As moms, we know that having a baby changes everything — not only how we look at the world, navigate our relationships and handle stress, but pregnancy and the postpartum phase deeply impact our hormone levels and pelvic muscles’ functions.
And in the midst of all the physical and emotional changes, our sexual desire and how we experience intimacy can also drastically change. Yet instead of honest talk, moms are often made to feel ashamed for not living up to society’s fantasized version of “ideal motherhood.”
We interviewed Jennifer Berman, M.D., an L.A.-based, internationally known urologist, sexual health expert and mom, about sex after pregnancy, how pregnancy and vaginal childbirth affect our body and the importance of self-care.
“We’re told a lot of myths,” Berman says. “One of them is that everything goes back to what it was before. This just doesn’t happen, especially if you have a prolonged labor and delivery or some type of trauma like a tear.”
One of the most common issues moms face after childbirth is urinary stress incontinence. Most of us have experienced it, but we’re too embarrassed to talk about it, yet a simple act such as laughing, sneezing or coughing puts extra pressure on our bladders, leading to leakage. According to Berman, later in life, when women go through menopause and estrogen levels fall, the stress incontinence “comes back with a vengeance.”
Other common changes post baby is the physical appearance of the vagina. “The color actually changes from pink-blush to a blue-gray tone,” Berman says. “And the appearance might be puffier and not as tight. Women often also experience vaginal dryness and soreness.
“There are multiple physical changes going on at the same time. There is weight gain, changes in your breasts, fluctuations of your hormones — and all of these affect your self-esteem,” Berman says.
Breast-feeding moms typically experience low testosterone levels, and this impacts their libido, causing lower energy levels and lower sexual desire. “I was not one of those women who loved being pregnant,” Berman recalls. “I didn’t feel beautiful and glowing. I felt miserable. And that’s OK. You’re not a bad mom for feeling this way.”
This avalanche of physical and emotional instabilities moms feel is often mixed in with the stress of managing the newborn’s around-the-clock feeding and changing schedule with work and home responsibilities. In the midst of this is another dynamic shift that we don’t discuss often enough — the relationship with our partner. It’s not just the two of you anymore, and making time for each other becomes challenging or simply non-existent once the baby arrives.
“Moms feel a lot of guilt and pressure because they don’t realize all of this is normal,” Berman says. “Talking about these shifts and mentally preparing for them will make a big difference.”
Another important component is making time to step away from the daily demands. Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury. “Time to be intimate with your partner, to emotionally connect, and time for taking care of yourself — mind, body and spirit — brings healing,” Berman says.
For her, self-care comes down to “doing the things that bring you joy.” The former co-host of the television show, “The Doctors,” and best-selling author and owner of the Berman Women’s Wellness Center, she says horseback riding is her Prozac. Being in the moment and just relaxing is not easy for her, but when she’s on her horse, there is “connection, trust and relaxation.
“In order to be the best you for your family, for your child, for your partner, you have to be the best you for yourself,” Berman says. “Be kind to yourself.”