The Complete Guide to a Healthy Sex Life After Having a Baby
Bringing the spark back to your sex life after having a baby is one of the hardest parts of your postpartum life. Right after baby is born, you're healing from birth dealing with fluctuating estrogen levels, while figuring out how to take care of your new baby on little sleep.
Fast-forward a few weeks when your doctor gives you the go-ahead for intercourse. You are likely not feeling your most attractive and are still getting used to your new postpartum body and dealing with postpartum symptoms that impact your sex drive, including postpartum depression, vaginal dryness, perineal tearing, C-section scarring, insomnia, and hormone changes.
Fitting in sex after birth is a common challenge for new parents. It’s normal to have trouble getting in the mood for a while after, and it’s not something to be ashamed of. The same often goes for men after becoming parents. Medically, these feelings are very normal for moms and dads getting used to their new roles.
If you’re looking to improve your sex life after having a child, here are a few tips to improve intimacy with your partner and make time for both of your needs.
How Sex and Relationships Change After Having Kids
It's very common for women to have anxiety about returning to a normal sex life after their baby’s birth. For new moms, the pain of labor is still pretty fresh, your hormones have not necessarily returned to their sensual best, and you've begun to think of yourself as a mother instead of a partner.
Just like every other aspect of your life, your sex life may be completely different after having a baby. Libido may drop for the birthing parent as well as their partner. An array of physical, emotional and logistical factors may have dulled your sexual appetites. These are just some of the obstacles you're up against.
Barriers to Romantic Intimacy After Having a Baby
Both partners can have anxiety about sex after several weeks or months of inactivity. And if they were in the delivery room with you, they could have a very strong fear of hurting you: It's difficult to see the one you love go through the pain of labor and childbirth and not be affected by it.
Postpartum Healing Process
About six weeks after the birth of your baby you'll be scheduled for a routine follow-up visit to your obstetrician. They will do an exam to make sure everything is healing properly and that you're doing well, both physically and emotionally. Of course, if you have any unexplained pains or are feeling depressed before the six-week appointment, you shouldn't wait to call your doctor.
Pelvic Dysfunction or Vaginal Tearing
You'll have a pelvic exam, after which your healthcare provider will likely give you the go-ahead to get back to penetrative sex. With all the sleepless nights recently, not to mention your recent memory of childbirth, sex, in general, may be the last thing on your mind, as well as your sexual health postpartum.
Pelvic floor kegel exercises help restrengthen, which can improve your sex life in addition to helping with issues like incontinence. If you’re not sure how to do them, your OB-GYN may have some advice or recommend a coach who can help.
Increased Fertility After Giving Bith
Spacing between pregnancies is key to the health of the mother and baby, so even if you don’t feel up to doing the deed again just yet, this will be a good time to revisit birth control method options. For some, pregnancy can happen again within one to two months of birth.
An IUD may be a good choice to avoid having to remember a daily pill, though all forms of contraception can be effective at preventing pregnancy.
It’s hard to feel romantic when you can't even see straight, and you and your partner are no doubt exhausted most of the time. Especially in the early months, your baby has you on call every minute of the day and night, so you seldom (if ever) get more than three hours of uninterrupted time for each other or for yourself.
Lack of Privacy or Couple’s Time
After adding another person into your home and creating a nursery, you may literally no longer have a room of your own. Even if you do, your baby is probably in your bed almost as much as you are.
The postpartum drop in your (or your partner's) hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) during the first weeks of your baby's life may result in decreased sexual desire. In addition, postpartum hormonal changes can inhibit vaginal secretions, leaving the vagina dry and more sensitive to abrasion and other sources of pain.
Breastfeeding and Lower Sex Drive
Breastfeeding can also dry up both desire and lubrication. Levels of prolactin are up to induce lactation, but this hormone lowers both estrogen and testosterone, which can lead to a lower sex drive and vaginal dryness. In addition, breastfeeding may inhibit, or even satisfy, some of your sexual needs. (For the record, however, nursing mothers tend to enjoy postpartum sex sooner than bottle-feeding mamas.)
Body Image Insecurities
You may not feel very sexy after giving birth due to all of the changes your body has gone through. Either (or both) of your feelings about the breasts and vagina may have changed in the wake of childbirth and breastfeeding. After seeing your baby drawing nourishment from them, for example, you or your partner may view breasts in a different light.
The apparent shift in function (although actually, it's a split in function) from sexual stimulation to nurturing might inhibit your sexual foreplay. Likewise, the feeling or sight of your baby emerging from the birth canal may have altered the way you or your partner feel about the vagina. Either of you may feel certain inhibitions about intercourse as a result.
Either or both you or your partner may be experiencing a case of postpartum depression. Even a mild case of depression will inhibit your sexual desire and certainly your feeling of sexual desirability.
Jealousy Toward New Baby
Your partner's (or your) intense relationship with your baby may satisfy needs for intimacy in a much less complicated way than the intimacy between two adults. In turn, this intense relationship can make your partner (or you) jealous of the time and devotion you (or your partner) lavish on your baby.
You may not be able to relax or stop thinking about your baby long enough to entertain sexual desire, especially if your baby sleeps in the same room with you. With so much of your energy and emotions focused on your baby, you may feel drained of loving impulses toward anyone else, even your partner.
Fear of Pain During Sex
In the first few months after giving birth, intercourse may indeed cause some pain, until (or even after) the perineum heals. (The perineum - the soft external tissue between the vagina and the anus - gets stretched during, bruised and sometimes torn during vaginal birth.
If an episiotomy was needed, healing time will be longer.) Decreased lubrication may also cause some discomfort, as well as a cesarean-section scar. During the initial postpartum months, you (or your partner) may fear that intercourse will cause tearing, pain or (yikes!) another pregnancy. Unfortunately, none of these fears is entirely groundless.
Making love may not be at the top of your list of priorities. If you have any time at all to spare, you may prefer to do something else, like sleep, take a relaxing bath, or exercise when your baby finally goes down for a nap.
If you have any of these problems or concerns, don't leave them unspoken. Talk to your partner openly about the obstacles that stand in the way of sex. If your partner doesn't know the reasons for your reticence, he or she may end up feeling unattractive, abandoned and resentful.
So talk about sex even if you're not doing anything about it. You may find out that your partner shares your concerns or has worries of their own. Bringing them out into the open may not solve all of these problems, but it will allow you to decide together when you want to try to pick up where you left off.
Communicate Your Sexual Needs and Boundaries
Regardless of who is hesitant about getting back in the sack, masturbation is a good way to start discovering your body again, by yourself, or mutually with your partner. A short session before bed or in the morning can help increase your oxytocin as well as help you figure out what feels good now after you’ve had a child.
Do whatever you can to keep your sexual relationship going despite the lack of sexual relations. Until you're both ready to resume sexual intercourse, work on maintaining trust, patience, understanding, open lines of communication and loving feelings.
Even after you have resumed sexual relations, continue talking honestly to your partner about sex. If you don't feel like making love because you're exhausted (or for any other reason), let your partner know.
Physical and Emotional Readiness for Sex
Some of the factors inhibiting your sexual relationship-stabilizing hormone levels, the effect of nursing, your body image, healing from perineal tearing or a c-section, as well as lack of outside support and postpartum depression and healing should improve on their own with the passage of time. It is important to give yourselves the time you need to feel comfortable, though.
Emotional readiness is just as important for sex as physical readiness. And factors like anxiety and depression may make this transition more difficult. New parents may be concerned about getting pregnant again, worried about how it will feel or be less confident about their body.
Self-esteem and poor body image is often an issue for new mothers and can lead to depression. Between 30 to 70 percent of mothers typically struggle with lowered self-esteem postpartum.
Don’t Put Pressure on Yourself or Partner to Be Perfect
Be careful not to judge yourself too harshly while you're learning how to be a mom. It's easy to come down hard on yourself if you're accustomed to feeling competent at work and now find yourself confused or inept with the baby.
Sharing your frustrations with a supportive friend or family member can cut down on stress. If strong emotions or feelings of sadness and hopelessness occur, it’s best to let your doctor know because postpartum depression is often overlooked.
Best Positions for Sex After Childbirth
If physical pain is the problem, then try different sex positions until you find one (or more) that is more comfortable for you. Taking pressure off areas that are painful can help make the experience more enjoyable.
For example, women have more control over the depth of penetration and so feel less pressure on the perineum if they are on top or side-to-side rather than on the bottom. If you can't find any sexual position that's comfortable, talk to your doctor. A topical estrogen cream (available by prescription only) may alleviate some of the dryness that leads to soreness and pain.
Set a Relaxing Mood with Your Partner
Most of all, take your time. Treat your lovemaking as you would dining at a great restaurant. If your partner doesn't go for all the candles, soft music and rubbing with oil, make sure you make it clear to them that you need to take it slowly until you're used to things again
If you're finding it difficult to relax enough to make love, try your favorite relaxation techniques before you get into bed, including:
- Taking a warm bath.
- Trying relaxation exercises practiced during pregnancy.
- Share a glass of wine with your partner (although you should avoid overindulging with alcohol, especially when breastfeeding).
Use as Much Lubrication as You Need
When you are both ready, you also can take steps to overcome most of the other obstacles to renewed lovemaking (although exhaustion may be something you'll have to learn to live with). A natural, skin-safe lubrication can help counter vaginal dryness, which is common in postpartum.
Make sure you use a natural lubricant before you engage in intercourse. Every woman is different, but you may feel some discomfort. In addition to possible dryness and some minor soreness, simple anticipation can cause muscle tension. Ask your partner to rub a lube into your vaginal opening so that you're relaxed enough to go further you're both ready.
Note: Don't use your massage oil as a lubricant. Some of them have fruit extracts or other ingredients that could cause a yeast infection.
Lubricants are very concentrated, so make sure they don't overdo it — a little goes a long way. And don't forget to use contraception. It will help prevent unwanted pregnancy or spacing between children.
Take your time. Don't force yourself to fake sexual feelings or have sexual intercourse before both of you are ready for it.
After all, the normal balance of maternal hormones may not return for months after delivery. What's more, you may do more long-term damage to your sexual relationship by rushing into postpartum sex and having bad sexual experiences than you would by waiting until you both feel good about it. So try not to obsess about sex; give yourself and your partner time without guilt or shame.
Note: Don't resume having sexual intercourse until your doctor gives you the okay. If you and your partner are feeling romantic before your doctor has said it's okay, find some other way to satisfy each other. Because only intercourse is inadvisable during the first postpartum weeks, the range of possibilities extends all the way from hand-holding to oral sex.
Tips for Scheduling Sex When You Have Kids
Whenever you resume your lovemaking, you may need to lower your expectations somewhat. It may be weeks or even months, for example, before you (or your partner) have an orgasm again.
Schedule “Dates” at Home
In the meantime, both of you need to remain as patient, loving and understanding as you can. You need time to recapture both the mutual ardor and the gratification that marked your sexual relations before your baby arrived. Setting a time for intimacy can help you connect with one another physically and emotionally.
If you're both feeling in the mood, for example, schedule a "date" for the baby's next nap time. Or if your baby has a fairly regular nighttime sleep schedule, pencil your partner in for the slot right after bedtime.
When you're having dinner bring some candles to the table one night, even if you're serving leftover take-out food. Or serve dinner after the baby is in bed and play nice music.
Embrace Foreplay and Flirting
Try to expand your sexual horizons, too. Just because one or both of you doesn't feel like intercourse, you can still find many other ways to express your love for each other: talking, wining (not too much) and dining, hand-holding, lying in bed together, cuddling and a wide variety of sexual foreplay. Have fun with your sex life and try to keep it as active as you both want it to be.
Sexual spontaneity does become more difficult once you have a baby, but it's not impossible. If you and your partner find yourselves alone at last, entertain the possibility of mutual seduction.
Don’t Get Upset by Interruptions
Whether you drop everything at the spur of the moment or schedule time for each other, try to make the most of your opportunities. They may be short-lived. Almost every new parent has a story about the baby's bad sense of timing. Your baby may wake up just before you achieve sexual climax.
She may pull herself up to standing for the first time while you and your partner are having sex. Or she may find some other creative way to interrupt or inhibit the sexual act. Try to hold on to your sense of humor if and when it happens to you.
Sex and Co-Sleeping
Co-sleeping should not get in the way of your sex life. You can still maintain a healthy sex life, replete with spontaneity and passion. You just have to be creative and take advantage of time you have just the two of you. After all, the bedroom isn't the only house place in the house you can have sex, and bedtime isn't the only time, either.
Unless you need one yourself, nap time is the perfect opportunity to get a quickie in. Don't even bother moving to the bedroom. The couch works just as well. Many co-sleeping couples have found that the inventiveness needed to keep their love life alive has magnified the focus and intensity of their sex. As with most things in life, if something is really important to you, you'll find the means and the time to do it.
When you're trying to reestablish your sexual relationship with your partner, it's important to have one place that isn't baby-oriented. Let the toys, bottles, and baby things mount up everywhere else if you must, but try to have a place just for you and your partner.
Simple Ways to Keep Your Love for Your Partner Alive
Once you've started to get back into the swing of things, it's important to keep the momentum. Making your sex life a priority in the scheme of things will make a positive difference in the harmony of your home. Partners need to join with each other on a regular basis to maintain intimacy.
This does not necessarily mean intercourse, but it does mean that you need time to focus on each other as lovers, and not as simply fellow travelers in the great child-rearing enterprise.
You can rekindle romance in a lot of very simple ways, too. Here are a few:
- Remember how much you love each other and don't forget to say it every day.
- Avoid criticism and give compliments as much as possible without being phony about it.
- Reminisce about your life as lovers before the children were born.
- Talk about ways you can sneak in some lovemaking time.
Try to remember to spend five minutes a day being romantic with your partner. This can be something as simple as a full-bodied kiss goodbye in the morning as opposed to the half-focused peck on the cheek. You'd be surprised what a bit of body contact will do.
Once your partner sees the effort you're making, it will be much easier to put the right foot forward. Don't be surprised if your partner starts planning surprises, too. Nothing is as wonderful as finding notes of your own during the day!
What NOT to Do
Don’t Pressure Your Partner for Sex
Communication is not always the easiest thing in a relationship, and communication difficulties usually find their way into the bedroom. If you don't have time to talk about things except after the children are asleep you're going to bring your problems and conflicts to bed with you. Don't do it. Your bed is for sleep and sex, not negotiations.
Avoid Fights and Arguments in the Bedroom
One way to avoid bringing conflicts into the bedroom is to set aside time to talk about things at other times and in other locations. Make appointments if you have to. Try to pick times when neither one of you is too tired or grouchy to discuss things like money matters or day-to-day problems.
True, if you're having trouble finding the time to make love, you'll probably find it hard to find time for family meetings, but it's crucial that you try. Even if all you can manage are a few minutes here and a few minutes there, at least you're talking things out.
You Can Be a Loving Partner and Parent
The best way to redefine your relationship with your partner, when it comes to your romantic life and raising children together, is to always have a sense of humor. Your life will never be exactly the same as before kids – but becoming a parent doesn’t mean sacrificing being a person and partner too.
If you can laugh at the unexpected, you'll find it easier to keep them in their true perspective. Just when you're beginning to enjoy the perfect romantic evening, the baby will wake up and start crying or your toddler will decide she needs another drink of water. These little frustrations can seem huge at the time, but you both are in this together.
Stay sensitive and aware of your partner's emotions. If they're feeling unloved or displaced, a little tender, loving care can make them feel less isolated. And don't be shy about letting them know when you're feeling the need for a little nurturing, too.
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