Between the lack of sleep and your new responsibilities as a parent, are you finding there isn’t much room left over for intimacy?
Between the lack of sleep and your new responsibilities as a parent, are you finding there isn’t much room left over for intimacy? It’s normal. You’re in the process of adapting to many changes.
According to several studies, intercourse during the first 2 months postpartum is basically nil. “For 10% to 15% of couples, sexual activity usually only resumes 1 year after the birth,” says Viola Polomeno, professor and perinatal sex specialist at the University of Ottawa. “In general, parents usually start having sex again 2 months after the birth. They haven’t necessarily regained their pre-baby sex drive, but they’ve engaged in sex at least once.”
Waiting until mom’s body is ready
There are physical reasons that explain why sex is slower after baby arrives. Mom’s postpartum body needs time to heal. First, the postpartum bleeding (lochia) needs to stop, usually about 3 to 6 weeks after birth. And mom may also have to heal from vaginal tearing or even a C-section.
It’s therefore recommended to wait until your doctor’s visit (4 to 6 weeks after delivery) before engaging in vaginal intercourse. “If you want to start up again before then, you need to at least wait until the postpartum bleeding stops,” advises Viola Polomeno. “And, if it hurts, stop.”
When to seek help?
If there seems to be an issue with your sex life, if at least one of you is affected by it and nothing seems to be improving in spite of your efforts, it’s a good idea to seek help. “Often, all it takes is a few sessions,” assures sex therapist and psychologist Michel Campbell. “If you wait until the situation gets worse, it may be harder to work things out.” If what you’ve seen or experienced during the delivery prevents you from having sex, it’s also a good time to consult a professional.
Even when mom’s body is ready, that doesn’t mean your sex life will return to what it was pre-pregnancy. The tiredness and stress related to your new parental responsibilities often reduce desire. If that’s the case, accept help from friends and family or take advantage of local resources. Sometimes all it takes is a little rest to restore energy levels and sex drive.
Couples must also get to know mom’s “new” body, and that’s not always easy. “After my third pregnancy, I had a hard time accepting my body,” says Florence-Élyse, who admitted being less interested in sex even though her partner, Patrice, was still attracted to her. “We had sex less often,” she says. “It took a year before I felt comfortable in my body.”
If women fear that their partner will cheat on them because they are less interested in sex or because they believe themselves to be less attractive, “fathers, for their parts, have their own fears,” adds Francine de Montigny, Canada Research Chair in Family Psychosocial Health. “When facing their partner’s lack of interest, some men start to question themselves and believe they have lost their powers of seduction.” In such cases, women can reassure their partners by telling them that they still desire them even though they’re too exhausted or not yet ready for sex.
Dealing with having children around
Raising and caring for children can also create tension in the couple and make intimacy harder. “I was a perfectionist with our first child,” admits Angelica. “When my partner wanted to help me, I was never satisfied with the results.” Olivier felt cast aside. “Since I never did anything right, I stopped helping,” he says. With their second child, Angelica is giving him more room and their relationship is smoother. In fact, mothers often feel tenderness and admiration when observing their partners as dads: the exact feelings that could reignite the flame. Since their baby is only 1 month old, Olivier and Angelica still haven’t resumed intercourse, but they already feel more inclined to do so. Staying connected to your partner through random acts of affection and tenderness will help get your sex life back on track.
Staying connected to your partner through random acts of affection and tenderness will help get your sex life back on track.
Other parents no longer take time for themselves and even less for their love lives. This is what happened to Lyne and Junior, parents of 3 children aged 9 months, 4 and 6 years old. “After my second child, I miscarried and went through a depression,” says Lyne. “This put distance between me and Junior. We no longer took time for each other. I consulted a psychologist and today things are much better between us.” The couple now sets aside at least 30 minutes each evening when the children are asleep just to talk or do something together.
Sexual fantasies are a great way to jumpstart desire. “They can turn you on and they don’t cost a thing,” says Sylvie Lavigueur. “You can choose to share your fantasies with your partner or keep them to yourself.”
As for pornography: “If both partners find it a turn on, there isn’t any problem,” says the sex therapist. However, it’s riskier if one of the partners uses it alone, as pornography can drive a wedge between a couple.
Spending time together as a couple can seem an insurmountable feat with young children around, especially if you’re aiming for the same thing as before (romantic weekends or outings as a couple). The best is to accept your new reality and get creative. For example, you can have a romantic dinner when the kids are asleep or use naptime to spend some time together. “Preserving your couple’s intimacy allows your children to have happy parents, which is good for the entire family,” says sex therapist Sylvie Lavigueur.
Sharing your room or bed with your baby can also make intimacy more difficult. If you choose to let your children come in your bed, you need to make sure it doesn’t stop you from having sex when you want to. Patrick and Gabrielle, who share their room with their 8-month-old daughter, found their solution. “We make love in the living room so as not to wake her up,” says Patrick.
Getting caught with your pants down
What do you do if your child catches you having sex? You can tell him you’re busy giving each other big people hugs. Tell him to go back to bed and go to him to reassure him. If he asks questions, answer him according to his age. Your toddler may start to cry because he thinks what he heard was someone crying out in pain. You can tell him that everything is okay and that it’s just how big people show affection.
However, if it took you a few minutes to notice him there and he saw some of the sexual act, you may want to keep an eye on him. He may try to reproduce what he saw with other children. You will then need to explain to him that this type of behaviour is reserved for adults only.
How to reignite the flame
Parents who have put their sex lives on hold because of children can slowly bring the passion back into their lives. Viola Polomeno suggests a method that helps couples reconnect physically in 4 steps:
Get to know each other again through simple acts of affection such as hugging each other or spooning each other in bed to fall asleep or on the sofa to watch a movie.
Rediscover more sensual touching by, for example, taking a bath together, massaging each other, or touching or kissing each other for a long time.
Give your partner pleasure through touching of a more sexual nature.
Start having sex again.
Some parents take several months to get through the steps; others do it in a day! The important thing is to respect yourselves and to do it at your own pace. Couples can also find ways to compensate when their needs are different. If one of the partners doesn’t feel like having sex, he or she could choose to just touch the other. “This small gesture can make a big difference,” says Michel Campbell. And who knows, maybe it will end up arousing that partner, too! The quality of your relationship as a couple also influences your sex drive. So getting along with each other in your daily lives is a good way to nurture physical intimacy.