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Photo: courtesy Lena Ostroff
Mother’s situation: Too tired for love
I have a six-month-old baby, a demanding job, and a grumpy husband with whom I have very little time alone. I am usually exhausted after work and spend a good chunk of the evening caring for our baby. I just don’t feel in the mood to be intimate with my husband. He is unhappy that we don’t have sex any more. How do other working mothers find time alone with their husbands? And when can I expect my libido to return?
This sounds like a difficult time for you all. The exhaustion of working all day and then having to tend to your little one in the evening can really wear you down. I remember reading in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding that if your man just gently nestles up to you and caresses you while you are breastfeeding it can help to release the tensions of the day. You may not want to make love afterwards, but the tenderness of his caresses can help you both to relax. You can ask him to do this and then tell him how much it means to you and how much you love him.
Nighttime love making after a tiring day just isn’t on for most of us. Many parents find that mornings in bed at the weekend, when your baby has gone back to sleep after an early morning breastfeed can help to re-invigorate their sex life.
Sue Cardus, Coventry UK
It can be difficult to find time to be alone once we become a family. Being back at work is one more thing to fill an already busy day and drain already sapping energy. Libido and tiredness don’t go well together. We had many long conversations about how we felt and what we needed. Necessarily, many of these needs were contradictory. New fathers are usually less physically drained and are not likely to have lost their libido. Consider, too, that some men begin to wonder if they were only appreciated for their baby-making qualities. They need to know that they are still important, still loved, still desirable.
So we made sure to use loving words often and to increase the number of loving gestures—just simple touches in passing, cuddling up together on the sofa with or without the baby, holding hands while we walked together. We agreed that these gestures were complete in themselves and not suggestive of or promising more.
I have talked to many new mums who would love to be held close but hold back because they feel that any show of affection might be interpreted as promising more. Not every kiss is foreplay. With luck, some may be. It helps to remember that there is more to sex than penetration. We used this time to become more creative about meeting sexual needs and added new approaches that benefited the relationship. Nor does intercourse always need to be the result of desire on both sides but can occasionally be a concession made lovingly in order to meet the needs of the other. It can be easy to get out of the habit and sometimes a little vague willingness, “As long as you don’t want me too active or awake,” was enough to remind my body what it had been missing.
We were more creative about time and place, too. I am far better at four in the afternoon than eleven at night. If your baby has a daytime nap that might be an opportunity for a little loving interaction. Or maybe you have family nearby who’d like to take your baby for a walk to give you time alone together. Flexibility of this kind also helped as the children got older. It’s not just new babies who make having a sex life challenging! Address the tiredness: that’s probably your main enemy right now. Have fun finding out what works for you.
Eileen Harrison, Brittany, France
This sounds familiar. Your baby is still very young and your body and soul have been through such a lot. In time you will get things back to normal.
Some breastfeeding mothers have difficulties with lubrication and a hormone pessary from your doctor can be transformational. I found both times that my libido properly returned with the resumption of my periods. Until then I would never feel in the mood for sex but often surprised myself if I agreed to give it a go, I’d relax, switch off from work and instantly be ready for sleep afterward. My man took a lot of convincing that I was still attracted to him. Men have a tendency to take these things personally!
Communication is helpful. I am very upfront about whether I want sex for me, just intimacy, or am happy to provide a quickie for him. This cuts out a long and draining pretense when you have better things to spend your energy on! Building on your relationship and physical love outside sex is a good initial step to help you both feel attractive, confident, and in love. Weekly date nights with special ready meals work a treat for us!
Betty Smithson, Madrid, Spain
The situation you are describing sounds difficult, as well as familiar to many mothers. You describe your job as demanding and sex would be unappealing if you were to see it in a similar way as a demand on your scarce energy and time (albeit also as an opportunity to exercise your skills for some reward!) Ask your husband what sex is to him and pose yourself the same question. It might be about reassurance, love declaration, tension release or something else. You might find other ways to satisfy those needs, by sharing other ways that your partner could make you feel cared for, or other ways of connecting. Sex could then be one of a range of options open to you and it might appeal more once you have nourished one another and the relationship in other ways.
Meeting with my husband at least once a week for a lunchtime sandwich in the park or a coffee was beneficial and we both returned to our work or family caring feeling refreshed. If you are too far from each other to make meeting during the day practical, you could consider adjusting your schedules to free up some other time together, by sharing breakfast or chatting when one of you is in the bath, or giving your partner a lift somewhere when he would normally drive alone.
Once you are both focused on looking for and being open to opportunities for connecting, all sorts of creative possibilities will present themselves. Even a shared trip to the petrol station can boost your relationship and mood!
When your libido will return can depend not just on the quality of your relationship, but on self- care measures, such as eating healthily, exercising, and getting as much sleep as possible. Focusing on catching up on sleep for a week can give you the energy to meet life’s demands for weeks after.
I personally found when caring for a young baby, that sex was much further from my mind than it was from my partner’s. However, once I put my mind to it, the hormonal effect of breastfeeding meant I was more quickly and easily aroused.
Katrina, Leatherhead, UK
I’m on maternity leave from my job at the moment with my four-month-old. I also have a five-year-old and three-year-old stepson. I find that I need to feel attractive even to be open to the suggestion of love making. When we haven’t got my stepson and my mom has my five-year- old, I have a long soak in the bath with expressed milk at hand for my other half to give to our baby. I do my hair, put on a bit of makeup and some clothes that make me feel I look good. I cook a nice candle lit meal for the two of us and we snuggle up and watch a DVD. That usually does the trick and it’s lovely. We don’t even have to get a baby sitter for my little one. We just wait for him to go to sleep.
Leeanne Smith, Halesowen, West Midlands, UK
I tell my husband that nothing puts me in the mood like a clean house, a clean husband, and clean sheets! If all of these things aren’t done, he’s welcome to help me to get them done. Then, either we’re both too tired to do anything but the house is clean or the house is clean and we have some time together.
It’s hard when you are tired, but sometimes when I’m not in the mood but do give in, then the cuddling and kissing quickly remind me how nice that is, so long as I’m not thinking about the laundry or my baby makes a noise!
Tina Kimbley Villalobos, New York, USA
Mother’s new situation: How often to feed
I think breastfeeding is going well for me and my six-week-old baby. His weight gain is good and he is pretty contented with plenty of wet and dirty diapers. However, my worry is how often he breastfeeds. Everyone I have spoken to has suggested four-hourly feeds are to be expected. My prenatal class teacher said to expect four- hourly feeds. My sister and sister-in-law both said their babies fed four hourly. Even my midwife said four hourly was the norm. I feel worried now because my baby feeds much more frequently than that, day and night. Could anything be wrong?