Regaining your sex life after postnatal depression
Having a child is magical. It’s the best thing that can happen to you. You won’t understand life until you’re a parent.
These are all things that we are told every day in society, especially if you are expecting.
Sadly it doesn’t always work that way.
The Reality of Postnatal Depression
Postnatal depression and/or poor perinatal mental health is a very common and understandingly distressing situation.
Low moods post pregnancy can actually impact up to half of all new mothers and 1 in 10 suffer from postnatal depression.
Such incidents come with a slew of symptoms. These include (but are not limited to):
- Persistent sadness and low mood.
- A loss of interest in life or a lack of enjoyment even at things that should/used to give pleasure.
- Lack of energy or constant lethargic feelings.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Disturbed sleep (beyond the usual baby disturbances).
- Feelings of guilt, self-blame, or distress.
- A perceived inability to cope.
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
The reasons for developing postnatal depression are varied and involve a mixture of biological, psychological, sociological, and emotional factors. However, the pressures to be happy and excited about one’s new position as a parent and worries about the quality of care that you as a parent can provide are two factors that weight heavily on many sufferers.
Some even worry that they may hurt their baby, either accidentally or intentionally, or notice that their depression is ultimately causing an objective lapse in care.
Whatever your degree of postnatal depression or distress it is important for sufferers to seek help. This is the first step towards recovery and the best thing you can do for yourself, your partner/s, and your child/children.
What Does Sex Have To Do With It?
For many sufferers of poor perinatal mental health sex might be the last thing on their mind and sometimes that in and of itself can become a relationship problem.
One of the common things that most individuals like to try and reconnect with or maintain while adjusting to life with a newborn is a healthy and active sex life with their partner.
Although there are inevitable barriers and adjustments to this it’s generally agreed upon that maintaining intimacy with your partner/s post pregnancy allows you to both retain a sense of yourself and your joint relationship and allows you space and an identity outside of the parental role.
Sex in general is an important component of many relationships, so its sudden general decrease or complete removal from the agenda can cause distress.
If the issue is that there is a decrease in sex drive and/or an avoidance of sex then this can cause resentment and pressure among partners, further aggravating and contributing towards poor perinatal mental wellness.
If, on the other hand, you and/or your partner typically love and want sex but suddenly find that it’s just not happening or the drive/orgasms just aren’t arriving then this, too, can be incredibly distressing.
Either way a lack of sexual intimacy can be felt very strongly in a relationship during periods of postnatal depression and a desire to reclaim your sex life is both justified and something that can, with patience, be achieved.
What Can Be Done?
The first step is to acknowledge that, much as with your depression, your sudden sexual issues are not your fault. Add to the fact that decreased sex drive is one of the key side effects of depression (as well as being a side effect of loss of sleep, lack of concentration, and even some anti-depressant medications) and you have a situation where a lack of sex drive is almost expected.
Once you know and accept this then you are in a strong position to start thinking about how best to make an active effort to reclaim your sex drive.
One of the most important things to remember about sexual urges is that they tend to dwindle the less that they are acted upon. This means that the obligatory sex break brought about from pregnancy and postnatal depression has essentially reset your sex drive levels. The simplest solution? To train them back up by attempting to do more sexual things.
This isn’t easy, sometimes it can even feel counterproductive, but it does make sense.
Just think about your sex drive as a muscle like any other that you flex. If you haven’t been to a gym (or exercised) in ages then your first session is going to feel weird, clumsy, perhaps even a bit uncomfortable or awkward, and generally strange. But give some time to rest between sessions and keep on showing up and working out and eventually your body and attitude towards it grows. The same goes for your sex drive.
Before hitting that ‘sexual gym’ though the first step is to talk to your partner/s, discuss your mental health, your current sexual concerns, and how they feel about your situation and their own.
Remember, relationships are an interdependent mingling of two or more individuals so, chances are, if you’re suffering and struggling with your sex life then they are too. Once you discuss the situation you can determine how best to move forwards and start tackling those ‘sexual workouts’ to help buff up your sex drive over a sensible period of time.
Try to be strict in enforcing sexual activities but don’t allow yourself to get compulsive, feel pressured, or otherwise get distressed by sex. Remember that this is a process and one that should be long-term and compassionate at its core. Make sure that your partner/s understand this and that a prerequisite of this retraining process is is a lack of pressure and a sense of mutual encouragement and desire for wellness.
Implement this approach and you’ll have a firm basis with which to start rediscovering yourself past both your pregnancy and postnatal depression.
Getting or feeling sexy is easier said than done, especially when depression (and anti-depression medications) are involved, so how does one overcome this element of postnatal depression?
Perhaps one of the best things you can do is to mix things up.
Challenge yourself and your partner/s to try new things, even if it’s just a change of position, location, or safer sex barriers.
This will help shift the dynamics of the situation so that you’re not trying to recapture your pre-pregnancy days. Instead you’ll get the intrigue and excitement of discovering a new sexual dynamic post-pregnancy and what it might be able to offer you.
Those struggling with sexual dysfunction may also find that the introduction of certain adult products can help counteract some of the struggles they have, allowing for sex where it might otherwise not be pleasurable and/or possible.
Remember: Sex is a dynamic that should meet your needs, not society’s, so never feel like you’re ‘doing sex wrong’ by doing sex your way. If it works then that’s all that matters, sexual norms be damned!
Lapses in mental health can be distressing and disruptive, especially during what society tells you is supposed to be ‘the best experience of your life.’
But by letting go of society’s expectations, accepting your situation (and how common it is), and actively working to move forwards you can recover your sex life and, most importantly, yourself.
It’s a process but it’s possible. Trust us.