I don't need to give you a lesson on the birds and the bees, Mama. If you're looking at a nursing bra, you already know how everything works. What you might not know is how to deal with your concerns about sex after your baby arrives.
Aside from the “All Systems Go” most women get from their doctors at the six-week checkup, there isn't a lot of discussion about sex and how it may evolve after baby. This leads a lot of moms, myself included, to feel anxious about what life in the bedroom may be like. We already feel so much pressure to make our journey through motherhood social-media perfect, and we often have lofty expectations for how our body will look and how we will parent our children. The same goes for sex.
You need to work on your own timeline, Mama. Getting the all-clear at six weeks doesn’t mean you’re obligated to hop between the sheets right away. Take this time to learn how to embrace the strength and beauty of your new body and then bring that confidence into the bedroom!
In the days, weeks, and months after the birth of my son, I worked very hard to reframe my anxieties in order to reclaim my sexuality and ensure that when I was ready, my postpartum sex life was just as good as (and in many ways better than) before baby!
1. I’ve been touched enough today.
Maybe your baby is cluster feeding. Maybe he only sleeps when he's on you, leaving you helplessly stranded on the couch for two hours. Maybe your toddler has been tugging on your pant leg all day. Whatever the case, the idea of having one more person touch you may send you over the edge. And that is totally normal. It's hard to adjust to so much physical contact, especially if it's not something you're used to.
The best way I've found to deal with this is to communicate to my partner that his touch needs to be geared towards my needs. Rub my back; be the big spoon and hold me. My favorite thing in the world is when he just gently tickles my arm. It's okay for intimacy to be one-sided occasionally, so don't feel the need to reciprocate all the time, especially on the days that have been physically taxing.
2. I feel too uncomfortable and squishy in my body right now.
Ask any woman how she feels six weeks postpartum, and she will likely tell you exhausted and doughy. I had a weird, empty feeling for weeks after my son was born. Ask any partner what they think of the woman who gave them a child, and they will likely tell you she is gorgeous. Why are we so inclined to believe the voice in our head over the person who procreated with us? Of course, this isn't a simple anxiety to handle. It'll take work.
A quick fix to help you get in the mood is to feel the part. Once your baby’s in bed, take a shower and put on your favorite sexy PJs (the Lucille Nightgown made me feel like a whole new woman). If you're feeling it, do your makeup -- whatever makes you feel like the glowing goddess you are!
3. Is it going to be like before?
This was my biggest anxiety after baby. We knew who we were as a couple, and our dynamic in and out of the bedroom worked well for us. I was terrified that our new roles as parents would impede our intimacy. Honestly, sometimes it did. It’s hard to find the time, and where we used to be spontaneous, scheduling is now a factor. Is that a bummer? Sometimes. Does it make sex any less enjoyable? No! In fact, sometimes planning and scheduling can work to your advantage. It gives me time to pluck my eyebrows and shave my legs, things my husband probably wouldn’t care about anyway but things that make me feel sexy. So bust out the calendars, find a time that works, and make yourself feel like the hot mama you are!
The other thing I worried about was the sex itself. How did the physical challenges of labor affect the way I experienced intimacy? It will be different for every mom, but you may discover that things that once felt pleasurable no longer do it for you. The opposite is also true! Think of this as an opportunity to explore and play! You and your partner will have to get to know your body again and figure out what works and what doesn't.
4. What if it’s painful?
Whether you're worried about soreness after a vaginal delivery or navigating around a tender C-section scar, pain can be the biggest hindrance in postpartum intimacy. The truth is, it's different for every woman and it depends on a lot of factors in your labor and delivery. Make sure you have clearance from your health care provider to resume sex and then take it slow! If you experience any discomfort, stop. You may need to troubleshoot. Sometimes changing position will eliminate discomfort. Dryness is also a common problem if you’re breastfeeding. Sometimes even the thought or anticipation of pain can tense the muscles, which could make sex more painful. Or you may need to wait awhile and try again. It’s all about what makes you comfortable, Mama!
5. If you touch my boobs, I will hurt you.
Two words: cluster feeding. A lot of babies do this early on. My son started cluster feeding right around the time I was cleared by my midwife. My poor breasts were still engorged, my nipples were bruised from a bad latch, and I was covered in tiny scratches from a clawing baby. This is a time when communication is key. Make sure your partner is aware that your breasts are uncomfortable and therefore off limits. Once you're further into your postpartum phase and you've found a rhythm with breastfeeding, you can always reevaluate and give your partner the green light.
6. I'm too tired to do anything, especially this.
Chances are that at six weeks postpartum, you’re still waking up frequently with your baby. Even if you alternate night feedings with your partner, you both probably wake up when you hear crying. Sometimes we get so anxious about our baby waking up that even if he’s sleeping for several hours at a time, we find ourselves staring at the monitor and not getting the precious rest we need. How can you possibly put energy into anything other than basic survival?
Fun fact: Sex actually leads to better sleep. For women, in particular, sex leads to better REM sleep (the really restorative deep sleep). If you aren't in the mood, there are a lot of other great ways to get the shut-eye you need! Try bedtime yoga or meditation, or read a book (a print one; e-books mean blue light, which interrupts sleep patterns). All have been shown to help you relax and get some sleep.
7. I'd rather have a hot shower and cuddle my pillow, thanks.
There are days when the only thing you want in the world is to take a hot shower and fall into bed. And then your partner comes along and starts laying down the moves. We've all been there, Mama. Of course, it’s more than okay to say that you’re tired, touched-out, and just not in the mood, but I've found two other alternatives that work for me. The first alternative is a compromise. Maybe you don't have sex, but you offer a back rub or plan a date night at home while your baby goes to Grandma's.
The second alternative is to conquer the exhaustion. An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and the same is true of people! Exercise releases endorphins, those feel-good hormones, and sex is a great way to get moving. I often find that if I lean into my desire - and give the endorphins a chance to get going - my weariness fades, and I really enjoy the moment. Sex has the added benefit of releasing dopamine, the cuddle hormone, which can help you regain that sense of intimacy with your partner.
8. I know the doc said it's okay, but I'm not ready!
Every couple is different. Just because you've been given the all clear physically doesn't mean you feel prepared mentally or emotionally. And that is normal. There are so many other ways to foster intimacy. Kiss, cuddle, bond over your baby. Plan date nights to rekindle the romance. After my son was born, one of the first nights we got to ourselves, we just wandered around Target. It was great to let go and be silly again. The most important thing is that you’re ready and comfortable. Give your body and your mind time to heal and adjust.
Communication is the key to dealing with anxiety around sex and parenthood. You and your partner created an amazing tiny human together, and that will bring a lot of challenges. It will also bring so much joy and love. Talk to each other about all of it! You may find that this new journey makes the sex better and your relationship stronger.