Sex, Love & Babies
by Susan Miller, BScN
If you and your partner’s intimate relationship has almost disappeared since the arrival of your baby, you are not alone! The demands of early parenthood leave little time or energy for an intimate love life. This dynamic of decreased sexual intimacy for new parents has been the focus of many studies. Research reveals that between 72 per cent and 92 per cent of couples experience significant relationship stress in the first year following the birth of their first child. Part of this relationship stress centers around the couple’s sexual relationship. This situation does not usually improve with the arrival of baby number two or three, either. Most couples realize early on that they need to institute specific strategies to keep their love life alive while raising children.
Sex After Baby
It is common to assume that after six weeks post-partum, mom will be back to her old self, and her body will have returned to the way she was before the pregnancy. The inference is that after six weeks, a couple will resume their normal sexual relationship as if nothing had ever happened. As one new mother stated, “After I got out of the hospital, I felt as if my husband was following me around checking off the days, which to my mind were going all too quickly. Just the thought of sex was absolutely traumatic.”
Pregnancy and childbirth change a woman’s view of herself and of her body. Often a partner’s view of the mother changes as well. And let’s be honest here—there are some obvious physical changes after pregnancy and childbirth! All those sexual parts are being used in a very different way, first to give birth, and then to breastfeed. New mothers are acutely aware of their changed body image and this has a profound influence on a woman’s ability to feel sexual. At the same time, mom may be trying to satisfy her partner but it can seem more like she is just placating him. New mothers often feel conflicted as their loyalty is torn between being attentive to their partner and nurturing their new baby. The constant demands of caring for and feeding the baby can leave a woman feeling as though her body is being used and used. She just wants to be left alone. This is bewildering to her partner who wants to have a connection with her through sexual intimacy. Both partners need to be honest with each other and let the other know how they are feeling and what they need.
As a mother’s body is recovering and changing after childbirth, physical discomforts can also make sexual intimacy difficult. The hormones involved in breastfeeding can decrease the amount of vaginal lubrication and also diminish mom’s desire for sex. Couples need to know this and plan how they will make sexual intimacy more comfortable and satisfying for both. Effective birth control is another consideration at this time as breastfeeding can not be depended on as a natural preventative to becoming pregnant.
Here are some ideas to get your love life back on track, and to build an even stronger relationship with your partner during the baby years and beyond.
Spending Time Together
The demands of a job, household and caring for a new baby leave little time for a couple. Your relationship is bound to suffer if there is no contact with your partner beyond household chores and parenting responsibilities. Make time to be alone as a couple and to enjoy leisure activities together.
When you have a young baby, it is often not practical to go out for an entire evening. You can still have fun together, though—in your own home. Treat yourselves to a special dinner you make or order in. Don’t forget the candles, wine and music. Turn off the phone, TV, and computer. Of course, baby may interrupt at just the wrong moment. A sense of humour and a good measure of flexibility always come in handy!
Having a routine of “together time” is an excellent strategy for the upcoming years. As baby gets older you can book a sitter for one night a week, or swap sitting with another family. If you and your partner have committed to a special evening together once a week, you will be less likely to fall into the “we never go out” trap.
A Romantic Getaway
Once baby is old enough to be left overnight with a trusted sitter, getting away for a romantic weekend or overnight trip can be a wonderful tonic for a sagging sex life. It will seem strange at first to be without your baby, and it will take a little while to relax and forget all other responsibilities. It is often hard for partners to shift from their parenting roles back to their sensual lovers’ roles. If it feels a bit contrived or awkward at first, don’t worry, this is normal so just have a laugh and move forward. As one woman put it, “Our relationship had changed so much since we became parents; my husband is now making love to somebody’s mother!” Couples need to re-discover each other as individuals now that they have become parents.
Paying Attention to Your Partner
It is easy to get swept up in the parenting role and the other aspects of life that seem to demand all your time and energy. Under these circumstances it is not uncommon to take your partner for granted. Recognizing this dynamic is an important first step, and acting on it is the second step. You might tell you partner “You must feel awfully neglected because I’m so focused on the baby” or “I feel that we need to spend more time together.” Just saying the words can make both of you feel more appreciated and in touch. Have regular conversations with your partner to discuss how you are both feeling. Don’t assume that you know how your partner feels, or that your partner can read your mind either.
Being a Best Friend to Your Partner
Relationships that prosper through the good and the bad times have what is referred to as emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent partners have learned to keep the negative thoughts and feelings about each other from overwhelming the positive ones. Simply put, this means that they make an effort to be kind, to focus on their partner’s positive attributes, and to pay attention to each other in their everyday interactions. An easy way to practice this is to ask yourself “How would I relate to my best friend in this situation?” or “What gesture can I make to show that I care?” Couples who have a fulfilling relationship are not only lovers, they are also best friends. The love, respect and commitment that have grown in the relationship will help to sustain both partners through the rough days and make the good times even better.
Susan Miller R.N. BScN is a Perinatal Educator and Certified Breastfeeding Counsellor and has worked with pre and post-natal families in Greater Victoria for 30 years.