“One thing we did that I think was helpful is we established weekly check-ins. Every single Tuesday at 6 o'clock—it didn’t matter where we were or what was going one—we would stop for at least five minutes and ask, 'How are you doing? Is there anything we need to adjust? Is the schedule working out? Do you feel like you're doing too much? Are we working as a team? What was your high and what was your low?’ And just having that safe space and that ability made such a difference for our relationship, our marriage, and our sanity.”
Tips for Positive Communication
Get in the Habit. Taking time to sit down and talk will guarantee you’re both giving and getting the support you need and staying on track, so set aside time to do honest check ins with each other.
Go First. Storing up frustrations builds negativity, so don’t stand on ceremony. Dr. Ashley Arn, relationship therapist and Boot Camp veteran, suggests: “Instead of waiting for someone else to change, be proactive, take the first step, and you will be amazed by how quickly your relationships improve.”
Be Strategic. When things get heated and your brain goes into fight or flight mode, it’s impossible to have productive talks. Better to hold a beat before getting into the conversation (ideally, when Baby’s asleep), so you have time to approach it calmly.
Stay Supportive. Discussing conflict with a supportive mindset wards off defensiveness and reduces stress. This isn’t always easy to do when we’re worked up, but it will start the conversation in the right direction and be far more productive.
“Just saying ‘Hey, you’re doing a great job,’ or ‘Hey, you look great today…’ Those little things help so much. It’s the same with Dad, so it’s important just to keep the communication open.”
Then you factor in sleep deprivation and patience-worn-thin, and it’s easy to see how new parents get in a rut. Also, successful teamwork requires a specific skill set (communication, cooperation, and organization) and happens in stages: failure at one stage makes it tough to succeed at the next. So, in short, you’ll need to work together much more than ever and expect a learning curve.
“I think it’s good to establish shared responsibilities. We have been together for twenty years, and we were very established in our relationship. It was just, okay, how are we going to work together and manage both of us parenting? Rather than me mothering and him fathering, it was US parenting.” –New Mom
“Ultimately, the most helpful thing can be telling your partner what you need in that moment. Sometimes you don’t know and that’s okay. Just say, ‘I don’t know what I need, so can we work as a team and help me figure it out?’ It’s good to share your thoughts and how you’re feeling with your partner because a lot of times they’re feeling the same.” –New Mom
- Have pre-baby planning talks to ward off frustration and resentment. Discuss ways to work together but stay flexible, as adjustments may be needed (see “Family Checklists”).
- Laughter and Honesty. An important part of teamwork is feeling free to call each other out and see the humor in things. Laugh together (and at yourself) and keep it going through those trying teen years!
- Avoid gatekeeping. If you’ve built a fortress around you and your baby and feel certain you’re the only one capable of taking care of her…hello, gatekeeping. This is when you want to remind yourself to take a step (or two) back and encourage Dad’s involvement: it benefits your baby and gives you the support you need.
- No chore wars. As new parents, it’s really easy to start score-boarding who’s doing what and let resentment take over. One parent may stay home with the baby while the other works and takes on more financial responsibility, and there’s no way to measure whose contribution is greater: they’re different jobs and equally important.
- Schedule downtime. For stay-at-home parents, there’s little time for decompression during the day and usually an expectation for your spouse to jump right in on baby care once home. Teaming up and planning for each of you to get much-needed downtime (rest, exercise, see friends) gives you some control over your day and wards off major burnout.
- Create a “hall pass.” There will be times you or Dad has a hard day on the job—at the office or at home—so come up with a code word you can both use to say a break is needed STAT. If you were at the office, the hall pass means you walk through the door and get time to yourself to regroup; if you were home with the baby, you get to pass Little One right to Dad and go decompress. Like a real hall pass, you don’t want to over-use but know it’s there when needed.
- Have a night system. To keep the ship running smoothly, you’ll need a routine for night feedings and baby care. Make a plan but be flexible: one of you may feel more up for the night shift or need solid sleep to function at work the next day. If you’re breastfeeding, Dad can handle diaper changes and getting Baby back to sleep after feedings. If you’re pumping, he can take a night shift while you sleep, or you can rotate shifts. Whatever works—go for it.
- Offer moral support. After a rough day on the job (at the office or home), sharing your challenges, listening, and being a shoulder for each other may be all that’s needed to feel better. From the start of parenthood, make a pact that you will allow each other to vent and be supportive.
Taking on a big endeavor and sharing a common vision brings people closer together and strengthens relationships. Celebrating the highs and weathering the lows as a united front will reflect your mutual trust and respect for each other and lifts your marriage and family to a whole new level.
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Date Night IN
If getting out of the house together is a challenge, remember spending one-on-one time together at home—AKA “date night in”—works, too! Watch a movie, cook, listen to music, or pop open a bottle of wine; it keeps you connected and is cost-effective: no sitter needed!
When we’re busy, stressed, or overworked, fun is usually one of the first casualties but that’s when it’s needed the most. Fun leads to laughter and laughter releases endorphins, reduces cortisol, boosts immunity, and creates feelings of happiness and calm: fun is good for your marriage!
Small Gestures, Big Meaning
Sending a sweet text message or photo, or sneaking a note into his wallet…small gestures go a long way in stoking romance. Remember habits form over time, so when a behavior (daily connecting) is repeated over and over, pathways in your brain develop and make the positive behavior a go-to.
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“There are little things you can do to bring romance back…putting the baby down and having a nice dinner; maybe watching a movie together. Things change, that’s just part of the transition you’re starting, but don’t be intimidated by it.”
– New Mom
“I got to the point where I realized I’m forgetting about him, and I started doing little things like making him a favorite dinner or getting him a new album by his favorite artist. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated. I made the effort to let him know he is loved.”
– New Mom
Biology Hijacks Your Sex Drive
It just does. It’s not usually the case that moms-to-be are pondering what their sex life will be like once the baby is born; our brains are too busy managing pregnancy, prepping for childbirth, and anticipating motherhood.
During the first six to eight weeks after childbirth, you’ll be on doctor’s orders to hold off on sex while your body heals, but many new moms need to hold off for longer than that—sometimes a lot longer. When all you can think about is sleep, sex becomes just another roadblock to getting the rest you so desperately need. But it’s about more than just fatigue, so let’s take a look at what’s going on and strategies to re-spark that sexual connection.
It starts right after childbirth when a host of hormones wash through your system and shrink your libido, especially when breastfeeding:
- TESTOSTERONE is a libido regulator that decreases when you're breastfeeding.
- PROLACTIN supports production of breast milk and decreases libido.
- ESTROGEN levels drop and causes vaginal lubrication issues.
- PROGESTERONE is in short supply after childbirth and shrinks sexual desire.
That’s a whole lot of hormones on the move.
And it’s important to get that a temporarily lowered libido is not a sign that your body is broken. It’s rooted in a biological purpose: to keep you focused on your new baby for the survival of our species.
Motherhood and Sexuality
A common misperception among new moms is the belief: "I’ll be exactly who I’ve always been but with motherhood folded in…"
Not so much.
Expecting to get back to your “old self” is wanting to revert to who you were before your body created another human being, and that's not physically or emotionally possible. Motherhood irreversibly changes your brain, your emotions, and your perspectives. So don’t fall into the mental trap that you’re supposed to bounce back to some past version of yourself: You’re a new, improved version!
Plenty of women do pick up their sex life easily, but most new moms struggle temporarily with a low-to-no desire for sex. And learning how to switch from mommy mode—all covered in spit-up and touched out—to sexual woman mode takes some time.
While there’s plenty of info on becoming a mother, there’s not a whole lot on navigating motherhood and sexuality, especially for moms with little to no support. Wherever you land on the spectrum, don't invite guilt or shame to the table. Stay positive and focus on identifying what you’re feeling so you can build a roadmap to get where you want to go.
“We tried to work on our date nights every so often, but it was very difficult. Your relationship changes in such a huge way. He had to break down and say, ‘Look, it was us, and you were my best friend, and I don’t have you anymore.’ I didn’t know how to respond to that. I thought, ‘What do I do? How do I fix this?’ We started to watch TV or a movie together, and it helped but it’s hard to work out that time. It’s something I needed to put extra thought into and now I’m fixing it.” – New Mom
He Misses You
We know that men and women approach sex from different emotional perspectives (the Mars/Venus thing), and communicating our differences can sometimes be challenging. Before writing this section, we sat down with dads for a roundtable discussion on the topic, and what followed were informative and often heated (not hot!) conversations. Sex and intimacy is definitely one of the most challenging issues new parents face.
When the baby’s born, Dad may feel like he’s been demoted to “second best” and crave even a fraction of the attention he used to get from you—and it’s entirely understandable. Contrary to what you may think (or heard), it’s not just about sex for him; it’s about a whole lot more. He misses the closeness between you, and the oxytocin he got from intimacy between you may have dramatically stalled out after childbirth. Naturally, he’s feeling a physical and emotional loss and wants to regain that connection with you.
Touch is the cornerstone of how we express love and a gateway to sex. If touch disappears, bringing your sex life back can become awkward and increasingly difficult. And while it’s true you’re getting a constant stream of touch from your baby, it doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned all interest in your husband—and he needs to know this. Without talking about it, he will assume he’s lost you to motherhood, so communicate what you’re feeling and let small gestures of affection—a hand on the cheek, a hug, a kiss or shoulder rub—show that your love for him is still strong.
“You can still have little moments of intimacy. Like when I would talk to him, I made sure to touch him on the arm or something, and speak gently to him. Make time for a hug. The little things, like being gentle and kind...try to be mindful and remember that he has feelings too.”
– New Mom
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Common Challenges & Solutions
After childbirth, it’s normal to experience period-like bleeding (lochia) and night sweats. You may have hemorrhoids or experience incontinence from a weakened pelvic floor. Weight gain, loose skin, breast changes…all par for the course. Adapting to your post-pregnancy body is a common challenge, and the idea of getting sexy-naked may induce anxiety more than desire.
- No pressure. Be patient with your body; it’s going through a huge healing process.
- Communicate so Dad can support you and bolster your self-esteem—he probably finds you more beautiful than ever.
- Reframe your thoughts. Creating and birthing a human is an incredible feat and lochia.
- Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the bladder; exercise and healthy foods benefit your body and increase overall well-being.
- Initially, your breasts are tender and engorged and they’re in constant use, so it’s not likely you’ll be thrilled about anyone other than your baby touching them. In short, boobs morph into a source of food not source of pleasure. Again, this isn’t necessarily the case for every mom, but it’s the norm. If you’re worried about leakage, nurse or pump beforehand and wear a bra/nursing pad during sex.
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The number one reason new moms aren’t in the mood. When you’re bone-tired and desperate for sleep, anything blocking your ability to grab it is enemy number one: Sleep will definitely seem more appealing than sex (often for Dad too!). So before your baby is born, strategize ways to make getting rest possible and know the fatigue you experience in the first three months is as temporary as the newborn phase. Eventually, your baby will sleep for longer stretches and so will you.
Make self-care a priority. Finding time to do things that recharge you (exercise, seeing friends, getting a massage) is huge in keeping mind-body balance. When you feel worn out and perpetually covered in milk and drool, it’s hard to feel sexy. So let Dad know getting time to yourself to shed “mommy mode” will majorly benefit your sex life.
The short-but-sweet approach. Studies found that women who had sex when they preferred sleep were glad they did, because orgasms flood the body with feel-good hormones, release tension, and promote relaxation. In other words, you’ll sleep better. And it’s a positive cycle because getting solid sleep increases your sex drive. Also, nix any pressure that sex should be like it was in pre-baby days. As new parents, the fact that you’re actually having sex is success enough, and remember even small windows of time to connect will make a huge difference.
“At the end of the day, I'm tired and I don't want intimacy; I don't have the energy. My husband does help out around the house and he's great about it, but I'm just too tired at night. Call him up and ask him to bring dinner home and a bottle of wine—you’ll have more energy.”
– New Mom
Because motherhood naturally causes low libido and fatigue, it’s easy to miss an ongoing hormonal imbalance. Signs include mood swings, brain fog, insomnia, anxiousness, swift weight gain or loss, constipation, migraines, hair loss, dry skin or acne, and (drumroll please)…loss of sex drive. If you suspect an imbalance, consult with your doctor about a postpartum blood workup and solutions.
- Lube: your new best friend! Slather it on and try a few to see which one works best.
- Stick with positions that give maximum comfort.
- Before sex, take some time to focus on calming your mind and relaxing your body.
- Be sure your body is fully healed before having sex, and contact your physician if the pain persists.
“After the first time we tried, I was like don’t get near me for a while. Then when my body started to go back to normal we tried it again, and I was so excited that I wasn’t in pain. It took me about 3 to 4 months.”– New Mom
While the baby blues and postpartum mood disorders (depression/anxiety/OCD) share similar symptoms, they’re very different beasts. The biggest difference is that with mood disorders, the feelings are more intense, longer lasting, and affect your ability to function and this includes sex. If you or your partner suspect a postpartum mood disorder, contact your doctor ASAP regarding support.
Breastfeeding is not a guaranteed form of birth control so if this is a concern, speak with your doctor about birth control options or use a condom for peace of mind.
Nothing crushes the joy of sex like fearing your child will wake up any minute. It’s also impossible to focus on your partner if you’re watching the baby monitor like it's Netflix. A game plan is needed!
- Make sure your little one has a full belly before going to sleep to increase the odds that she’ll sleep longer. Also, if you’re breastfeeding, the hormones will help you relax.
- Get into relaxation mode: take a bath/shower, use essential oils, sip some wine, light a few candles…whatever does the trick.
- A day or night alone with Dad is the Holy Grail, so if the chance comes your way—jump on it! Both of you can leisurely decompress (at home or away) and take time to focus on each other and reconnecting.
- We love this suggestion from a dad: "The Double-Hitter." Ask your spouse to watch the baby on a Saturday afternoon so you can get downtime for yourself to relax, and the next night have a sitter lined up so you and Dad can get out together. The one-two punch will help you feel rested, renewed, and in the mood.
Parenting a human takes a lot of work, and when you’ve got a baby attached to your body around the clock—feeding, soothing, cuddling--it’s easy to feel stressed, “touched out” and on edge. When this happens, self-care is a necessity—ASAP!
- Communicate. Tell him what’s going on. It will reduce stress and keep Dad from blaming himself. Let him know your body is overtired and on edge, and it’s a natural response to being “on” with the baby all day. It also helps to give him a heads up before he walks in the door from work. If he knows what to expect, he'll be ready to help you calm your mind and body.
- Recharge. We can’t say this enough: self-care is THE antidote. It's hard to give your partner attention if you feel like you don't even have a moment to yourself. While Dad's with the baby, take a shower or bath, find a quiet space (even your car!) and listen to calming music, wear earplugs and take a nap: whatever helps you relax, do it.
- Get out. Grab something to eat or drink, go for a drive, head to the gym, stroll around Target—anything that revives you works.
Okay, this might not sound appealing but hear us out…
Scheduling sex frees you from worrying when or if it will happen, it gives you a sense of control, and it allows you to mentally and physically prep (hello, razor!). And just because it’s planned doesn’t mean it can’t be unplanned; you're going with the flow. Just keep it simple and say: “Tonight, we’re taking time for us.” If sex was had—success! The most important thing is taking whatever steps you can, big or small.
Nurturing your relationship is about giving each other and your baby the greatest gift of all: a happy family. And you just can’t overestimate the power of that!
“I try to keep in mind that my husband has intimacy needs. And, even though I’m not really on that wavelength right now, there might be a time when it's vice-versa. Just try to keep that in mind and keep that intimacy because I think it's really important.” – New Mom
“Even though sex did change, the relationship got into a different dimension; it’s a deeper connection, and it’s so beautiful. I think I love him more now. Just the way I see him with the baby; the way he loves her and looks at her…it’s just really nice.” – New Mom