Keeping a relationship alive, healthy and sexual is difficult at the best of times. Doing this while recovering from pregnancy and delivery, taking care of a new human and living your daily life can be next to impossible.
Here are the 9 pitfalls many couples experience post-new-baby and how to climb out of them.
Solution: Change your idea of what counts as “sex”—and when you do it
When you’re bleary-eyed from looking after your baby and the choice is a nap or some nookie, it’s no surprise that sleep beats sex every time. Fatigue is the biggest issue for new moms, says Vancouver couples and sex therapist Dr. David McKenzie.
“Women’s energies are all geared towards the baby. For the first six weeks at least, penetration is often out of the question.”
Couples need to focus on things that are going to make Mom feel nurtured, such as giving her a massage, says Calgary sexologist Trina Read. “If a woman’s needs are met and she feels like her partner is taking care of her, it creates a better dynamic for the couple.”
You may not want to have intercourse but there are lots of other ways to be close. “You can have ‘outercourse’—oral or manual sex, making out or just cuddling,” says Dr. McKenzie.
Be open with your partner about what is going to work for you. “When men are given specific details, they are usually more than happy to accommodate,” says Read.
If you crave more closeness but can’t stay awake long enough to get it, you might find you’re more energetic when you first wake up. “Many people who feel exhausted find they like sex better in the morning,” says Dr. McKenzie.
Solution: See your doc and grab some lube
If you got the go-ahead for sex at your six-week post-baby checkup but your vagina hurts or feels drier than the Sahara, chances are you’re not jumping into bed enthusiastically.
Vaginal pain is sometimes caused by a little band of scar tissue from a vaginal tear or episiotomy that can take about six to 12 months to soften, says Dr. Nancy Durand, a gynecologist at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
Make another appointment with your doctor to get checked out. “If we can see that there’s a band of fibrous tissue, we may be able to cut it and it will feel better.”
Breastfeeding—which decreases estrogen levels, putting the vagina into a menopausal-like state—is usually to blame for vaginal dryness in new moms. “But the lack of lubrication doesn’t mean you’re not aroused,” says Dr. Durand.
To make sex more comfortable, use a silicone-based lubricant, which is extra slippery. And rest assured, once you’re done breastfeeding, your vagina will start lubricating normally again.
Solution: Put sex in your calendar
“But take a look at your week and ask yourself ‘where can I fit in 10 minutes for my relationship?’” says sexologist Trina Read.
“Most people feel like they’re failures if they have to schedule sex, but spending time together after kids will rarely be spontaneous and you have to be proactive. I get that it’s difficult to find the time but it’s a key aspect of keeping your relationship intact.”
If you’re doing the lion’s share of the baby care and housework, ask for more help from your partner so you’ll have more time—and energy—for sex.
Sit down together and make a schedule for when you can spend some time together. Figure out what your partner can do to help create that time, by helping with specific chores or taking on some nighttime feedings.
Solution: Breastfeed right before romance
Breast milk is perfectly natural and a little leaking is no cause for embarrassment or concern. But if milk dripping from your nipples during sex is making you feel a little like Elsie the Cow and it’s spoiling your mood, you could try wearing a bra and breast pads to keep you dry during sex.
Since the leaks are probably due to the letdown reflex, emptying your breasts before hitting the sheets should also help, says gynecologist Dr. Nancy Durand.
“You don’t want to have sex when your breasts are engorged anyway; it probably wouldn’t feel that good. Try breastfeeding or pumping before sex.”
Solution: Move the sex—or the baby—to another room
You may have baby on the brain—and find it hard to think about your orgasm or anything remotely sexy—when the crib or bassinet is in your bedroom. And you can’t focus for good reason.
“With your baby nearby, you’re in ‘mom mode’ and you can’t move from your ‘attached’ brain to your ‘lust’ brain,” says sexologist Trina Read. So if you want to have sex, you’ve got to either move the baby’s bassinet to another room in the house or get busy in another room.
“It’s only going to be about 15 minutes so I wouldn’t even bring the baby monitor,” says Read. “If you hear the slightest sound, there goes your orgasm!”
Solution: Find the right contraceptive
It’s understandable if the thought of getting knocked up right now fills you with more fear than the plot of the last Saw movie. If you’re relying on breastfeeding for birth control, you’re right to be on edge; it’s not a reliable method.
“People think that because they have no period when they’re breastfeeding, they can’t get pregnant, which isn’t true,” says gynecologist Dr. Nancy Durand. “The first ovulation will happen before the first period so it is a concern.”
While the oral contraceptive pill, the patch and the vaginal ring can be used while breastfeeding, many women want to avoid hormonal contraception and use condoms instead, says Dr. Durand.
If you know you don’t want any more children, an IUD (intrauterine device) is another option. “A lot of people are using them again and they’re safe as long as you know there are no STIs in your relationship,” adds Dr. Durand.
Solution: Clean up your attitude
When your baggy clothes are covered in spit-up and you’re lugging around 20 pounds of baby weight, it may be hard to imagine you’ll ever feel sexy again. Making the time for a little personal hygiene is a good start.
Shower with your partner when the baby is napping, suggests sexologist Trina Read. “It’s a really nice way to connect—you can do the sudsy thing and dry each other off and you won’t feel so crusty and smelly.”
In the bedroom, focus on the experience, rather than your baby bumps.
“An enthusiastic partner will trump any kind of bulge,” says Read. “If you’re doing the cowgirl in bed, jiggling because you’re carrying 20 extra pounds, the guy is not going to notice. Women tend to zone in on their wobbly bits but men see the entire picture.”
Resist the urge to wear a Hazmat suit to hide your new stretch marks and soft tummy. “When you’re busy being self-conscious or turning off all of the lights, you won’t enjoy the sex and you’re ruining the mood for him too.”
If you’re not ready to be totally naked just yet, shop together for some lingerie that makes you feel sexy, like a camisole and short shorts that you can wear during sex. “Maybe you’ll feel more comfortable about taking it off after a while,” says Read.
Solution: Let your mate get in on the cuddles
It’s no wonder you’re smitten; the wee new beastie in your life smells good, laughs at all of your jokes and can’t seem to get enough of you.
“When you’re with the baby, breastfeeding and cuddling, you’re releasing the love hormone oxytocin and feeling super-bonded and connected,” says sexologist Trina Read. But when you’re giving all of your affection to your baby, you may—even unknowingly—turn away from your partner.
“When women are giving their love and affection to their baby, their partners may begin to feel neglected and excluded,” says couples’ and sex therapist Dr. David McKenzie. “Just be aware that you need to cuddle and tell your partner you love him too.”
If you ignore your relationship now, in a year it may be harder to reconnect. Hire a sitter and set aside special time as a couple.
“If you’re breastfeeding, pump milk and refrigerate or freeze it so you have the freedom to be unattached for a few hours,” says gynecologist Dr. Nancy Durand.
“Time together alone is a very good thing for your relationship.”
This story is part of our Sex & Intimacy Guide. Check it out for loads of advice for parents—on how to manage, recharge and enjoy their sex lives.