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Health

Sexuality and self-image after child birth

By Maya Khamala

It’s that time of year again: everyone’s gearing up to celebrate Mother’s Day. But how often do we actually harness this special occasion to talk about the struggles involved with being a new mom? Beyond the sleepless nights and the postpartum emotions, there is also self-image and sexuality post childbirth—and most of the time, it’s different than it was before.

While having a baby is undoubtedly a joyful occasion, studies have shown that many women struggle with negative body image post childbirth—even many years later. It’s no secret that after carrying a child for nine months and then giving birth, many women’s confidence levels are adversely affected due to their postpartum bodies, leaving them with little or no desire for intimacy and sex. 

That said, with a little determination, you can 100% resurrect your confidence and your desire—so don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Remember that change is the only constant

For many women, pregnancy and everything after can be reminiscent of puberty. We’re talking fluctuations in hormones, sleep patterns, energy, and appetite—to name a few. A more visual manifestation might look like a bulging belly, surgical scars, swollen feet, sagging breasts, hair loss, skin changes, vaginal discharge, swollen legs, varicose veins, increased sweating, acne, and stretch marks—again, to name a few. Is it any wonder that the postpartum experience can throw off your body’s usual responses to mood and weight management? 

Add new social roles to the mix, and it’s all-too-common to feel uncomfortable in your body and mind. To make things even more difficult, living in a culture that provides little social support for moms, while also holding them to impossible standards, is well, impossible. Research has shown that the conflicting demands of hyper-vigilance and flexibility take a real toll on new moms, and consequently, many women have unrealistic expectations about how much they can (or should) be able to control their post childbirth bodies.

Avoid negative self-talk…in spite of cultural messaging

From early in life, women and girls are taught that less of us is more desirable. We are bombarded with deeply questionable messaging about our bodies—this isn’t really news, but it does bear repeating, sadly. Whether it’s the torrent of  perfect images of new moms on social media, out-of-touch movie and TV portrayals of women after childbirth, or prim ’n slim pics of celebs just weeks postpartum, messages about the ease (and by extension, the importance) of ‘bouncing back,’ and fast, are everywhere. 

During pregnancy, women are inundated with contradictory messages: while larger breasts and a baby bump are often understood as appealing, it’s not uncommon for women to feel as though certain types of curves are good while other types of roundness (i.e., your arms or face or thighs) are not so hot. The postpartum double standards don’t help: first you’re applauded for being pregnant, and then you’re criticized for having ‘let yourself go.’ Obviously new moms are anything but lazy, and this couldn’t be more false. 

Ultimately, a changing body represents a changing life. If your goal is to ‘get your pre-baby body back,’ it may be worth thinking about why you want to time travel. Wanting to look like your pre-baby self is often very much intertwined with your pre-baby identity. Finding ways to reintegrate the feelings, activities, and people you miss can do wonders in helping you feel more like ‘yourself,’ without putting all the pressure on your body.

Don’t rule out intimacy

There are countless ways to express intimacy. It might include sex, but it doesn’t have to. When getting back into your groove, be kind, gentle, and patient with yourself. And most importantly, be open to exploring totally new avenues of intimacy. You never know—your relationship with your partner(s)—or yourself—may deepen for it.

Intimacy with yourself 

Taking the time to treat yourself every once in a while can help revitalize your sense of all things sensual and sexual, especially after you’ve given birth. Eat something you love, get more sleep, take a bubble bath, get a friend or family member to help out if your partner can’t—or if you don’t have a partner. When you’re better rested and therefore more sane, it’s a lot more feasible to follow a healthy diet and maybe even exercise a bit. If you’re looking for a more direct route to getting back in touch with your sexuality, a new sex toy might help open those floodgates again. You’re in charge, and can adjust speed and sensation as needed, ‘nam sayin’?

Intimacy with your partner 

A new baby puts a real strain on many relationships, which is why it’s extra important to be open and honest with your partner about how you’re feeling. If your lack of confidence is affecting your sex drive or your enjoyment of sex, they might not realize this (believe it or not). Opening up and facing hurdles together is much less alienating (and sexy). Being vocal about your desires is also a great way to regain confidence. Your postpartum body might actually lead you down uncharted paths to desire ’n ecstasy. This just in: novelty is sexy, so don’t fight it. If you’re dealing with postpartum pain or discomfort during sex, don’t hesitate to see a qualified pelvic floor therapist—they help countless people reclaim their sexuality post childbirth! And if you’re dealing with a persistently low libido, there’s zero shame in considering sex therapy and/or couples counseling, both of which can be invaluable tools.

Intimacy with a new partner 

“When is an appropriate time after having a baby to start dating again?” is a commonly asked question in online forums. The answer: whenever you’re damn well ready! While many of the same principles apply to post-childbirth sex with a new partner as with a pre-existing one (i.e., open and honest lines of communication), there are undeniable differences, and things to consider that may never have occurred to the pre-baby you. If all you want is sex (power to you), it’s much simpler, of course. If you’re looking for something a little more, consider ruminating on the following questions:

- Do you feel mentally, emotionally, physically capable/available to another person?

- Do you have the energy to care for your child and yourself while getting to know someone new?

- Do you want someone to raise your child with you, or would you rather keep things separate?

This Mother’s Day, we’d all do well to think a bit more deeply about the everythingness involved with mothering each and every person on this planet. Whether you happen to be welcoming a new human into this world yourself and/or celebrating another mom in your life, it’s high time we unravel the persistent societal myths that make it harder to reclaim one's status as a sex goddess after becoming a mother. 

You got it all, babe. <3

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