From sleeping habits to home dynamics, babies change everything! Whether you’re a parent or not, all you need is a close friend, family member, or to watch a sitcom about parenthood to see a glimpse of the little and big shifts in responsibility that can ripple through every part of a family’s life.
And as it turns out, sex is included.
It’s common for couples to struggle with finding, or recreating themselves after a baby. Physical and emotional challenges can burden relationships in and out of the bedroom, often leaving one or more partners frustrated and honestly, scared—having all of these changes happen at once can feel daunting.
As sex therapists & counselors, we have to assure our patients that what they’re experiencing is natural. The insecurities, the exhaustion, the bedroom incompatibilities—they’re all challenges many new parents have to overcome after a baby.
In fact, many of these challenges are just downright biological. For example, nursing releases oxytocin, a hormone that suppresses a woman’s libido. It’s the body’s way of trying to suppress the sex drive to prevent another pregnancy too soon. So that lack of desire your patient feels might have everything to do with her body’s natural postpartum process.
In a world where we’re constantly being shown images of sexy celebrities who frolic on the beach in bikinis four days postpartum with headlines such as, “You’ll Never Believe Heidi Klum’s Post-Baby Abs” or those effortlessly chic displays of motherhood like Princess Meghan Markle’s baby reveal in an all white dress only two days postpartum (which shocked moms around the globe because...bravery!), it’s safe to say that women and men are being fed an unrealistic image of parenthood.
Help reframe your patient’s experience with these tips:
Postpartum sex might feel uncomfortable
...and that’s ok! Apart from the pain of delivery, there’s a laundry list of reasons why sex might be uncomfortable, or even painful for some women. Even women who underwent C-sections might experience painful sex after pregnancy.
Vaginal dryness, discomfort, and hot flashes all make sex an uneasy experience. This is the perfect opportunity for your patients to talk to each other about what feels right, how they’ll take on the challenge together, and when to start implementing tools they might not have used before (lube/toys).
One partner might be ready the other might not.
Most women are told to wait at least six weeks after having a baby before intercourse. However, for some women, six weeks might not be enough. Pregnancy is a huge deal that should not be taken lightly, and your patients should know that no one expects them to “bounce back” immediately—
whether that be physically or mentally.
Intimacy comes in many forms, and sex is just one of them. Your patients should feel comfortable being intimate in other ways and exploring how to share their affection outside of the bedroom.
Reshape the sexual experience
Crying baby, diapers, food prep, cleaning, working—for your patients, life might feel in a complete overhaul. How are they supposed to find the time for intimacy in the bedroom?
Well, they might have to start reshaping their ideal sexual experiences. If pre-baby they were used to candles, rose petals, and at least an hour together in the bedroom, that time is probably going to be needed elsewhere. Instead, they should communicate to know what options are available such as quickies and foreplay.
Sex is still essential
It’s going to take a while for the partners to define their new roles in the relationship, and sex might not be as frequent as before, but it’s still essential! Now more than ever, these couples need to communicate and take baby steps towards a more “normal” (for them) sexual experience. And it doesn’t all have to be at once.
They can start with hand holding, hugging, and kissing. They should make each other feel wanted, not like roommates. All that matters is that the couples normalize their new reality and understand that many challenges they’re experiencing are temporary.
Sex is one small word that embodies a world of meaning. Want a crash course on everything you should know about sex as a mental health professional?
Click here to learn about everything from common couples/sex therapy difficulties and the ecosystemic approach to the multiple disciplines needed to treat many sexual problems.
With a total of 8 CE hours, this is the perfect opportunity to continue your education!