When you bring home a new baby, everything in your life changes. From your daily routine to your deepest held values, your whole world is turned on its head.
However, while couples spend the months during pregnancy learning what to expect in their new roles as parents, many couples are not prepared for how their new addition can impact their role as partners. In the months after giving birth, many couples experience difficulties in their sex life. It’s not always easy to make time to be intimate and when there is time, hormonal changes in the new mother can cause her to experience a greatly reduced libido. While all of these things are totally normal, the realities of sex after childbirth can cause significant strain on the relationship of the new parents -- especially if they don’t know what to be prepared for.
With that in mind, we reached out to doctors. sexologists, and relationship experts to get the scoop on everything that new parents need to know about sex after childbirth. Here’s what they had to say:
It might not sound like the most romantic idea, but many new parents find that strategically planning time for sex is the best way to ensure that it actually happens. As Dr. Jane Greer, New York-based marriage and sex therapist and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship explains, “If you're looking to make time for sex after childbirth, you're going to need to plan it out. Otherwise, the time will get consumed by all of the new responsibilities.”
The key is to be flexible and schedule sex for the times of the day when you are most likely to have a free moment. “Maybe this means paying attention to when the baby is napping or between their feeding times during the night,” suggests Dr. Greer. “Tailor the time you're going to be intimate around your baby's timing, as opposed to sticking to your past sexual schedule.”
New parents may need to be willing to sacrifice a little of the spontaneity in their sex life however, a lack of spontaneity doesn’t have to mean that your sex life isn’t romantic. Patricia Johnson and Mark Michaels co-authors of several books on sex and relationships including Partners in Passion explain, “By planning your encounters, you are treating your sex as something important and worthy of your attention. Far from being unromantic, having un-spontaneous sex is actually a way of maintaining and deepening intimacy, of showing, in perhaps the clearest possible way, how much you care for each other and how much you value your connection.”
When you have a new baby at home, suddenly everything about your day is dictated by the needs of your new addition. When it comes to sex after childbirth, it’s easy for new parents to get into a routine where their intimate connection isn’t a priority. Sometimes the best way to shake things up is to spend a night away as a couple.
Johnson and Michaels explain, “Couples are more likely to have sex when they are away from home, whether they have children or not, but if you do have children, it’s even more important to take a break.” However, if you’re worried about being away from your new little one, you don’t have to go for long. “This does not have to be an extended vacation,” Johnson and Michaels continue, “If money’s tight, try to leave the baby with a friend or relative and go camping, or shop around for an inexpensive overnight or weekend getaway.”
Having a baby causes a woman’s body to undergo a lot of changes in a short period of time, which can leave a woman feeling a little uncomfortable in her own skin. Certified sexologist and relationship expert Dr. Megan Stubbs says, “Some new moms may be self conscious on how their body looks post birth and that is perfectly normal.” What’s important is that her partner be sensitive to how she might be feeling and acts accordingly.
Remember to be thoughtful with the words you use during this time of transition. “Partners can make their significant others feel more at ease by complimenting them and telling them not to feel ashamed of their body,” Dr. Megan continues. “Be sure these comments come from a place of honesty because most people are about to discern insincerity.”
The key is to have patience. When it comes to sex after pregnancy, it might take a woman a little while to feel at home in her body again. However, showing a little kindness can go a long way in helping her come around. “If you make the space for the new mom to feel comfortable and loved, she will open up and build back her confidence more quickly,” says Dr. Megan.
It’s important to keep in mind that just because you both might be feeling ready to get busy again soon after childbirth, a woman’s body needs time to catch up. Sexologist and Intimacy Expert, Dr. Kat Smith, “It is necessary to allow your body to recover from giving birth, especially where a Caesarean or C-section is performed. The average time is about 4 to 6 weeks with approval from your doctor and longer with a C-section.”
Beyond just the pain associated with healing after childbirth, Dr. Kat says that women can experience other kinds of discomfort such as breast tenderness and changes in the body that makes sex after childbirth feel different. “All these concern diminish with time, says Dr. Kat. “After the soreness heals and your body recovers, sex should be satisfying again. However if things persist, see your doctor.”
As many as 83% of women experience some sort of sexual difficulty in the three months after pregnancy. One the most common issues women have when it comes to sex after pregnancy is vaginal dryness. For women who are dealing with a dry vagina, sex can be uncomfortable or even painful. However, a dry vagina doesn’t have to hold you back from resuming your sex life. Using a quality lube during intercourse can alleviate the discomfort of a dry vagina so you can enjoy sex with your partner. We can even send you a free sample and a coupon for $1.00 off of a full-size bottle of Astroglide.
The truth is that, after having a baby, many couples experience serious disruptions in their sex life that can’t be fixed with scheduling and date nights alone. If you find yourself in that camp, don’t panic. You’re not alone and there are lots of things you can do to nurture and protect your relationship through this difficult transitional time.
Sheri Winston, CNM, RN, LMT, a wholistic sexuality teacher and former nurse-midwife, believes that a lot of the stress felt by couples in this situation could be avoided through better education. “Care providers should warn pregnant couples of what they might be facing beforehand instead of acting like it’s a secret,” she explains. “The reality is that ¾ of women experience greatly reduced or no libido after giving birth -- and that’s totally normal. Couples who don’t know this ahead of time tend to think that there’s something wrong with their relationship which causes strain on both of them.”
The good news for couples is that eventually a woman’s libido will come back, however it might take longer than they expect. “For some women, this period of reduced libido can last up to three years, depending on a number of factors including whether she is breastfeeding and what kind of birth control she is on,” explains Winston. Knowing this, couples need to plan for ways to stay connected until the woman is ready. So what can couples in this situation do?
While this might seem like an obvious first step, for many couples talking about their lack of a sex after childbirth can feel like a daunting subject to broach. “Oftentimes, the partners of women who just gave birth are feeling unattended to because the baby is getting all the attention, and they might feel bad about saying that’s how they feel,” Winston explains. “Likewise, the new mother is feeling exhausted and she might be wishing that her partner would just deal with it, but realizes that saying so would sound harsh.”
Although these conversations might not be the most comfortable to have at first, Winston emphasizes that these feelings are totally normal and that it’s critical that couples give themselves the chance to talk about how they’re feeling about sex after childbirth. “Have conversations about what’s going on to share feelings that come up,” she says. “It’s important for partners to be able to acknowledge that’s how they feel so that resentments don’t build up between them.”
While hormonal and physiological factors play a major role in a woman’s loss of libido after childbirth, stress and exhaustion can also be significant contributing factors. Caring for a new baby is big job and it’s natural for women to feel drained and overwhelmed. If that’s the case, couples need to work together to find ways to give the new mom a break.
“The more the woman feels supported the more likely she is to want to connect to her partner physically,” Winston explains. “Partners of women who’ve just given birth need to understand that foreplay now involves doing the dishes and cooking dinner or taking the baby out and letting her take a bath. The more her well is filled up the more she’s going to have to give back to her partner.”
In her teaching Winston uses a framework that recognizes four different types of touch languages: nurturing, therapeutic, sensual, and sexual. She emphasizes to couples that it is important for them to get good at speaking all four, especially when their sexual dynamics aren’t working. “Nurturing touch is being held or rocked in a comforting way and therapeutic touch can refer to things like foot rubs and back massages,” explains Winston. “Couples can provide both of these kinds of touch to each other to help relieve stress and to build their connection.”
“Sensual touch is touch that delights and wakens the senses,” says Winston. “While any kind of touch can help a woman feel more open to connecting sexually with her partner, sensual touch is the best way to turn someone on who has a reduced libido.” However, Winston stressed that it’s important that there be no sexual pressure attached to these other kinds of touch because this only makes it more difficult for the woman to get aroused and it can lead to resentment.
Winston says that it’s important for couples to understand that it’s possible to have sexual encounters where one partner isn’t turned on and having orgasms. “Women can hold their partner while he or she self-pleasures, saying loving or sexy things in their ear, and maybe even joining in to assist in their pleasure,” explains Winston. “This provides a very different experience for her partner than leaving them to deal with it on their own.”
It’s important that, like with the other kind of touch, there’s no expectation that the woman has to do anything except for lovingly support her partner in their erotic experience. “Most partners have never watched each other masturbate,” says Winston. “It can be a very intimate and connected experience. Also when there’s no pressure on the woman to be sexual she might even end up getting turned on and getting more involved.”
Winston also encourages new couples to seek extra support as they grow their families. “Human beings did not evolve to be in a nuclear family,” she explains. “We evolved as a tribal species. In tribal species, everyone is there for a new mother. She’s not isolated and she is being taken care of.”
This sense of isolation can be so hard on new mothers, but it’s a very common thing for new mothers to experience. “In our culture most new moms are on their own and feeling isolated, dealing with more stress and demand on their time than they can manage,” says Winston. “The more of a tribe you can create the more support you’ll have when the going gets tough.”
What do you think of our tips for couples about sex after pregnancy? Is there any advice that you’d like to add? Let us know by tweeting @Astroglide.
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