We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we actually hear the nitty-gritty details of how we might actually achieve those things? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a licensed sex psychotherapist based in San Francisco, to help us out with the specifics. This week’s topic: how to have a sex life after having a baby.
Q: I'm a guy who recently had a baby with my partner. We didn’t have the greatest sex life before our child was born, but things have taken a definite turn for the worse. We’ve fought about sex a lot in the past, so I’m wondering how and when to bring it up with her. I’ve tried to drop little hints, but she’s either ignoring them or not catching on. I know that she’s exhausted and feels unattractive, so I don’t want to push her. At the same time, I’m going crazy with sexual frustration. Is there any hope for a regular sex life after having a baby?
A: First things first — congratulations on the birth of your child!
I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with relationship stress during this amazing period of your life, but I’m also not surprised. Having a child wreaks havoc on relationships! Sex after childbirth isn’t discussed that openly, so a lot of new parents feel caught off guard by how difficult it is to maintain closeness and intimacy once they’ve brought a little one into the world.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it for you — having an active sex life with a baby around is rough, but it is doable. Here are 8 steps you can take to bring some life back into the bedroom:
1. Get on the same page before baby makes three.
I know this suggestion is too late for your situation, but I wanted to mention it for other parents-to-be.
It’s important to create a solid foundation for your sex life before you start expanding your family. Some couples think that having a baby will somehow magically make their sex lives better, but that is never the case. Before making this huge commitment, you want to feel like you and your partner understand each other’s needs, are able to communicate about sex openly, and have a sex life that feels satisfying overall. This is hard to do, I know, but communication and advocating for your needs are important skills that are worth developing.
One good place to start is to have a conversation about the kinds of changes that a baby might bring along. If you’re able to talk about these dynamics beforehand, it will make it easier to deal with them once your baby has been born. Here are some questions to ask yourselves:
How do you think this baby will affect our sex life? Get into real specifics with your answers.
When it comes to intimacy, what do you think we do pretty well so far, and where could we stand to improve?
How can we keep prioritizing each other, even when we're exhausted?
Are there any steps we can take now to make things even slightly easier on us down the road?
If your sex life feels healthy and vibrant before the baby arrives, it will be a lot easier to adjust after the birth than if you go into the pregnancy fighting.
2. Keep talking about it.
I can understand that you’re trying to be subtle with your hints, but you’re only going to drive yourself more crazy by not being clear about what’s going on for you. The two of you need to keep communicating about the ways your intimate relationship is changing.
When you talk to her, acknowledge the reality of the situation, and the reality of your desires. You might want to say something like, “I miss you. I know it’s hard to have time for just us these days, but I want us to talk about how we can make space for a little intimacy. I don’t want you to feel pressured, but I also want to be honest about what I’m feeling.”
3. Give yourselves some time.
Your sexual frustration may be getting compounded by the fact that you weren’t able to set reasonable expectations about your post-baby sex life. This is yet another issue that results from a lack of discourse about sex. Most doctors don’t bring up the topic of sex until after the birth, but some don’t ever address it.
Depending on what happened during birth, your partner might be out of commission for weeks or even months. Generally, most women are able to resume sex after about six weeks, but make sure you ask for clear and specific information from your doctor about your particular situation.
Even if your doctor gives you the go-ahead after six weeks, your lady may still not interested in sex for a while. Pregnancy and childbirth pack a wallop to the female body. The fluctuations in her hormone levels usually cause her sex drive to drop. Her body feels more sensitive, and she may be afraid of pain during penetration. She’ll be producing less natural lubricant. She may be dealing with postpartum depression. It’s not uncommon for women to take upwards of six to nine months before feeling ready for intercourse.
This wait can feel frustrating, of course, but having the proper information and realistic expectations can make it more bearable.
4. Get creative.
Intercourse might be off the table for a while, but there are plenty of other ways for the two of you to bond physically. You can cuddle, give each other massages, hang out in bed naked, watch each other masturbate, take a bath or shower together, play with sex toys, give each other hand jobs, watch dirty movies together, or give or receive oral.
You don’t want intimacy to be all-or-nothing. If she feels like intercourse is the only option whenever you want to be intimate, she’s more likely to turn down your initiations. Conversely, if she feels like she has a variety of options to choose from, she’ll be more willing to engage.
You can also get creative with your use of time. Whenever the baby is quiet or down for a nap, offer her a back massage or ask to make out.
5. Help her take care of her body.
Pretty much every new mom feels self-conscious about her post-pregnancy body. It doesn’t help that the tabloids are littered with stories of women who "got their bodies back" seemingly after just a few days. Your partner is probably worried about weight gain, stretch marks, and vaginal tearing and loosening.
Your partner is going to go through a journey around reconnecting to her body, but you can help her develop this new relationship and regain a sense of confidence. Tell her how beautiful you think she is, in detail. Pamper her with massages and cuddles. Acknowledge the superhuman strength it took to create and give birth to your baby!
6. Take care of yourself
On top of feeling self-conscious about the way her body looks, it’s likely that your partner is feeling disconnected from her body. Most new moms feel like their bodies no longer belong to them. They’ve just spent nine months being host to a growing being, and now have to be a milk factory for many more months to come. The dependency and neediness of a baby is downright exhausting. The last thing your partner wants to feel is that you need her too.
Of course you want to be intimate with the woman you love, but you can help take some of the pressure off of her in a few ways. Let her know you can take care of some of your own sexual needs. Be open with her about the times you masturbate. A lot of guys are hesitant to talk about masturbation with their partners, but it can actually go a long way towards helping her feel more relaxed and willing to be intimate with you. You can also try focusing on her needs, and try to pamper her body like I discussed above. Touch her without anticipating anything in return.
7. Get help.
It’s hard for a mom to be away from a newborn for a significant period of time, but you can still enlist friends, family, or paid help to give you guys tiny breaks to be together. This will also get a lot easier once your baby is bottle feeding.
You may also want to consider booking a session with a couples counselor or sex therapist, who can assist the two of you in reigniting your connection. You can find a therapist who will allow you to bring your baby in to the session with you, or one who works over video chat.
8. Celebrate small wins.
Having a baby is a lot of work. There are going to be days where you're so exhausted that putting on pants feels like a victory.
Acknowledge and celebrate each tiny little moment that the two of you are able to spend connecting. You have to be your own cheerleaders! Give her a high-five for holding your hand. Congratulate yourselves for taking five minutes to make out. Compliment her for brushing her hair. Celebrating together will help you feel like more of a team, which will only serve to deepen the intimacy between the two of you.
Congratulations again, and good luck!
Images: scion_cho/Flickr; Giphy