First-time parents may think the intimacy they enjoyed while they were practicing to become pregnant will spontaneously return once they and their little bundle return home to begin life as a family.
For the vast majority of newbie parents, nothing could be farther from the truth.
It is during those first months post-delivery when hormones run amok and parents find that life with a newborn is consuming.
"The reality is: Babies cry and they tend to have erratic eating and napping cycles that deprive parents of the sleep they desperately need," says Dr. Domeena Renshaw, author of Seven Weeks to Better Sex and a pioneer in the field of sexual health. "New fathers quickly adjust. They learn to sleep right through a baby's crying but new moms are programmed differently to hear their baby's cry no matter what."
Adjusting to the new reality of family life is a process, says Renshaw, who counseled nearly 3,000 couples during her tenure as the founder and director of Loyola University Health System's Sex Clinic, which opened in 1972 as the first clinic for treating sexual difficulties in metro Chicago.
Following her 44 years in the field, Renshaw has some tried-and-true tips she offers to new parents aimed at getting their minds, bodies and spirits back into the game.
At a time when finding 15 minutes to shower is a luxury, Renshaw says it is vital to the long-term health of the growing family for couples to carve out together time. Although moms usually shoulder most of the caring and feeding responsibilities, an offer by dad to bathe the baby, fold clothes or make dinner can be a real turn-on for their overwhelmed partners.
When to resume intercourse has everything to do with the delivery and post-natal conversations with your doctor about when your body will be ready.
Women who have had complicated vaginal births and those that involved an episiotomy are typically advised to wait about six weeks until the stitches are out and the wound has completely healed. That same advice is routinely given to women who have had Cesarean sections that involve an up-and-down, belly-button-to-pubic-region incision.
Moms who have had Cesarean sections with a bikini-cut are often given the green light to resume sex sooner-if they feel up to it.
Renshaw says positions that allow the woman control over penetration are preferable, giving her control as she eases her body back into lovemaking.
Women remember: Although you feel differently-a little stretched, a little sore, a little misshapen even-you are still you. Be proud of the new you-and the body that nurtured this new life, the one that gave this amazing gift to your spouse.
For many women, hormonal changes and nursing means losing some of the natural lubrication that helped make sex so pleasurable. Luckily, that doesn't have to mean painful intercourse. Local pharmacies have aisles of products that fill in when nature is on hiatus. Check them out and choose the one that best suits the needs of you and your partner.
Renshaw cautions new moms about keeping dads in the loop while you navigate the new baby bonding process. "Sometimes, new mothers put so much energy into bonding with this new life that they forget how left out dads can feel," she says. "It is vital to the family that both partners work to retain those ties to each other as they forge a relationship with the baby.
True intimacy begins in the mind. Your relationship blossomed into a full-time endeavor as you and your partner shared your thoughts, your hopes, your dreams. No matter how fatigued you are, remember how important it is to keep talking and sharing. Look at each other when you talk. Hold hands. Curling up on the couch and sharing the day is a great way to regain your equilibrium.
Renshaw advises couples to take it slow. Touching, caressing and exploring alternates to traditional intercourse can be satisfying to both partners.
Renshaw says couples who find they have marital difficulties after having a baby are typically those who had unresolved difficulties before they got pregnant.
"If both partners found sex enjoyable before, they can typically find their way back to pleasurable sex following the birth of their child," she says. "The saddest thing I saw as a therapist were women who saw intercourse simply as another job that is expected as a function of their marriage. These are couples who truly need counseling to find joy in their relationships." n
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