Love, Sex, and Romance: Is There Hope After the Baby?
"David and I had been married three years before we decided to have children. We enjoyed the independence, freedom, and spontaneity of our life. However, both of us were equally ready to settle down and pour our energy into raising a family. Little did we know that the intense passion we had for our new baby would have such a dramatic effect on our passion for each other. Instead of romantic weekend getaways, sex in front of the fireplace on Friday nights, and emailing love notes to each other at work, our days and nights were now filled with changing diapers, arguing about whose turn it is to get up with the baby, and emailing messages such as 'Don't forget to pick up formula and diapers on your way home.' The honeymoon was over, and I was too tired to care."
Jennifer, new mother
The intimacy between you and your spouse may need to be redefined, but does not need to end. In fact, couples who openly demonstrate a strong, healthy, loving relationship provide the best environment for their children. It is a myth that romance and babies don't mix. It just takes a little more creativity, understanding, and communication.
Reason for Diminished Desire
There are many factors that can affect the desire for intimacy following the birth of your baby. Here are a few of the most common:
- Stress and physical exhaustion—Sleepless nights, a newborn's demanding schedule, dirty diapers, sore nipples from breast-feeding, and the anxiety that accompanies this fragile new life all compete with the energy you were previously able to contribute to building an intimate relationship with each other.
- Changing hormones—The significant drop of estrogen and progesterone after childbirth can cause postpartum depression, which can interfere with your sexual drive. Although this varies with each individual, postpartum depression commonly lasts between a few days to six weeks following birth. Some women are more sensitive to hormonal changes than others.
- Physical discomfort—Unfortunately, the pain from childbirth doesn't end as soon as the baby is born. In addition to the physical pain it took to get your baby into the world, you will experience physical discomfort as your body works to repair the damages that occurred during the birthing process. The incision from the episiotomy or cesarean birth, hemorrhoids , engorged breasts, and tender vagina are just a few of the "pains" that may be intensified during intercourse.
- Lack of privacy—When you are used to making love in your home—whenever and wherever the desire strikes, it may be difficult to resume the same spontaneity in the company of the baby. Even though you know the baby is oblivious and unaffected by your sexual activity, it can stifle the mood.
- Breastfeeding—Some studies show that nursing women regain their sexual desire earlier, while other studies show that their sexual desire decreases during the time they are breastfeeding. Why the contradiction? Some women indicate that breastfeeding satisfies their sexual need, therefore they are less interested in having their desires filled by their husbands. According to Anne, a mother of two, "My breasts would leak during foreplay, which would embarrass me and I knew it made my husband uncomfortable. We would laugh about it, but it was definitely a distraction."
How to Bring Back the Love, Sex, and Romance
There is hope. At first, love, sex, and romance may be the furthest thing from your mind, and secretly you may not care. However, knowing that an element of your relationship that once brought both you and your husband a great deal of pleasure is now absent may bring about feelings of guilt and anxiety. Here are some suggestions for moving toward a healthy sexual relationship as new parents.
- Take your time—Most OB/GYN's suggest waiting 4-6 weeks, giving the body an opportunity to recover from the birth and the hormones time to return to their normal state. Rushing into intercourse before the tissue has had time to heal can result in pain and bleeding.
- Relax—The more you worry about the lack of intimacy, the more difficult it will be to regain it. Janet, the mother of four girls says, "After the birth of my second daughter, I worried about everything—the new baby, my two-year-old, my husband. When it came to my sex life, I worried about my lack of interest, feelings of unattractiveness, and guilt about not satisfying him. I was a mess, and I felt like I was letting everyone down. It took me about two months before I was able to relax. It was amazing how things started falling into place. My sex life is actually better than it was before."
- Lubricate—The vaginal area is usually dry during the postpartum period due to the altered hormone levels. You can use lubricating vaginal creams and/or suppositories (KY Jelly, Astroglide, Trimosam, or Replens) until the natural secretions return. There are also prescription medications available that will help to lessen the pain and tenderness.
- Exercise—Kegel exercises involve tensing the muscles around the vagina and anus, holding for several seconds, then releasing. The repetition of this exercise will help to tone pelvic muscles, which are associated with vaginal sensations. Kegels can benefit both you and your sex life.
- Express love in other ways—Be creative. There are many ways to express love other than intercourse. Back rubs, cuddling, caressing, and holding hands can be a wonderful way to keep the passion alive until you are ready to "go all the way." "The best way my husband showed me he loved me following the birth of our baby was to sit up with me in the middle of the night while I nursed. We would have some great conversations, and it showed me that he was willing to give up his sleep (which is very important to both of us) to be with me." Intimacy without intercourse is often used as an exercise to improve a couple's sex life. Take advantage of this opportunity!
- Vary your position—This is a great opportunity to find new methods of lovemaking. Experiment to find what positions work best for you. Many women find that the side-to-side position or being on top is most comfortable. It allows them more control over the degree of penetration. This is especially helpful when the perineum is still sore.
- Make a date with your spouse—You may have come to a time in your life when you revert back to "dating." Anticipating a "date" with your husband can be as exciting as the spontaneous romance you once enjoyed. Mark a time on your calendars (even if it's just for an hour or two) when you will hire a babysitter so that you and your husband can spend time alone. You will probably think and talk about the baby most of the time you are away, but being alone together reminds you that there is another very important person in your life.
- Communicate—Good communication is a key factor in any healthy relationship, and especially throughout parenthood. Hopefully, open and honest communication patterns have been established prior to the baby's arrival. This will make it easier to communicate your frustrations, expectations, and desires.
As a new mother, you will receive lots of advice about feeding, bathing, sleeping, and every other issue relating to the care of your newborn, but few will be as open to discuss the topic of sex. Here are a few issues that can be helpful in your effort to reestablishing a healthy intimate relationship.
- Don't resent and/or blame the child—Accept the fact that babies pose a challenge to a romantic relationship. They also bring a tremendous amount of joy, meaning, and humor to your relationship. Work together as a family to make the most of the blessing you have been given.
- Don't assume separate lives—Your roles as a couple now must expand to roles as parents. The new roles should not exclude the responsibilities you have to each other as a couple. It is important that you continue to nurture each other as well as nurture your new baby.
- Don't share your bed with the baby—It is not a good idea to allow the baby to sleep in the same bed with you and your husband. In addition to the physical risk of suffocation, it is wise to keep your bed designated as exclusive territory for you and your husband. It will be difficult for both you and your child to break the habit of sleeping together, thus putting more limitations on opportunities for intimacy between you and your spouse.
With a little patience, creativity, and understanding, the love, sex, and even the romance will return again. In fact, with the common bond of the new life you share together, it may be better than ever. The extra effort it takes to bring the intimacy back into the relationship is worth it!
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists
The National Women's Health Information Center
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Relationship with your partner after birth. University of Michigan website. Available at: http://www.med.umich.edu/obgyn/smartmoms/postpartum/family/partner.htm. Accessed August 13, 2008.
Sex after pregnancy. Pregnancy-info.net website. Available at: http://www.pregnancy-info.net/sex_after_pregnancy.html. Accessed August 13, 2008.
Last reviewed June 2008 by Theodor B. Rais, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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