Congratulations! You have a beautiful, bouncing baby, and your life has definitely gone through some major changes. Some of these are wonderful, and some are a bit of a surprise. When I speak with women about their relationships and sex lives after having their first baby, they often express the deeper feelings of love and awe that come from watching their partner become a parent. But, they also often express a bit of dismay at what their relationship with their partner, especially surrounding sex, holds after having a baby.
Far too often in our society we focus on all the wonderful things that baby brings into our lives. The focus is on how as a mother you should feel “so beautiful”, “accomplished”, “love every second”, etc, etc. But, the reality of the day-to-day is that our lives look so very different than what they were like before baby. And, this inevitably works its way into our relationship with our spouse and our sex life. In addition, most women don’t openly discuss their sex life after having a baby, so this topic seems taboo or off-limits. Women feel isolated, or like they are the only ones going through this change after having a baby. In Mara’s World, we feel it’s important to address these more “sensitive” topics to give women a voice to find what’s comfortable and happy for them.
I want to take some time to discuss sex after pregnancy: what is normal and what you should expect in the first year or so after having a baby.
What does sex after pregnancy look like?
- As a caretaker of a completely dependent little person, life is demanding and exhausting! Your new baby requires so much energy and often much personal contact. For moms especially, this new role with all of its demands can really put a damper on wanting to give more (either emotionally or sexually) to their partner.
- Women’s bodies have gone through a tremendous feat: giving birth! Women need some time to heal and re-acclimate to life post-pregnancy. It is generally advised that you wait until 6 weeks postpartum to resume intercourse.
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My midwife recommended a minimum of one week after all bleeding had ceased. This advice was based on the idea that as long as you are still bleeding, your risk of infection is a bit higher than usual.
- I remember that after having my son, my midwife told me it was ok to resume intercourse at 2 weeks postpartum! “2 weeks! Yikes!”, I thought…I just pushed out a baby! Generally speaking, it’s advisable to wait until the 6-week mark. This way your body has had ample healing time. But, don’t feel like you “have to give it a go” at 6 weeks. If you’re ready to try it out, that is wonderful, but if not, don’t worry!
- Certain hormonal changes after having a baby are evident in both women and men. These changes can certainly contribute to a lack of libido. Combine that with sleep deprivation, and it can be tough to “get in the mood”. It takes a good while (months!) for hormones to reach an equilibrium postpartum.
- Studies show that men have lower rates of testosterone present after having children. This can lead to a decrease in sexual appetite.
- Women, especially those that are breastfeeding, have less moisture in their mucosal membranes, which can lead to dryness, pain, and burning during intercourse.
- This also applies to women who are taking a progesterone only birth control method (usually also these women are breastfeeding). Progesterone tends to cause more mucosal dryness as well.
Ok, a lot of this information can seem somewhat disheartening, and make you feel overwhelmed…like you may not return to your “old sex life”. This information is meant to explain all the changes that can happen after having a baby, and give you a springboard to get back on track!
- As always, it’s imperative to remain open and communicative with your partner. Tell them when you feel stressed, tired, in need of a bit of personal space, or when some help around the house or with the baby might make a huge difference in your day. Communicate ways to make you feel loved and appreciated. Communicate during sex to ensure that everyone knows if things have changed and what feels good!
- After having a baby, things can change in terms of what feels good/not good, and what gets you going. Expect that it might take a little fooling around to figure out your new erogenous zones, and make sure your partners knows about these potential changes. This will help your partner be more patient and understanding when things have changed a bit.
- Take the time to spend time alone…that means without baby! Just you and your partner. This can be time on a walk, time at a coffee shop, going to dinner, lying in bed just talking.
- It can seem daunting at first to leave your baby with someone besides your spouse. A family member or a good friend is often the best place to start. Otherwise, finding a reliable and trustworthy babysitter is doable, and is a must! It’s important to take care of your relationship so you can be the best parent to your baby. Showing your baby that you care about yourself and your relationship is crucial to helping your child develop into a secure, healthy, self-assured adult one day!
- Another really important component to any healthy relationship is taking the personal time that you need. As a new parent, this might mean soaking in the tub, ALONE and UNINTERRUPTED for 30 minutes (or anything else that give you “me time”). Although it is often very hard to leave our babies for even a short time, this is SO important for self-care. Remember: healthy, happy parents make for healthy, happy babies!
- One way to actually make this happen is to “pencil” (or better yet Sharpie!) it into your calendar. This will help you to actually carve out this time for yourself. You deserve it!
- Make sure that you allow time for romance and foreplay in your new busy life. Foreplay isn’t just sexual…a walk alone with your partner may be what gets you going after baby! And, make sure that you have LUBRICATION for intercourse. This can make all the difference in the world.
Making meaningful connections after baby has arrived!
A lot of this information is about taking care of yourself and making sure that you are a priority in the equation of this new family life. This is imperative for both your relationship, but also for your successful role model as a parent. This being said, it’s important to be able to make meaningful connections after baby has arrived.
- As previously stated, it’s important that you and your partner get some alone time…and having some of that time out of the house and away from baby is important.
- Although it may sound easy enough or seem obvious, but getting some time alone, without baby is key to a successful partnership. This does not just mean that you get to steal a few minutes here and there when baby happens to fall asleep. This means that someone else is in charge for a little while, while you can focus on each other…without interruption!
- Make sure to try and do some things that you did with your partner before baby entered your life. Find time to connect on the things that you loved to do, and may not have the chance to do as often anymore.
- Again, I know, easier said than done, but make the time and get out your calendar. Just like you will do for your own personal time, schedule “date” time for you and your partner.
- Make sure that you take time to discuss other things than just your wonderful new baby! This can be much harder than it sounds. Remember that your new role as a parent isn’t your only role; you’re still “you”, just a bit different (and more tired!).
- Find trustworthy and wonderful babysitters. This may be one of your most difficult parenting tasks, but it can be so important to maintaining some semblance of pre-baby life. Ask relatives, friends, do sharing/swapping with friends who have babies, look on websites like care.com (use code 30SAVESM to save 20%!), sittercity.com, and advertize in college postings.
- And again, remember to take some time for you to relax and rest.
Now that we’ve covered the changes you might be experiencing after having your baby, and what to do to maximize success in your relationship and sex life, let’s focus on what’s “normal”!
What’s normal and what to expect with your relationship and sex life after pregnancy!
- Expect that your relationship and sex-life post baby will be somewhat different than before. Be patient, and give you and your partner time to adjust to these new changes.
- Patience is KEY here. It may take months to even the first year postpartum to find the new normal. That is ok! Try and view this new period in your life as a couple as a “discovery” time. It might even make certain parts of your relationship feel new again.
- What used to feel good may have changed after having a baby. Sometimes the zones that used to be “hot spots” may now be “off limits”! Be curious and patient and find the new “turn-ons”.
- It might be that you used to enjoy having your breasts touched during sex, but now you cannot stand it. This can be a normal change, but make sure that you communicate this to your partner! Your partner may be relying on old tricks, and might be discouraged or confused because you’re not responding in the same old way. This can lead to obvious frustration and lack of enjoyment for everyone.
- Do not be hard on yourself or have unrealistic expectations. Be honest about what you want/don’t want.
- Understand that there are a lot of hormonal changes for both you and your partner. These changes can last for months and beyond the immediate postpartum period.
- Expect to feel more demands on your time and your body. These demands may change how you feel about your partner or about sex. That’s ok. You will find your new normal.
- Men often describe their sex-life post-baby as feeling like the outsider in the new relationship: mom and baby. It is important for moms to acknowledge that the relationship with their child is strong, demanding, and intimate (in a very different way than with their partner!). Dads need to know that this may occur, and that it doesn’t mean they are not loved.
- Co-sleeping can affect sex-life…logistically it can be difficult. Many co-sleeping families describe wanting to be intimate, but having concern for disturbing a sleeping baby. Interestingly enough there are a fair number of blog posts about solutions to this problem!
- Although I do not personally condone co-sleeping for real risks relating to SIDS, I do understand that it is often practiced. If you are co-sleeping and want to engage in intimate activities while baby is in your bed, please be safe and mindful of blankets, pillows, or other smothering/sleeping hazards, and make sure baby is not likely to fall out of bed.
- Women, sex after pregnancy will feel different for a while at least. You will most likely need lubrication. Do not feel discouraged or embarrassed. This is normal!
- Scar tissue from tears or stretching during birth can be uncomfortable or even painful during intercourse. Scar tissue is not as stretchy as healthy, untouched tissue, and can take a while to become stretchier again. Lubrication is a must, but also actually having intercourse, or stretching the tissue helps over time.
- Women often feel self-conscious about their new post-baby bodies. This is also normal. Rest assured that generally partners don’t focus on these changes, and certainly don’t focus on them as much as we do. They often think that there is more beauty in these changes than we can recognize ourselves!
- Lastly, if all else fails, have sex! Sometimes just having sex reminds us of what we had forgotten…and as the saying goes “sleep begets sleep”, sex often begets sex!
- Sometimes having sex to get things jump-started can be a wonderful quick fix. However, if you find that you continually feel that sex is “required” or a “marital duty”, there is likely something deeper going on here. Don’t hesitate to speak with your midwife, physician, nurse practitioner, naturopath, therapist, etc to get some help!
- Women sometimes have physical or psychological changes after having children than can affect the way that they feel about sex after pregnancy. If sex aversion continues, seek help! Sex therapists can provide counsel regarding both physical and mental/emotional difficulties with sex after pregnancy. Couples counselors are another potential resource. Naturopathic physicians, and sometimes allopathic doctors as well, can recommend herbal supplements or over-the-counter hormone creams that may increase libido or help with hormonal regulation.
As with most things in our relationships, communication helps to make things grow and change in a positive direction. Don’t be afraid to discuss intimate details with your partner. In the end, you will be much stronger and closer because of all this hard work!