Your Sex Life After Baby

Challenges -- and solutions -- to getting your intimacy back on track.

From the WebMD Archives

Having a baby is an amazing, life-changing experience. But no matter how in love you are with your little one, caring for a newborn can take a serious toll on your sex life.

To put it bluntly: “Babies are sex killers,” says psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD, at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Though getting back in the sexual swing of things can be tough, it’s a necessary process that challenges most couples, says Saltz, who specializes in sex therapy and is author of The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life. “It’s difficult, but doable,” she says, as long as you have reasonable expectations of yourself and your body.

Getting the Green Light to Have Sex After Baby

Most women receive the OK from their doctors to have sex between four to six weeks after delivery.

Before you start up again, you should no longer have any postpartum vaginal discharge, known as lochia. Regardless of a vaginal or C-section delivery, all women who give birth go through this period for a few weeks afterward. Having sex before the discharge stops puts you at risk of infection.

If you had a lot of stitches during childbirth, getting the OK to resume sex may take even longer. Stitches that have not fully healed risk opening up. If that happens, see your doctor immediately.

Lack of Sleep Smothers Your Sex Drive

For moms of newborns, sheer fatigue is perhaps the biggest roadblock to feeling sexy again.

Especially at the beginning, a new baby is usually awake to feed every two or three hours around the clock. This pattern can go on for months. About 30% of babies still aren't sleeping through the night by nine months of age, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

While the nighttime wakings continue, it may feel like you’ve become a mommy machine, devoid of sensation and desire.

Dad might be just as tired. But men are still more likely to be interested in sex. To them, it’s often a way to relax and help feel emotionally close to you, Saltz tells WebMD. And they don’t need much of a warm-up before diving into sex. In contrast, most women need some talk and foreplay to become aroused.

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If fatigue is what’s keeping you from getting your sex life back, the first thing to do is talk with your partner about it, advises Saltz.

“Tell him, ‘I really am tired, but I want to have sex with you,” Saltz says.

Then do some creative problem solving. Saltz suggests asking your partner to watch the baby so you can rest up and get into the mood. Also, aim for early morning sex, when you’ve both had a chance to catch some ZZZ’s. Lean on your family or friends or a sitter so you can have some time without the baby. Or give it a shot when Junior is napping.

Of course, your baby might wake up at the worst possible moment -- while you’re trying to reignite those bedroom flames.

“That’s why it’s important to have a sense of humor about the whole situation. Remember that it’s not going to last forever,” says Cleveland Clinic ob-gyn Elisa Ross, MD.

Postpregnancy Hormones and Sex

Hormones are part of the sex problem, too. Estrogen levels go down after delivery. That can cause a shortage of vaginal lubrication, which can make sex painful or less pleasurable.

A simple solution: Use a topical lubricant during sex.

Experiment with different positions, too -- being on top may allow you more control during penetration, Saltz says.

If a lack of lubrication makes sex hurt, or if sex causes pain for a different reason, explain to your partner that you need to take it slowly. Be sure to discuss the pain with your gynecologist.

Lubrication issues usually go away after you stop breastfeeding or after your period resumes, Ross says.

Hormonal changes after childbirth might also be related to postpartum depression, which can stymie sexual desire. These feelings of sadness, anxiety, irritability, or just having the blues may last for a few weeks or even months. Talk to your doctor if you are having these feelings, especially if they worsen or if you feel hopeless or sad most of the time.

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Breastfeeding May Get in the Way

Breastfeeding has many benefits. But it can create several pitfalls when you try to resume your sex life.

Spending tremendous amounts of physical and emotional energy feeding baby may block access to a nursing mom’s sexual mind and body.

“The baby is physically on you, sucking on you, cuddling you - leaving you ‘touched out’ by the end of the day,” Saltz says. Partners often say it leaves them feeling frustrated and left out.

Compassion is just as important as passion. Let your partner bring these feelings out into the open, so you can address them together.

Constant nursing or pumping milk can make your breasts feel so tender you just don’t want to be touched there.

Caressing a nursing woman’s breasts may cause her milk to let down, which can be a turnoff for both partners. Orgasm sometimes can also make milk involuntarily release.

If you’re worried about leakage or tenderness, try keeping your bra on during sex, Ross says.

Body Changes, Inside and Out

During pregnancy, a normal-weight mother typically puts on about 25-35 pounds. It can take a while to shed those extra pounds after the baby is born. Add on newly acquired stretch marks and a fresh scar if you’ve had a C-section, and it’s no wonder so many women say they feel self-conscious, turned off, and even depressed about their new body.

If you’re not feeling so hot about how you look, your partner's positive feedback can go a long way.

“You’d be surprised how many people say they still find you quite sexy. That’s what I usually hear,” Saltz tells WebMD.

Enlist your mate’s help in working toward your body goals. For example, you can ask for a half hour to exercise while they watch baby, or for more support in preparing healthy meals.

Meanwhile, Saltz suggests buying some lingerie that makes you feel sexy while strategically covering up some of your new problem areas.

Another physical issue is that delivering vaginally usually stretches the vaginal walls, which could decrease friction and thus reduce sexual enjoyment.

It can take a while for those muscles to resume their original tone. For some, it never does, according to Ross.

Try some Kegel exercises to tone your pelvic muscles. The repetitive tightening and releasing of those muscles can also help heal the area after vaginal tears or an episiotomy.

With all the changes that might be happening to your body, try your best to embrace them as a part of motherhood.

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Be Honest About What's Holding You Back

If you’re still having trouble resuming your sex life -- apart from physical issues -- it might be time to take a look at what’s going on emotionally in your relationship.

“Ask yourself, ‘What is making me uncomfortable enough that I don’t want to express intimacy with my partner through sex?’” Saltz says.

One of the typical emotional blocks is the feeling of anger or resentment about being home changing diapers all day while your spouse rejoins the “real world” and does “normal” things like working outside the house and talking to other grownups.

“If you’re angry about something, you’re not going to want to have sex with them,” Saltz says.

Other big emotional hang-ups are usually from self-consciousness about your body and mental fatigue.

Many of these problems can be addressed through discussion with your partner. Relying on your mate’s support underscores to both of you that you’re in this together.

Don’t forget couples counseling. Ross recommends that every couple proactively seek therapy at least once after having a baby. It might help resolve smaller problems before they can snowball into something bigger.

Explore the Alternatives

Sex is about pleasuring each other and there are many ways to do that,” Saltz says.

If you’re not up for full-blown intercourse, consider oral sex, manual stimulation, and erotic massage as ways to feel closer to your lover.

Even when you’re not feeling sexual, make an effort to express your affection. Try kissing, hugging, holding hands, cuddling on the sofa, or giving a relaxing foot rub. Remember to do that during the day to keep alive your feelings of connectedness.

Accepting the New Normal

Although it varies from person to person, most sexual issues women experience after pregnancy get better within the first year, according to the Mayo Clinic.

That first year with baby is physically intensive. During this time, both partners need to accept they might not be having as much sex as they did before.

It’s also realistic to think that you may not ever go back to the way it was pre-baby.

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For example, scheduling sex might become the not-so-romantic norm for a while. But if the other option is missing out altogether because your lives are too hectic, then it’s a necessary strategy.

With each stage of your family’s development, you may enter a “new normal” with sex.

“But it’s not about how much sex you’re having. It’s about how unhappy you each might be about not having it,” Saltz says. “If one partner feels denied all the time, it creates a vulnerability in the relationship... These problems have to be addressed before it’s too late.”

Similarly, says Saltz, if you’re both fine with not having sex as much, you’re OK.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on September 7, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Elisa Ross, MD, FACOG, department of gynecology and obstetrics, Cleveland Clinic; adjunct clinical instructor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine; diplomate, National Board of Medical Examiners.

Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center; author, The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead To a Better Life; member, New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.

Mayo Clinic.

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Postpartum Depression and the Baby Blues.”

National Sleep Foundation: “Children and Sleep.”

© 2011 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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