Parents and lovers

Trying to conceive, the journey through pregnancy, and childbirth are all life-changing events for a couple. It’s no wonder that sex and desire are also affected! In this article, we explore the four pivotal moments that tend to impact the sex lives of new parents. Knowing what to expect and learning that others have been in the same situation can be very reassuring.


Keeping sex fun while trying to conceive

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

Having a child can impact your sex life—even before they’re born!

Having a child can impact your sex life—even before they’re born!

“At the beginning of my pregnancy, my libido was basically nonexistent,” says Gabrielle, mother of 8-month-old Lilas-Gaïa. “After three months, though, it came back with a vengeance!”

It’s common for expectant mothers to experience changes in their libido due to hormonal changes and the discomforts of pregnancy. During the first trimester, women often suffer from fatigue and nausea, which can put a damper on their desire.

Fluctuating hormones, changes to the mother’s body, and the fear of hurting the baby can all impact the sex lives of future parents.

Of course, every woman—and every pregnancy—is different. Some women feel more aroused because of the increased hormones. “During my first pregnancy, my libido was in full swing,” recalls Angelica. “But things were different when I was pregnant with my second daughter. I wasn’t as interested in sex. I was tired because my first wasn’t sleeping through the night.”

Some couples who have experienced a miscarriage may also notice a drop in sexual desire during their next pregnancy. They might be afraid that sexual activity will hurt the developing baby or have trouble getting in the mood. This was the case for Marie-Claude and David. Before they had their two daughters, Ariane and Émy, now aged 5 and 6, they had a miscarriage at six weeks. “When I was expecting my first daughter, we were worried,” says Marie-Claude. “Seeing the ultrasound put us at ease. Before that, we just weren’t interested in sex.”

In fact, having sex during pregnancy is generally considered safe. While it’s true that orgasm and breast stimulation may cause the uterus to contract, as long as the pregnancy is going well, there is no risk of miscarriage or preterm labour.

Second trimester surprises

“After the first three months of a pregnancy, some women notice that their bodies get more sensitive and their orgasms feel stronger,” says psychologist and sexologist Dr. Michel Campbell. “The vaginal tissue becomes elongated and swollen, which can enhance sexual pleasure.”

Dr. Viola Polomeno, adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa and specialist in perinatal sexuality, notes that around 20% of women experience an orgasm for the first time during the second trimester. For other women, it’s a totally different story—they actually have less powerful orgasms and experience a drop in their libido.

During the third trimester, the discomforts of pregnancy (e.g., fatigue, frequent urination, pressure in the lower abdomen, breast pain), as well as the fear of going into preterm labour may lead to decreased sexual desire. Expectant mothers may also find that their belly makes certain positions uncomfortable or even painful.

When should I skip sex?

There are certain situations when pregnant women should avoid sex. They include the following:
  • You are experiencing bleeding or amniotic fluid loss.
  • You are at risk of preterm labour.
  • The placenta is sitting too low.
  • You are carrying more than one baby.
  • You have experienced a miscarriage due to a physical issue, such as cervical insufficiency.
Your doctor should let you know whether it’s safe for you to engage in sexual activity while pregnant. If you have any questions, reach out to them. However, even if sex isn’t advisable in your situation, experts say that you should maintain other forms of physical intimacy with your partner.

What about expectant fathers?

Pregnancy can also affect an expectant father’s sex drive. Some men are less attracted to their partners because of the physical changes that occur during pregnancy. Others find their partners more attractive, as Patrick testifies. “My sex drive didn’t slow down,” he says. “Gabrielle never stopped being attractive to me.” Some pregnant women glow more than ever!

Some men experience erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation during pregnancy.

Of course, some men are afraid of hurting the fetus or feel uncomfortable because of the proximity of the baby. Rest assured that having sex will not hurt the developing baby, and the penis does not touch the fetus during penetrative sex. The uterus and amniotic membranes keep it protected.

Staying connected

It’s important not to interpret a decrease in sexual desire during pregnancy as a sign that your partner loves you less. The key to maintaining a good relationship is communication. Sharing your desires and discomforts with one another will benefit you both. “Just feeling listened to and understood is often enough,” notes Dr. Polomeno.

If one of you isn’t in the mood, remember that there are other ways to be physically intimate. Taking a romantic bath together, giving each other massages, kissing, caressing, and cuddling are all excellent ways to show your affection. Outercourse can also be a pleasurable way to satisfy your desire for intimacy.

Myth or fact?

Can having intercourse late in pregnancy trigger labour? Yes, but only under certain conditions! The baby has to be in the right position and the cervix must have started to efface. Hormone-like substances contained in the semen (prostaglandins) could then help trigger labour.

Staying lovers through it all

Between dealing with sleepless nights and adjusting to your new responsibilities as a parent, it can be difficult to make room for your sex life.

Between dealing with sleepless nights and adjusting to your new responsibilities as a parent, it can be difficult to make room for your sex life. This is perfectly normal, as there are many changes to adapt to.

According to a number of studies, parents who have just welcomed a child into the world have little to no sex for the first two months. “In fact, 10 to 15 percent of couples don’t resume sexual activity until a year after childbirth,” says Dr. Viola Polomeno, an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa and a specialist in perinatal sexuality.

In general, parents start having sex again two months after their child is born. They may still have a low sex drive, but they have made love at least once.

Waiting for the mother’s body to be ready

Sexual desire decreases with the arrival of a baby for physical reasons. After childbirth, the mother’s body needs time to recover. It takes around three to six weeks for postpartum bleeding, or lochia, to stop. An additional recovery period may also be necessary in the case of a C-section or a perineal tear or incision.

It’s therefore recommended to wait until your postpartum checkup (four to six weeks after delivery) before resuming vaginal intercourse. “If you want to begin sooner, you should wait at least until your postpartum bleeding has stopped,” says Dr. Polomeno. “And it’s important to stop if it hurts.”

When should you consult a professional?

If you feel that there’s a problem in your sex life that’s affecting at least one partner and you can’t seem to fix it, you should talk to a specialist. “Things often improve after just a few appointments,” says sexologist and psychologist Dr. Michel Campbell. “The longer you wait, the harder it’ll be to find a solution.” It’s also a good idea to seek professional help if what you saw or experienced during childbirth is preventing you from having sex.

Dealing with mental blocks

Even if a woman feels ready to be physically intimate again with her partner, it may take some time for the couple to get their romantic groove back. Often, the fatigue and stress that come with looking after a newborn result in a lower sex drive. If this is something you’re experiencing, getting support from your loved ones or making use of local resources may help. Sometimes, all you need is some proper rest to restore your energy and libido.

Couples also have to adjust to Mom’s “new” body, which isn’t always easy. “After my third child, I had a hard time accepting my body,” says Florence-Élyse. Despite the fact that her partner, Patrice, found her attractive, she was less interested in sex. “We made love less often,” she says. “It took me a year to feel comfortable in my own skin.”

While women tend to fear their partner will cheat on them because of their decreased sex drive or because they feel less attractive, Francine de Montigny, director of Regroupement Paternité, famille et société, notes that “fathers can have insecurities too. Their partner’s lack of sexual desire can cause some men to lose confidence and start to think they’re no longer attractive.” It can help to tell your partner that you still think they’re sexy even if you’re too exhausted or not yet ready to have sex.

Adjusting to life with kids

The realities of raising and taking care of kids can also strain a couple’s relationship. “With our first baby, I was a perfectionist,” says Angelica. “Whenever my partner offered to lend a hand, I found something to criticize.” Olivier felt left out. “I could never seem to do anything right, so I stopped pitching in,” he says.

Since the birth of the couple’s second daughter, Angelica has been more willing to split parenting duties, which has brought her and Olivier closer together. The couple’s sex life is still on hold given that their baby is just a month old, but they’re already feeling more ready to be intimate again.

Mothers often feel tenderness and admiration on seeing their partner step into their role as a dad. These types of feelings can help reawaken sexual desire.

Staying connected with your partner through sweet and loving gestures will help you get your sex life back on track.

Other parents stop making time for themselves, much less for their romantic relationship. This is what happened to Lyne and Junior, who have a 9-month-old, a 4-year-old, and a 6-year-old.

“After my second child, I had a miscarriage and went through a period of depression,” says Lyne. “Junior and I grew apart and stopped spending time with each other. I eventually went to see a psychologist. Today, we’re doing a lot better.” The couple now set aside at least 30 minutes every evening when the kids are in bed to talk—or do something else!

Sexual fantasies
Fantasizing is a great way to fuel sexual desire, whether you share your fantasies with your partner or keep them to yourself.

If both partners enjoy reading or watching porn together, it can help them get in the mood and heighten arousal. Porn can also serve as a short-term way for one partner to relieve sexual tension if the other is sexually unavailable. Sooner or later, however, the couple need to address what isn’t working in their sex life to avoid drifting apart.

Spending quality time with your partner can feel impossible when you have young children—especially if you’re trying to recreate your pre-parenthood lifestyle of romantic outings and weekends. It’s best to make peace with the fact that things have changed and get creative instead.

For example, you can plan a dinner for two after putting the kids to bed or squeeze in some one-on-one time whenever your children take their naps. These moments of intimacy are also beneficial for your kids, as they wind up with happier parents.

Sharing a room or bed with your baby can also get in the way of your romantic relationship. If you practise co-sleeping (link in French), it’s important to make sure the arrangement doesn’t keep you from having sex when the mood strikes.

Patrick and Gabrielle, whose 8-month-old daughter sleeps in their bedroom, have found a solution. “We have sex in the living room to avoid waking her,” says Patrick.

Getting caught in flagrante

What should you do if your child walks in on you having sex? You can say that you and your partner were giving each other a special grown-up hug. Tell your child to go back to bed and then check in on them to make sure they’re okay. If they have questions, give them age-appropriate answers.
Your child may also start to cry because they thought they were hearing cries of pain. Reassure them that nobody was hurting anyone and that what they saw was a grown-up expression of love.
If it took you a while to realize your child was in the room and they witnessed several sexual acts, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them. They may attempt to act out what they saw with other children. In this case, it’s important to explain that what you were doing was for adults only.

How to rekindle the flame

Little by little, couples who have put sex on the back burner since having kids can bring the passion back into their relationship. Dr. Polomeno has a four-step method for helping parents revive their sex life:

  1. Start by rediscovering the pleasure of physical contact in simple ways, such as by cuddling, falling asleep in each other’s arms, or snuggling up on the couch to watch a movie.
  2. Engage in more sensual activities like taking a bath together, giving each other massages, kissing, or caressing each other’s skin.
  3. Move on to more intimate caresses and heavy petting.
  4. Resume having intercourse.

Some parents may need a few months to get through this process. Others may breeze through all four steps in a day! The key is to respect your limits and go at your own pace.

Couples can also meet each other halfway if their needs differ. For instance, if you don’t feel like making love, you can offer to touch your partner instead. “This small compromise can make a big difference,” says Dr. Campbell. And you never know—stimulating your partner may end up turning you on as well! Remember, too, that the quality of your relationship affects your sexual desire. Maintaining a strong emotional bond therefore makes it easier to resume physical intimacy.

Sex and breastfeeding

In theory, new moms can be both nurturing and sexy. But in reality, that’s often easier said than done!

In theory, new moms can be both nurturing and sexy. Women’s breasts often increase in size during breastfeeding, which can make them more attractive to their partners. Some women also enjoy having larger breasts. But in reality, breastfeeding can put a damper on sexual desire.

“When I was breastfeeding my son, I felt like my breasts belonged to him,” says Florence-Élyse, mother of 2-year-old Alexandre Xavier. “My partner didn’t dare touch my breasts anymore, and I didn’t view them in a sexual way either.” Many couples feel the same way. Since the main purpose of Mom’s breasts at the moment is to feed the baby, it’s often hard to remember that they can also be erogenous zones.

Breastfeeding may also satisfy a woman’s need for affection, causing her partner to feel excluded from this special relationship between mother and child. On the other hand, some parents are moved by the sight of their partner breastfeeding.

No matter how you’re feeling, the important thing is to talk about your emotions and maintain physical contact. This will deepen your relationship and intimacy. It’s also reassuring to remember that this phase won’t last forever!

Physical discomfort

Breastfeeding can also cause changes in a mother’s libido. Her breasts may feel more sensitive, or even painful, when they’re full of milk.

Breastfeeding also boosts production of the hormone prolactin, which lowers a woman’s sex drive and causes vaginal dryness,” explains psychologist and sexologist Michel Campbell. It can help to use lubricant during penetrative sex. And rest assured, these effects will go away when breastfeeding ends, and sometimes even before then!

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 compresses during intercourse. But others find that it adds a bit of spice to their sex life. “The taste of my milk would turn Patrick on,” says Gabrielle. “And it made me feel better because it relieved my engorged breasts.”

Communicating with your partner and continuing to show affection through simple gestures will help you reignite the spark.

Things to keep in mind
  • Pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the arrival of a new baby can lead to a drop in sexual desire. This situation is common and often temporary.
  • Maintaining communication and physical contact through simple gestures helps nurture your intimacy and slowly rekindle your sex life.
  • Having a child can help you and your partner grow closer, as long as you accept that your relationship 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 and psychotherapist
Updated: July 2023


Book for parents

  • Parent, G. Questions sexuelles pour couples actuels. Éditions de l’Homme, 2012, 224 pp.


  • Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.
  • Institut national de santé publique du Québec. “Les seins pendant l’allaitement.”
  • The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.

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