Q&A: getting your groove back

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous writes:

"I got the all clear to have sex again at my 6-week appointment, and we've had sex somewhat regularly since then, but  the Pumpkin is 7 months old and I'm really not all that into it. Is there something I should be doing that I'm not? I'm breastfeeding and don't want to wean until at least a year.

Please tell me the sex drive comes back."

Yes, it comes back. Eventually.

There are a bunch of theories about why post-partum moms aren't all that interested in sex for awhile after the birth. I think the best one is that it's a protective mechanism of the body so that we don't have kids so close together that we lose our minds. Of course people end up having kids that close together all the time by accident, but I'm really not sure that all those moms were just dying to have sex right then.

I do think it's normal to just not be interested in sex loooong after that 6-week mark passes. It's a huge disservice to couples that 6 weeks is touted as the magical time when we're going to be getting back to Sex The Way It Used To Be, when in reality 6 weeks is just a fairly reasonable time that a woman with a non-complicated vaginal birth with no tearing would be healed enough not to be damaged by penis-vagina intercourse. It doesn't mean things are back to normal. It doesn't mean that a mom is going to actually want to have sex. Even if the nursing is making her hormones rush during the day, by the time nighttime rolls around, she's probably so tired and touched out that, well, you all have been there and know what I mean. You love your partner and want him or her to be happy, but there's probably a certain amount of faking going on, at least for awhile.

I don't want to give body image issues (for the mother) and sheer exhaustion, resentment, and self-image and role confusion (for both parents) short shrift, but ths is a how-to post, not a 5,000 Ways Having a Baby Can Screw With Your Head post. So let's move on with the good news, shall we?

What I think gets most women back on track is going through the energy shift toward the end of the first year and going through the hormonal shift of getting the menstrual cycle. Once the baby gets out of the first 6 months and closer to a year old your energy just shifts. Instead of being intimately connected almost 24/7 with the baby, you're dealing more with helping the baby negotiate her own body and learning new skills. It's more about playing with blocks and finding foods they'll eat than snuggling for hours and nursing around the clock. I personally, find the pre-toddler stage more frenzied and cumbersome than the in-arms phase, but it does give you a little more mental space and emotional energy, and some of that will go straight down to the lady parts.

Even more than that, though, I think is the hormones. I guarantee that if this post gets many comments it will be women saying that their libidos came back when their cycles came back, whether they weaned before or after their cycles came back. I got my cycle back at 11 months with El Chico, and it was like a switch flipped on and it was fiesta time. (I nursed for a year and a half after that.) The women I know who didn't get their cycles back until after they weaned say it felt like a switch flipping back on for them, too.

If your baby is 8 or 9 months old and you're thinking, "I want to get my libido back but I'm not willing to wean," you might think about cutting back on nursing so you get a 7-hour stretch each day in which you don't nurse. For many women that's enough to bring the cycle back. If you think about it, that's basically what happens when you nightwean (last feeding at 11 and then the morning feeding at 6), or if your baby nurses in the morning but is then too busy playing or eating solids until after lunch.

Or you may just decide that another few months of not feeling all that sexy isn't going to hurt your relationship or your self-esteem, so you'll just ride it out for a little while longer. If you're not that concerned about it, that's perfectly valid and you shouldn't feel like there's something wrong with you because you're not worried about not being a sex goddess.

Now, if you've got the desire but just never seem to get around to having sex, I can tell you that what I found helpful was to plan ahead. In the morning, before either of you leaves the house, make a sex date. That way you can both think about it all day and get yourselves in the mood. If you want to stoke the fires with some phone calls or emails during the day, do so. But then as soon as the kids are in bed, that's your time. Leave the dishes and other chores until after you've had sex, or you won't start until 11 o'clock and you'll be too exhausted to really enjoy it. You may even want to pick a cut-off time and if you haven't started having sex by then you just roll the date over to the next night.

So. I guess that was a lot of TMI. Anyone want to make me feel better about flashing you by leaving some comments?