… and yet.
If sex is feeling like the last thing on your mind, or maybe even the idea of sex is making you shudder (and not in a good way), you are not alone. Intimacy is an integral part of any romantic relationship, but it can often take a backseat after the arrival of a baby.
Sleepless nights and exhaustion can leave you feeling less than amorous, and the physical demands of childbirth and motherhood leave you “touched out” and maybe even repulsed by the idea of another person’s hands on your body.
In this article we’ll learn more about why it’s common for new moms to feel a lack of desire for intimacy with their partner and how couples can find new paths to connection within this new phase of their relationship.
What does it mean to feel “touched out?”
In the weeks, months, and even years following the birth of a baby, it is normal for mothers to have some hesitation or anxiety around intimacy. Many report feeling “touched out”– mothers have lots of demands on their bodies. They are pulled on, sucked on, climbed on, and clung to.
The stimulation and demands also expand beyond touch– new moms are inundated with input all day long (think: smells, screams, squeals). So, it is understandable that many new moms feel tapped out. The more we are in demand by our children, the less we may have to give to ourselves and our partners.
Feeling “touched out” often comes with feelings of disappointment or shame. Our first recommendation is for mothers to approach the situation from a place of acceptance and understanding– you might consider a mantra like, “this is where I am now, and that is okay.”
We encourage mothers (and their partners) to approach hesitancy around sex and intimacy non-judgmentally, without labels or blame and with recognition that this is a normal and valid response to all of the changes happening in mom’s body and her environment.
How to reduce sensory overload to increase your desire for sex
The first step is to understand the root of the issue. When moms struggle with physical intimacy because they feel touched-out, we encourage moms to be more intentional about boundaries and balance.
This may start with creating an inventory of all the sensory demands you face and identifying places for change. For many moms, this may mean less screen time (yes, screens are a drain on our sensory systems)
For others, this may mean setting limits around some forms of physical touch with their children. It is okay to go to the bathroom alone, or tell your children you won’t let them jump on you. In fact, doing so models self-care and self-respect, both things we want to teach our little ones.
You don’t need to wait until toddlerhood to set these boundaries– even an infant can be redirected. If your 6-month-old is pulling on your hair, for example, it is okay to gently remove their hand while letting them know hair pulling doesn’t feel good on your body.
Another thing that moms can do is pro-actively regulate their own nervous systems throughout the day. Providing regular opportunities for physical release can counter some of the effects of all the sensory input.
Some things that moms can do include yoga, taking a walk, or practicing a grounding activity such as pushing their hands against a wall. Deep breaths are fantastic–and work by putting pressure on something called the vagus nerve, which directly activates the calming part of our nervous systems.
We encourage parents to check out the Securely Attached podcast episode with Seed & Sew’s Alyssa Blask Campbell for more tips on ways to regulate their bodies so that they aren’t so depleted by the end of the day.
Feeling anxious about post-baby sex?
Some moms may be hesitant to engage in sexual activity due to feeling anxious. For many, increased worry and anxiety are common in the postpartum period. And, while this worry is often child-centric (is my child getting enough milk), it can be related to our bodies. Negative body thoughts may occur, and new moms can feel nervous or embarrassed about how they look. This makes it difficult to feel good about intimacy and connection.
We encourage moms that are experiencing such anxiety to talk about this to their doctors, partners, and therapists. Treat yourself with compassion and understanding– it makes sense that engaging in this type of physical act following such intense and salient body changes would bring on feelings of fear.
In these cases, we suggest that moms slowly work toward increasing their tolerance for the uncomfortable. This is a similar approach to how we would treat any anxiety, not only those anxieties specific to the postpartum period.
Start by creating a hierarchy of things that feel scary or uncomfortable, then begin to practice. Maybe that means spending a few minutes each day just being naked in front of your partner.
As you expose yourself to items on the hierarchy, use coping and mindfulness skills to calm your nervous system. This might include taking a few deep breaths before standing naked. By doing so, you are increasing your physiological tolerance to the scary and uncomfortable thing, and teaching your body that you can handle it.
Work through each item on the hierarchy until you can reliably get through them without an overwhelming response. For moms who are anxious about experiencing pain during sex, we recommend seeking the help of a pelvic floor specialist who can provide tools to make sex less painful.
Communicate with your partner
Above all, the most important thing is communication. Speak to your partner about your wants and needs while validating their own feelings about the situation. Being a good communicator means being assertive while also being respectful–the more we express how we feel, including saying no when that is what feels best, the more we may actually have the bandwidth to engage in intimate acts.
Seek professional help individually or as a couple
If you and your partner are struggling to reconnect after having a baby, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can provide a safe and supportive space for you to work through any issues or challenges you may be facing individually or as a couple. If you are looking for support in your postpartum journey, click here to schedule a free consultation call to learn more about the individualized or couple treatment options at Upshur Bren Psychology Group.