Parents and lovers

Wanting a child, pregnancy, and the arrival of a baby are all events that turn a couple’s life upside down. It’s not surprising, then, that sex might need a bit of adjusting! Find out about the changes that could happen to your sex life during four milestones in your life. Understanding what can happen and knowing that others have gone through it all can help!


Conceiving in pleasure

Making love to conceive a child is often an exciting time, but for some couples, it can become a source of stress…

By Nathalie Côté

Making love to conceive a child is often an exciting time, but for some couples, it can become a source of stress…

“When we wanted to have a child, we would make love every day during my ovulation period,” says Angelica, mother to 2 girls aged 1 month and 3 years old. Her partner, Olivier, has an excellent memory of that time! “It was a game. We didn’t put any pressure on ourselves,” he says. Choosing to get pregnant can be exciting. The partners make plans to have sex and look forward to it with anticipation.

But not all couples conceive in pleasure. Since they want to become parents quickly, some leave less room for spontaneity. For example, they calculate their exact moment of ovulation to accurately plan their intimate rendezvous. Others choose positions that make getting pregnant easier. Some couples also make sure the woman reaches orgasm before the man to speed up the sperm’s journey to the ovule. “It’s true that these practices increase the chances of conceiving,” says Viola Polomeno, University of Ottawa professor and specialist in perinatal sexuality, an area of study that looks closely at the intimacy between couples before and after the birth of a child. But putting pressure on yourselves to make love, have an erection or reach orgasm doesn’t help you get there.

Specialists recommend not over-planning the birth of a baby (e.g.: I need to get pregnant in October because we want to have the baby in the summer).

“In the end, all these tricks can ruin the moment for the partners,” says sex therapist Sylvie Lavigueur. Having sex to conceive can also put the focus on loving each other, which can heighten your sexual attraction to each other. Couples who want lovemaking to result in a baby are therefore better off relaxing and forgetting about getting pregnant for the moment, concentrating instead on eroticism and seduction.

It’s true that the longer it takes to conceive, the more worrying it can be for couples, which may lead them to try different things. But it’s good to remember that it sometimes takes a few months of practice before the woman gets pregnant. Unless you have an obvious fertility problem (e.g.: absence of ovulation), doctors recommend trying to conceive for 1 year before consulting. Before then, the only thing that matters is having fun!

Pregnancy and libido

Baby is only just starting to develop, but she’s already affecting her parent’s sex life!

Baby is only just starting to develop, but she’s already affecting her parent’s sex life!

“At the start of my pregnancy, I really lost interest in sex,” admits Gabrielle, mother to 8-month-old Lilas-Gaïa. “But it returned with a vengeance after the 3-month mark.” This often happens to expecting moms because a woman’s desire often varies according to hormonal changes and the discomforts of pregnancy.

Hormonal changes, changes in mom’s body or the fear of hurting the baby can affect the passion between expecting parents.

In the first trimester, tiredness and nausea can be an obstacle to sexual relations. But each woman experiences pregnancy differently and some feel greater arousal because of the increased hormones, says sex therapist Sylvie Lavigueur. “During my first pregnancy, my libido was in full-swing,” remembers Angelica. “But things were different when I was pregnant with my second daughter. I wasn’t so interested. I was tired because my firstborn wasn’t sleeping through the night.”

Some couples who have miscarried may also note that their desire for sex isn’t as strong during the next pregnancy. They might fear that making love will harm the baby’s development or they’re simply not into it. This is what happened to Marie-Claude and David, who went through a miscarriage after 6 weeks of pregnancy, before their daughters Ariane, 5, and Émy, 6, were born. “We were worried when I was expecting our first daughter,” says Marie-Claude. “The ultrasound reassured us. Before that, we just weren’t interested in sex.” In reality, there is generally no danger in engaging in intercourse during pregnancy. It’s true that orgasm and breast stimulation can cause uterine contractions, but if it’s not an at-risk pregnancy, there’s no danger of miscarriage or premature birth.

Surprise in the second trimester!

“Once they’ve passed the 3-month mark, some women find their bodies are more sensitive and their orgasms, more intense,” says psychologist and sex therapist Michel Campbell. “Vaginal tissue is stretched and swollen, which can increase sexual pleasure.” Viola Polomeno, University of Ottawa professor and perinatal sex specialist, notes that about 20% of women experience their first orgasm during the second trimester. But this isn’t true for everyone. Some women, on the contrary, experience less intense orgasms and a lower sex drive.

During the last 3 months, pregnancy discomfort (fatigue, frequent need to pee, pressure in the lower abdomen, painful breasts) can also lower a woman’s sex drive. The baby tummy also makes certain positions uncomfortable or painful.

When to abstain?
There are certain situations in which lovemaking is not recommended for the pregnant woman. They are:
  • Loss of blood or amniotic fluid.
  • Risk of premature delivery.
  • Placenta that is too low.
  • Multiple pregnancy.
  • A previous miscarriage due to a physical problem such as with the cervix.
If any of these situations apply to you, your physician should let you know. When in doubt, ask. The specialists who were consulted for this article, however, encourage couples to nevertheless stay in physical contact.

What about expecting fathers?

Pregnancy can impact an expecting father’s sex drive as well. Some men are less attracted to their partner because of the physical changes due to pregnancy. Others, on the contrary, find the expecting mom more attractive, as we hear from Patrick. “My sexual desire remained strong. Gabrielle never stopped being attractive to me,” he says. Some pregnant women just glow more than ever!

Some men experience erectile difficulties or premature ejaculation during pregnancy.

Some men feel uncomfortable because of the presence of the baby or are afraid of hurting the baby. “But this isn’t the case,” says Michel Campbell. “During intercourse, the penis doesn’t touch the baby. The uterus and amniotic membranes protect the baby well.”

Staying close

It’s important not to interpret the waning of passion that occurs during pregnancy as a lack of love. The key to maintaining a healthy relationship is to talk to each other. You’ll benefit from communicating your desires and discomforts. “Just feeling heard and understood will already help,” notes Viola Polomeno. If one of the partners doesn’t feel like making love, remember that there are other ways to stay in physical contact. A bath for two, a massage, long, slow kisses, caresses and hugs are great ways of showing affection for each other.

True or false?
Having sex at the end of pregnancy can start labour. True, but only under certain conditions! The baby must be placed correctly and the cervix must have started to efface. A hormone found in sperm (prostaglandin) can then contribute to provoking labour.

Staying lovers through it all

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.

Being preoccupied

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…
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:

  1. 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.
  2. Rediscover more sensual touching by, for example, taking a bath together, massaging each other, or touching or kissing each other for a long time.
  3. Give your partner pleasure through touching of a more sexual nature.
  4. 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.

Sex and breastfeeding

In theory, a new mom can both nourish and seduce. But in practice, it’s not always so simple!

“When I was breastfeeding my son, I felt like my breasts belonged to him,” says Florence-Élyse, 2-year-old Alexandre Xavier’s mom. “My partner didn’t dare touch my breasts anymore. And they no longer had a sexual connotation for me either.” Many couples feel the same way. Because the purpose of breasts is to feed the baby, they don’t see how they can also serve as erogenous zones.

As breastfeeding can also fill a woman’s need for tenderness, the father may sometimes feel excluded from this special relationship between mother and child. Also, fathers are sometimes moved by seeing their partner nurse their baby. Whatever you feel, the important thing is to talk about it and to maintain your physical contact. This will help deepen both your relationship and your intimacy. It’s also reassuring to remember that this double-role your breasts are playing will not last forever!

Physical discomfort

Breastfeeding can also affect mom’s interest in sex. Her breasts may be more sensitive, and even painful, when full of milk. “Breastfeeding also increases a hormone (prolactin), which lowers a woman’s sex drive and causes vaginal dryness,” explains sex therapist and psychologist Michel Campbell. For more comfort, you can use a lubricant. And rest assured that these effects disappear when you stop breastfeeding, and sometimes even before.

Milk that spontaneously leaks during orgasm can also disturb couples in the heat of the action. To avoid discomfort, some women wear a bra and breast pads during intercourse. But others find, on the contrary, that it adds a bit of spice to sex. “The taste of my milk would turn Patrick on,” says Gabrielle. “It made me feel better because it would relieve my engorged breasts.”

Talking about the situation with your partner and continuing to show affection for each other through simple gestures will help rekindle your sex life.


  • Pregnancy, breastfeeding and having children in the house can lower your sex drive. This situation is common and often temporary.
  • Maintaining communication and physical contact through simple acts helps nurture your intimacy and slowly reawaken your sex life.
  • Having a child can help bring you closer, as long as you accept that your couple and sex life will change.


Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, March 2015
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Côté
Scientific review: Geneviève Parent, sexologist, psychotherapist and parenting advisor


Photos (in order) : Nicolas St-Germain, GettyImages/PeopleImages, GettyImages/Prostock-Studio, GettyImages/AleksandarNakic et GettyImages/LittleCityLifestylePhotography