Sex After Baby: A how-to guide for partners

In my last post I got real about what to expect from sex during the post partum year.  Now I’m going to talk about how.  Mamas, go ahead and read this, but it’s meant for your partners.  So pass it on.

So, you just had a baby.  You are still basking in the heroic act of welcoming your child into the world and you were stunned by the sheer animal power your lady demonstrated during the birth. You wanted to take her right then and there, but you knew that you had to wait until she was ready, and that day has finally come.  You’ve been waiting and hoping and fantasizing, and today’s the day.

Feeling like a teenager, you take a shower, throw on some cologne, and stride into the bedroom.  You look at your beloved, radiant in her milk stained nightgown.  She looks up and you exchange a look.  You anticipate that she’s about to tell you how excited she is. But instead, she opens her mouth and says

“Oh, honey, I’m sorry . . . I mean, can we just go to sleep?”

That wasn’t exactly what you had hoped for. What now?

When it comes to reconnecting sexually with your partner after baby, Make this your mantra:

Go slow, aim low, and let go.

Remember that Post partum sex requires a deep level of care and patience, tons of love and humor, and a very soft touch.  You may find yourself asking very “un-sexy” questions like: Is this hurting your hemorrhoids?; Does this angle work for your scar tissue?; Can I start to move or do you want me to stay still for a while?: and Do you want me to stop completely and just hold you?.  Let me tell you though, these careful considerations, and compassionate touches are the sexiest thing in the world to the healing postpartum mama.

Go Slow. 

Approach your sexual time with her with curiousity instead of a goal. Sometimes slow means stop.  At any moment, if she begins to feel unsafe or in pain, stop immediately.  Sex can bring up many feelings for her, both physical and emotional.  She needs to slowly get to know her body again. And don’t forget all the creative ways to be sexual together!  Intercourse is just one expression of love. Remember those amazing steps along the way that seemed so exciting in high school.  Take your time, explore, and see what else is possible.  And don’t be afraid to use lubricant to off set the changes created by postpartum hormones.  (Note:  remember if it’s lack of libido more than fear of contact with the vagina, other kinds of sex may still be hard for her to participate in.  Honor her pace.)

Aim Low.

The first year after baby is all about baby’s needs, which are unending, and immediate.  Everyone else’s needs are shoved in the closet, and not removed until after that first birthday candle is blown out. 

Make a goal of surrounding your partner with love, instead of having sex.  She needs to know that you still find her sexy even if all she wants to do is snuggle up and go to sleep.  She needs to know that nothing is required of her beyond the already heroic task of caring for our child.  She needs to know that it’s okay to not want sex.

In a book called Porn for New Moms, there is picture of a beautiful man under the sheets looking seductive and saying “Let’s not have sex tonight.  Why don’t I rub your feet and you can tell me about the baby’s day.”  Listen and learn, partners.  The best way to seduce your post partum sweetie is to let her have as much time as she wants as far away from sex as she needs.

Let Go.

Let go of the story that there is a problem if you are having less sex than you used to. Let go of what sex “should” be like.  Be present to the tenderness you have for one another.  Be compassionate for the exhaustion you both feel.   And when you do make love, help her to let go. Find breath work, yoga, tantric techniques.  Use your voice to help her surrender. Tell her she is beautiful.  Tell her that things might feel different. Tell her that she is sexier now than ever.   Tell her that you want to be with her forever.  And again, tell her to breathe. Make sex an act of devotion.  Have her imagine she is a plant receiving sunlight, or the shore receiving the ocean.

And remember: you are the one that she created this child with, she wants to grow old with you, and she adores you.  And she may not want to have sex right now.

Please don’t take it personally.

If you are about to have a baby and are feeling concerned right now,  Don’t fear.  This can be one of the most intimate years of your relationship.  In your baby, you may see your partner’s sweet smile, their sassy brow line, or calm spirit.  You meet a person that is born of the love you feel for one another.

You will both love sex again.

Biology makes sense. As her cycle returns, she will look at you in a whole new way.   The woman that you knew and loved before baby arrived will be back in your arms. There may be less sex for a year, but you will likely discover a new level of intimacy that can build your lifelong relationship. Years from now, you will sit on a porch swing talking about all of the years, and this will seem like one single flower in the full garden of your life together.

This post was originally written for Mother’s Advocate, and I’m proud to announce that the Lamaze Birth with Confidence Blog featured this post this week.

Sex, Lies, and the Postpartum Year

Warning: if you have not had children yet, read at your own risk.

“A year?” a mama in my childbirth class said to me, her jaw dropping.

“Yes, a year. Maybe a little more, depending on when your baby masters sleeping through the night, and how quickly your body heals.”

It was the night where the women and their partners separate. It feels a little bit like eighth grade health class, but it’s a powerful night, and gives people the space to talk without concern for their partner’s feelings. We talk about many things, but one thing above all: SEX (or shall we say the lack thereof) after having a baby.

Don’t get me wrong – many couples grow closer during this time.  There is a magic to this baby moon, this slowing down and refocusing on what is really important in life.  Having a baby forces a whole new level of teamwork and has the potential to create a relationship that is unshakable.

But it’s not a sexy year.

My personal highlights from early postpartum?  Feeling a crazy heaviness in my vagina every time I got out of bed; watching my breasts grow to six-times their original size, but not wanting to be touched; having uncontrollable gas; wearing a diaper (yes, me, not the baby) and strutting around our room with my beautiful post partum pooch; thinking about sex the way someone would think about washing the kitchen floor, like it’s important to do, but not at all pleasurable; wondering if I was ever going to sleep again, or if I was going to live the rest of my days in a foggy, subtly depressed state of malaise.

Not exactly boom-chick-a-boom time.

Most doctors don’t help the matter by setting up the expectation that you can – and will – be having sex 6-weeks postpartum. Partners go home and circle the date on their calendar.  Many well-meaning books also lead couples astray. One couple I worked with read a book on marriage after baby and came away with the idea that every postpartum couple “should” be having sex once a week after the initial six-week healing period; that it is a woman’s duty to take care of her partner sexually, even if she doesn’t feel like it.  Instead of “baby-proofing” the marriage, this nearly ended the marriage.

Your body needs time.

After attending 170 births as a doula and working with hundreds more in my yoga studio, it seems to be pretty universal: when it comes to feelings about sex in early postpartum, most mamas range from not interested to downright terrified.

There is a level of trauma in birth.  Lynn Leach, a physical therapist and healer, said to me once that everything after “the moment that you don’t want to do it anymore” can register as trauma in the body.  For some women this could be minutes, others could be hours or even days.

While it may be physically possible to have sex six weeks after birth, most mamas get the shakes just thinking about something going back in where this enormous baby just came out. The idea of any kind of activity down there can be daunting. I gingerly I I explained to my husband that my vagina was like the hiking trails that are closed for rehabilitation.  Nothings broken, you just can’t go there right now.

I’m sure there is the rare mama who feels hot and ready-to-go at six weeks, but I haven’t met her yet.  For most of us, the desire wanes and sex seems like some crazy thing that you used to do before baby came along, like pedicures and “girls nights.”

Expectations are crucial.

In my class, I focus on setting appropriate expectations.  My husband and I, in our separate rooms with the couples, spell out a more realistic timeline of what to expect:

  • Around 6-10 weeks:  A rather awkward attempt at sex.
  • Sometime after that: Another try, maybe a little more successful.
  • Every month or so:  Mama musters up the energy to try again.
  • By six months:  Mama may think sex is a good idea.
  • By a year:  Mama actually initiates (especially if baby is sleeping well).

This timeline is by no means definitive and it is important not to compare. Some couples find their way back to regular sex quickly, and others barely have sex once before the baby’s first birthday.   I encourage couples to trust that whatever love and sexual expression they are capable of in each moment is enough.  And to remember: as with all things baby, it’s always going to be in flux.

Many factors affect libido, including: breastfeeding, physical healing, stress, lack of sleep, and (perhaps most powerfully) the hormonal shift. If your body (physically) doesn’t appear to be functioning – or feeling – right after six months, consult a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic health, to make sure that everything is healing correctly.  This work can instantly change the experience of sex.  Don’t suffer through painful intercourse without getting checked.  I secretly thank my physical therapist every day that I have sex with my husband.

That’s right, the dry spell doesn’t last forever.

I remember clearly my first ovulation, at 13 months postpartum, suddenly noticing this devastatingly handsome man in my room.  I’m not sure where he’d been all year, but my husband was looking pretty cute. Perhaps the quantity of sex changes (it’s a lot harder to find the time than it used to be), but the quality can also change, to be a deep and lasting expression of the love between two people.  Love that welcomed another human being into the world.

And that’s pretty hot.

Stay tuned for section two, for more about the physical and emotional “how-to” for sex in the postpartum year.

Weaning Mama

An era is coming to an end.

I love breastfeeding. I have to say it. Sometimes, when I’m feeling low, I almost hope that Phoenix will want some milk. It lifts my spirits, it connects me to my son, and it’s one of the only times he sits still, looking into my eyes, resting in my arms like he was still a baby. It doesn’t seem that long ago, that I was calling my mom to bring over her crock pot to make warm compresses to ease the crazy milk flow that descended three days after his birth. I was always a milk machine, I could have nursed triplets. I didn’t get stretch marks on my belly, but instead got them on my breasts, when my poor little size A pre-pregnant breasts grew to a size DOUBLE holy-cow-I-can’t-believe-it D at full tilt. Jugs, in every sense of the word.

For many weeks, every time my family got together, my breasts were the centerpiece of most conversations. It was startling, to me, and to others, their transformation. But I just beamed. I felt like a huge success. I was making milk. Tons of it, in fact. I had watched and supported enough other mamas to know that it wasn’t always this easy. My baby was growing, and after the first week (which hurt quite a lot), I actually enjoyed feeding him in this strange and wonderful, and oh so animal way.

Going back to work was probably the most difficult part of breastfeeding for me. My job, working with mamas, lends itself to understanding, but also has unique challenges. Like sneaking away from a mama in labor to say “I’m sorry, I know you’re having a baby right now, but I’ve got to pump for a minute, I’ll be right back.” Or getting out the manual pump in the office with Tina, my employee, and saying “do you mind if I just pump right here?” and watching her politely mask her horror as my nipple was pulled to two inches long before her eyes. When we are nursing we are brought so instantly and profoundly into our mammal self. Even in the middle of a work day.

I remember at thirteen months, when Phoenix suddenly decided he needed milk at 2:00am again. Wracked with Working Mama guilt, I reasoned with myself “Well, he’s in day care all day, he must need me at night” and proceeded to knock over the tiny sand castle of mental health I had been building up for a few short months. My husband and I would strategize ways to get him back sleeping through the night, and our plans would crumble as I heard my baby boy cry. I’d watch myself run to his crib, thrust my breast into his mouth, to ease both of our frazzled nerves. My husband would look at me as I came back into the bedroom and say, “How did it go in there?” Sheepishly, I would confess, “I fed him.”

And then I remember at seventeen months hitting the wall, and realizing that a happy healthy mama was better than a little milk in the night. We talked with sleep consultant Eileen Henry, came home and carefully explained to Phoenix the new “plan” of no more middle-of-the-night milk. I expected tears, trauma, and deep emotional scarring, and braced myself for the worst night of my life. I awoke to the sun pouring in to our room, amazed that he slept perfectly. And he hasn’t looked back.

I always thought I would nurse for two years, as long as it was going well for both of us. I don’t know where I came up with that number. I’ve heard that monkey mamas begin to push their monkey babies away around one year. Two felt very generous. As I write this, I realize I am only weeks away from my son’s second birthday. I knew it was coming. In some ways it seems like a lifetime ago that he was born, in other ways it seems like two days. My little son can actually say, when prompted, that he’s about to turn “two!” with his two chubby fingers pointed out. So, here we are… and we’re still nursing. Mostly just before bed, or nap, if we are together.

A few times this year, his interest seemed to be waning, but I was the one that wasn’t ready, so I would create “cave time” making the nursery dark and quiet, to limit distractions. Later, I added fun songs to sing while we nursed. I guess I thought that I could talk him into nursing for exactly two years, and that his interest would magically go away after we blew out the birthday candles and sent everyone home on his second birthday.

One of the things compelling me to wean now is the thought of getting pregnant again. At an acupuncture appointment this week, I was told my blood was deficient (that always feels good), and that it might be nice to give my body a little break. Funny how I couldn’t really think of taking that break for myself, but when it comes to taking care of my next baby, I better get serious! Mamas will do anything for their children, even the ones that aren’t here yet.

But I don’t know if he’s ready to wean… or really, if I am.

When I think of ending this special time, I feel the loss, and the end of a profoundly connected time. I wonder if he will still know how much I love him? For me personally, I have never felt a more complete expression of love than creating a special blend of nutrient rich milk and feeding it to my child through my own body. Holding him in my arms, head leaning into my heart, eyes gazing into mine. Cuddling up and reading a book together just doesn’t feel the same to me. And I also dread not giving him something he wants, the worst possible thing for any mama. I want to give my son everything and more. I want him to not need anything. I want him to go to sleep so full and surrounded by my love that he never doubts that he is extraordinary. I want to nurse his confidence, nurse him back to health, nurse him when he falls down, nurse his wounds. I want to tell him how glad I am that he is here, how grateful I am that he chose me to be his mama, how amazed I am to actually be on this journey with him, through every drop of sweet, warm milk.

And I know I can’t nurse him forever.

I know all things come to an end, and it is time to let him grow, and let my body recover fully. I know I need to learn and explore the next ways to express my love to him. To snuggle him, sing to him, maybe make him a scarf, or a soft toy. I will learn new ways to show him that he’ll always be my little man, no matter how big he gets. I know I’ll also have just that little bit more time for those things, or… potentially even some time for me, as his needs shift, and we are not nursing every day.

We give birth, and then live into a series of separations, as our babies slowly move farther and farther away from us. And if we want them to be great, and we want to be great mamas, we welcome this separation. I know one day I will watch him walk out of my home, and into the life that only he can live, without me holding his hand. And if I am a good mom, I will let him go, and stand by, gracefully, as I watch my son become a man. And then step back into the house and have a good cry.

Well… maybe one more week.