Sex Life? What Sex Life? PART I

SexLIfeI

I looked through all of my old posts thinking I must have written about postpartum sex on my blog, and even though the search term “sex” yielded 10 posts (!), none of them was specifically about postpartum sex. How can this be? It’s one of my all-time favorite topics to cover in my classes because 1) my soon-to-be-parents don’t realize they’ve already set expectations about it and 2) even though all of them are curious, they won’t ask about it in front of a group.

So without further ado, here’s my take on sex after the baby arrives. (But even if you’re not pregnant or newly parenting, read both Parts I & II – later this week. I swear there will at least one tip in here you can take away to improve your sex life no matter if you’re babies are all grown up, or even if you’ve never had a baby!)

It seems that all of the books written so far about pregnancy, birth and babies (mine will be the exception!) say new Mommas should wait until six weeks postpartum before having sex again. So, why six weeks?

This usually coincides with a new Momma’s clinic appointment with her provider where they’ll check to make sure postpartum bleeding has stopped and that any stitches in the perineum have healed nicely. When the provider gives the green light for sex to resume at this six week checkup, they’re only addressing physical readiness – not emotional readiness.

But this gets overlooked so often that it’s been translated to mean: All new Mommas should be ready to have sex again at six weeks postpartum. It’s become a set expectation for many couples. How do I know? Because, I ask them.

“How long do you have to wait to have sex again after your baby is born?”

What follows is a chorus of male and female voices echoing throughout the classroom: “Six weeks! Six weeks! Six weeks!” In all my years of teaching, I’ve never heard anything else. I feel compelled to address this issue and help them set realistic expectations about what their reality might be when it comes to postpartum sex.

To be sure, there are some women for whom the six week waiting period is actually a trial – they’ve been feeling pretty randy, riding the waves of those Oxytocin hormones and ready to get back at it even before that first postpartum visit with their provider. But not everyone feels that way.

During pregnancy, a lot of women read about the six week waiting period and think, “A month and a half? I’m sure I’ll be ready for sex by then.” But there are lots of factors that she can neither predict nor control that might delay her readiness for postpartum sex. That six week mark might come and go and she might be surprised by how not ready she is for sex.

But if the only information these new parents have heard is “Six weeks! Six weeks!” this can become the expectation about when they’re supposed to get back at it – ready or not. 

Sexual desire postpartum varies from woman to woman, but I find that new Mommas have lots of outlets to talk about this topic with other new Mommas. Partners? Not so much. And if we’re talking specifically about new Dads, maybe not at all.

For a lot of men, when they find someone they’re wanting to spend the rest of their life with, what they do in the bedroom stops being a topic of conversation with their buddies. And so, if their sex life has not resumed by six weeks postpartum (the only information they have on this subject), they might start to think there’s something wrong with their relationship. They might feel like the baby has gotten between them as a couple, that the baby has changed everything.

The vast majority of the time this is simply not true. In fact, watching her partner be tender and vulnerable in this new role of parenting their baby can actually be a real turn-on for a lot of new Mommas! But that doesn’t mean they’re ready to have sex just yet.

Why?

A whole bunch of reasons, like:

  • She might not feel all that sexy as a new Momma. No matter how much weight she put on during pregnancy, when she leaves the hospital, a new Momma is likely to look about six months pregnant. Only now, her belly isn’t tight and firm, it’s super jiggly. And her breasts? While impressively larger than they were before, are now being used for a completely different purpose. They might be off-limits in terms of her sexuality – at least for a little while.
  • She is exhausted. She is soooooooooo exhausted. And when weighed on a scale, “Sex vs Sleep” sleep will always win. Always.
  • She might be terrified that having sex will hurt like hell. And for a lot of women, it might. For those that don’t feel pain with sex, it still might take awhile for it to feel good again. Breastfeeding can cause vaginal dryness, so some sort of lubrication will be necessary for most women. Remember –  she just pushed a pretty large something out of her vagina. Putting anything back inside her vagina can be a really scary thought for new Mommas. And fear is a pretty big turn-off.
  • She might be worried about getting pregnant again. Note: breastfeeding is not a form of birth control and you’re always fertile before you know you’re fertile. So don’t mess around with this one – make sure that you have an idea about how you plan on preventing a pregnancy if you’re not ready to have your babies super close together!
  • She might be having a hard time reconciling her sex-kitten self, with her new Momma self. Can those two roles even coincide with one another? Do parents still have sex? Do my parents still have sex? Why did you make me think about that???? You can see the dilemma that some women have with reconciling these two ideas.
  • She’s having a harder time concentrating and might find it difficult to let go. The stress of being fully responsible for another human being’s life weighs heavy on a new Momma. While she might be able to rely on you as her partner and co-parent, it’s her body that’s in full recovery mode and trying to make the food that’s necessary for her baby to live. It’s kind of a big deal. And she worries about this stuff a lot more than you think she does.
  • Maybe her sense of self-esteem and self-worth has taken a hit now that she’s “just” a full-time Momma. She’s grappling with this new identity that conflicts with what the world says a successful woman looks like. Does the work she’s doing now as the primary caregiver have as much value as the work she did in her office just weeks before?
  • She might have no libido – zero, zilch, nada. And while this has to do with shifting hormones, and usually resolves itself after some time, this can be a tremendous blow to the woman who used to have a healthy sex appetite before her baby was born.

Stick with me for Part II of this post, because it ends on a much more positive note, I swear it! It also includes some thoughts about how to make your sex life better in the short and long-term.

Are there any other issues I’ve missed that might make a woman hesitant to have sex soon after having her baby? How long before you had sex post-baby, and how long before you enjoyed sex post-baby? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments.

Know Your Worth

Worth

How much worth do you place on the day to day care-taking that you’re doing for your newborn? This can be a really challenging time for both parents. But it’s something that you should be discussing with one another because one of you will be the primary caregiver of your newborn – either for the time your leave allows (which, for the record is never enough!) or a lot longer. Especially if you’ve made the choice as a new family for one of you to stay home after reducing your hours to part-time, or quitting your pre-baby job altogether.

It’s a discussion you need to have because all too often, the person who quits work or reduces their out-of-the-home work hours, has a challenge initially seeing the work they’re doing inside the home as having the same or more value than what they were doing “before.” Why?

Because before, you wore work clothes and drank fancy espresso drinks and had meaningful discussions about current events and attended important meetings and made big decisions, etc. And after, (at least for a little while) you’re still wearing sweatpants at 2 pm and reheating your coffee mug in the microwave for the 3rd time today and your meetings are with the Pediatrician and the only big decision you’ve made centered around whether or not you felt up to making it to music class with your little one. You crave adult interaction but are concerned that you might not be able to complete a fully-formed sentence ever again that doesn’t involve a detailed description of your baby’s diaper contents.

Initially, that transition of working outside the home to working inside the home can be really tough, no matter which parent is doing it. But if you’d like to make this easier for all of you, make sure your partner also reads this post – especially the next line.

All parents work, whether it is outside the home, or inside the home.

Let’s just stop having this worn-out debate. Once a baby is on the scene, anyone who is doing one or the other, or even both, gets it –  no one is just sitting around. Every single parent you know is working – hard.

But in our society, we sometimes think that the work that has no paycheck attached to it also doesn’t have as much worth. This is one reason why it’s so important that for the person who is not the primary caregiver makes sure to acknowledge the one who is by calling out all the work that he or she is doing by caring for your baby.

The person who is at home with the baby, needs time and space to grow into this new role. They need to find their people, to create for themselves a new sense of identity and meaning in their work as primary caregiver.

But when they have your unbridled support, your affirmation that what they do from the minute they wake up until the minute they kiss your baby goodnight matters, that you recognize how much it is worth for your family – that transition is so much easier for them.

The only person who really has any clue about what you do in your role as parent, is your partner. It’s important that you each take the time to acknowledge and receive positive feedback as you transition into becoming a family.

And if you’re not partnered, than I ask you to share all of the hard work you’re doing as a single parent with your family and friends, so that they can acknowledge all that you are doing for your baby. All of us deserve to have a strong sense of self-worth about this work of parenting.

Parenting is often the hardest work we will ever do in our lives. But it can also be our very best work. As long as we feel that it has worth.

It doesn’t matter if you are the primary caregiver, if you work part-time or full-time outside the home – every parent is a working parent. Do you feel like your parenting has worth? Do you tell your partner often that you find worth in the way they care for your baby? What would finding worth in this job of parenting look like for you?