Written by Maggie Zehring
My husband Nick and I both wish we’d been more realistic about what to expect after having kids. We knew sleep would probably be hard to come by, but expectations for our sex life as parents were naive at best. Sex wasn’t something we thought would change all that much.
Wow, were we wrong. If you’re a new parent, just know you’re not alone, and that there are ways to bring affection back to the bedroom.
This is an honest article about a happily married couple — not a perfectly married couple. Like anyone else who has committed their life to a partner, we struggle with real and not-always-romantic issues.
For example, when I was pregnant with my first son, I had to wear a nose plug to be able to make out with my husband. My sensitivity to smell was next level. (I couldn’t make this up!) With things this bad, you can imagine how quickly I shut down any further efforts. For the second half of my pregnancy, sex was not an option.
Fast forward to us cradling our eldest as a newborn, and things get sillier. If you read my Google search history in the weeks following my son’s birth, you’d find serious fears I had about sex after having a baby. No joke — I thought about changing my six-week checkup (when your doctor typically gives the “all clear” for sexual activity) to 12 weeks. I was terrified. How in the heck was I supposed to not only do the deed, but actually enjoy it?
Well, we did, and we learned a lot. We now have three kids, and I feel like it is my duty to demystify the common obstacles parents face after having kids.
Yes, life changes. The second you become a parent — no matter how that child came into your family — it all changes. It’s like a new, gray line between who you are as a spouse/partner and an individual gets further muddied. I distinctly remember having to catch myself to avoid calling Nick “Dad.” It takes time to get used to the new roles and feel like a couple again. Here are a few tips that helped us.
Give each other some time to adjust. Feeling like you and your spouse are on the same page emotionally can sometimes feel like trying to have a conversation at a rock concert. You’re both trying, but things are just getting lost in the music. I’m not a therapist, but I’m 99 percent sure this is normal. You and your spouse have just undergone the biggest changes you will experience in your lives, and you are both experiencing it totally differently. No matter how similar you are or how great you are at communicating, you’re two different people. The emotional disconnect is real.
Remind each other of your life as a couple. Acknowledge yourself and your spouse outside of your roles as parents. This can be as simple as saying your spouse’s name in your morning greeting or after brushing your teeth at night. Reminisce over photos of the two of you before kids. Have favorite old songs at the ready when you want to be intimate.
Shower together or cuddle — clothing optional. The key here is to be close to one another without any pressure to do anything. Just find a sensual way to be together without the expectation of sex and the need for conversation. Ladies, sometimes words can get in the way of reconnecting. Just close your eyes, lean in and take a breath. Gentlemen, quiet your mind. The fewer expectations you have, the more likely you are to relax and feel at ease (and maybe playful).
Plan time for intimacy. Lack of sleep makes it hard to get in the mood to be intimate. Whether you have a day at the office or a sink full of dishes waiting for you the next morning, it can be hard to justify having sex and being close to your spouse when your body craves extra rest. Prioritizing sleep and sex requires strategizing. Experiment with different schedules. Try the morning before the kids wake or at night after the kids are in bed, or even try setting an alarm for 2 a.m. Ladies, if you’re nursing, I recommend timing your playtime after a feeding. If that’s unrealistic, wear a bra and don’t take it off. Gentlemen, I highly recommend never turning down your wife. It’s going to take a lot of planning for her to be both physically and emotionally ready (showered, emptied breasts, not despairing over her changed body, etc.).
Ask your doctor about physical therapy and vaginal estrogen. If you gave birth vaginally or are breastfeeding, you know that things downstairs are not the same. If you pushed your sweet cherub out of your lady bits, it’s likely things might still be a bit stretched. Believe it or not, there are physical therapy routines that can help repair the damage labor and delivery can do to your abdominal wall and pelvic floor. Most insurance companies pay for a few sessions of physical therapy. If yours doesn’t, I highly recommend paying out of pocket for one or two sessions so a physical therapist can recommend pelvic-floor exercises and other tips for recovery.
If you’re breastfeeding, know that this might be the driest you will ever be in your entire life. You might also struggle with increased sensitivity from the amount of time you spend nursing, rocking and just plain holding your kid. Being over-touched is a real thing. Recognize the changes you’ve made to love this child and take a breath.
That said, I’d run to your doctor and ask for samples of vaginal estrogen cream. My nurse practitioner couldn’t say enough about how much it helps new moms, and in my experience it was a game changer. Vaginal estrogen helps stimulate your natural production of hormones that are responsible for moisturizing your lady parts. I’d argue that it also helps take the edge off the fluctuating hormones.
Keep trying. Maintaining anything important in life is hard work. Add new humans and changing hormones, and it’s bound to be challenging. Sex is wonderful, and always worth it. It’s just hard to remember that when you have little ones. Be patient. Keep trying. You’ll find your way back to each other.
Maggie Zehring of Scottsdale juggles her writing and social media skills with being a mom to rambunctious young boys.