What New Dads Need to Know About New Moms & Sex
by Susan Miller, BScN
Before your baby was born, you may have been told by others (especially other guys) that “once the baby is here your sex life is over!” You might have been amused that people thought to mention this, but it was of little relevance at the time. You had more important things to think about such as getting through the birth and painting the nursery! And besides, what did those other people know about you and your partner’s relationship anyway?
So now your baby has arrived and new parenthood has presented many joys and challenges too. In the early weeks and months, there doesn’t seem to be much time or energy for anything but baby care and basic household tasks. You both likely feel a deeper sense of love and commitment toward each other as you grow into parenting together—but what happened to your sex life? It’s now dawning on you that those other people had a point. What happened to “us” and the romance we used to enjoy as a couple? Typically dad misses the before-baby sex life, but mom craves nurturing and emotional intimacy, not necessarily sexual intimacy. This can present a problem. How can the needs of both partners be met when their needs seem to be so different?
It is commonly believed that a woman will be “ready” to resume an active sex life at or around six weeks postpartum. Some women may be ready sooner and some much later. Mom’s desire for sex depends on her mental as well as her physical readiness. There are some specific physical reasons that sex may not be comfortable for mom even after the six-week mark. The muscle tone of the vagina has changed after birth, and there may be tender areas that are healing where an episiotomy or tear has been repaired. Moms are usually sore from vaginal or cesarean delivery for quite a while after birth. Sleep deprivation and ongoing fatigue can dampen the libido as well.
Post-partum hormone changes have a significant effect on how a woman feels about sex at this time. The hormones of lactation cause a woman to be less interested in sex since Mother Nature wants her to be focused primarily on her infant and not become pregnant again. Her lactating breasts are larger and heavier and sometimes tender. Often sexual arousal causes a lactating woman to leak milk. This is perfectly normal and healthy but some women find it messy, annoying or embarrassing. Mothering hormones cause moms to be on constant alert to respond to the baby’s needs 24 hours a day. This can leave the mom feeling “touched out” and emotionally depleted. By the end of the day, it is likely that she doesn’t have much more to give, and would love to have some time alone.
Some men have a hard time relating to their partner sexually after watching the birth and seeing all the physical changes that come with motherhood. New fathers often report feeling left out or jealous of the baby who occupies most of mom’s time and attention. If this is the case dad may try harder to pursue his partner sexually in an effort to feel more connected. Unfortunately, new moms are rarely able to respond positively to these sexual overtures. Women often have trouble switching from mommy mode to sex kitten!
New moms tend to get stuck in “function” mode where their minds are focused on things other than sex. Even when mom has found the desire and opportunity for some sexual intimacy with her partner, she may have difficulty focusing as she wonders when the baby will need her next feed.
More profound than any other mental block to intimacy is the mother’s own judgment of herself as an attractive, sexual woman. She does not feel attractive if she is sleep deprived, has not had time to care for herself, if she is very conscious of her extra “baby weight” and feels generally sore and tired.
How To Romance “Mommy”
• “New mothers need to be mothered.” This old saying is still applicable. When a woman feels cared for, nurtured and supported by her partner she will have a stronger emotional connection with him. Women need to feel emotionally connected before they can feel interested in sexual intimacy.
• Make your relationship a priority. Set a specific time aside each week to focus on you as a couple. If you don’t schedule it, it simply won’t happen. Remember that you were a couple before your baby came along. Do not lose your couple relationship by giving all to the baby. Your baby needs parents who value their relationship and have a strong commitment to each other.
• You both need as much sleep as possible. Arranging for mom to get more sleep will help her to find a little more energy for sex. Sexual arousal takes a fair amount of focused concentration for many women, and after giving birth, sexual arousal can require more time and effort from both partners.
• Most women need rest and freedom from mothering/household responsibilities before they can feel relaxed and ready for sex. The more you can help to take the pressure off of mom the better. Women need a lot of time to unwind and forget about their mommy role in order to focus on sex. Don’t expect mom to be “ready to go” within half an hour. Some women really do need half a day to unwind before sex!
• Take advantage of any opportunity to nurture mom with a kiss, a hug, and recognition of her hard work as a mother. A thoughtful gift or surprise such as “I ordered out for dinner tonight” will go a long way!
• Mom needs to have some time alone for a quiet bath or reading and to get out of the house on her own to shop for some clothes that fit or have a haircut.
• Women appreciate compliments on how good they look, feel or smell to you!
• Honest, respectful communication between you and your partner will build emotional intimacy and help you to avoid misunderstandings. Remember that it is a common pitfall to assume that we know what our partner is thinking or wanting. Always verify! Look for opportunities to affirm each other in the hard work you each do for your new family.
Getting your sex life back on track is not accomplished in one weekend. Taking small steps and going slowly without pressuring either partner can be the most successful approach. Couples commonly report that their sex life was back on track by the time their baby was a year old.
Susan Miller R.N. BScN is a Perinatal Educator and Certified Breastfeeding Counsellor. She works with prenatal and post-natal families in the Greater Victoria area and is the proud grandmother of Meredith.