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When a new mommy body = no libido

QUESTION: I gained 50 pounds during pregnancy. Though I looked healthy while pregnant now I am left with the soft folds of fat that remain. I still look five months pregnant and my baby is almost one month old! My husband is very anxious to resume some sort of sex life since I wasn't too interested in the last trimester. I hate my new body and the last thing I want to think about is sex (and him seeing me naked!). I am worried that I will stay fat forever and never feel sexual again.

ANSWER: While it is true that a new mother's libido often decreases in the postpartum period due to physical tiredness and hormonal shifts, your loss of sexual drive is much more troublesome, as it is complicated by self hatred. Beware, you are treading on shaky ground, which suggests that problems related to body image, and food may have predated your pregnancy.

Certainly you may be upset about your body changes, but predicting that you will never get back into shape or be sexual again is turning your anger against yourself, ( and your husband!) which can cause depression. In fact, some of your despair (and anger) may indeed be linked to the changes of new motherhood and the hormonal adjustments described. Do not stay alone with these feelings. Share them with your husband and seek out a new mother's group where you will find other women going through similar feelings.

You will find that you are not alone, and that you may be over-focusing on body image over other changes in identity that ensue during the postpartum period. We often protect our babies by expressing frustration at our husbands or ourselves. This is natural. Still, taking your own frustration seriously is crucial to your emotional health. Of course it is possible to take care of your needs and schedule time to exercise, join an aerobics class, eat a healthy diet, in short...get back into shape. But it is your self-hatred that must be turned around, not your body, if you are to enjoy sex again!

Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed by your new bundle of joy and working hard to reorganize your life around your new baby. This first month can bring up a flood of feelings that need to be sorted out in the next few months, as you adapt to the lifestyle change of parenthood. Feeling sad about the loss of freedom to go out spontaneously alone or with your husband on a date, for example, may be feelings you are not yet acknowledging. The fact is, if you do have traces of an eating disorder or previous obsession with body image (being "fat") then you are prone to hide from sadness or other feelings by projecting them into your loss of control over the "perfect body" image that we, as women, are so vulnerable to in our culture.

Do treat yourself to a massage, exercise and eating healthy! There are helpful articles on this site that can help you focus on a healthy diet and exercise as well as educate yourself to the signs of eating disorders to determine whether this is something you may want to get help with at this time. Make your goal one of self-acceptance. But do not stop there!

Join a new mothers support group and let your husband know what you need at this time. Perhaps you need to know that he loves you and find you attractive. Does he say so? Verbal appreciation and expressions of love and caring can go a long way between husband and wife during this emotional period. Let your husband know how you feel in a way that lets him in, rather than pushes him away. After all, this is a time when you need him the most!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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