Congratulations! You had a baby.
And you've been successfully keeping it alive and fed and happy. This is truly a feat.
And to achieve it you've probably changed your entire worldview about what constitutes a full night's sleep (three hours? IN A ROW?), your body isn't even your own anymore (Boobs? Oh, you mean these flesh bottles?), you might still be walking around months later like a bomb went off in your leggings (didn't it, though?), and the most animated and intimate conversations you have with your partner are about whose turn it is to cut the baby's razor talons, we mean, fingernails.
In other words, it's the sexiest time of your adult life.
It's not just you
If it seems like you may never have sex again, and you're not even sure you want to, or maybe you are having sex but it's completely unsatisfying, you're not alone. Far from it.
Nothing really prepares you for what it's like to have a baby until you go through it yourself.Natalie Rosen
Sexual concerns such as these are extremely common in new parents as they navigate the new stresses that come with having a child, Dr. Natalie Rosen, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, told HuffPost Canada in a phone interview.
"Nothing really prepares you for what it's like to have a baby until you go through it yourself. Sleep deprivation, breastfeeding for moms, changing roles in the relationship from seeing your partner as a partner and a spouse and a lover to also seeing them in this parental role, are all new changes and new stressors that might or might not fit with expectations," said Rosen, who also leads Dalhousie's Couples and Sexual Health Laboratory and is a member of the Canadian Sex Research Forum.
A 2016 study of 239 new-parent couples with children that were three months to 12 months old found that over 90 per cent reported at least 10 sexual concerns (out of a list of 20) that they found moderately distressing. These concerns included the frequency of sex, changes in the mom's body image, a mismatch in sexual desire, the impact of sleep deprivation on sexual interest, and the woman's physical recovery after delivery. And 59 per cent of the participants reported at least 16 concerns, according to the study, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, which Rosen co-authored.
These sexual concerns were also found to have an impact on a new mother's and father's relationship satisfaction.
Physical pain is a "silent killer"
Nothing puts a damper on a sex life like physical pain.
Pelvic and genital pain during sex (called dyspareunia) is common for women who have given birth, regardless of whether it was by vaginal birth or C-section, Rosen said.
A 2016 review of the literature found that as many as 62 per cent of women experienced dyspareunia at seven weeks to three months postpartum, as many as 45 per cent of women experienced it at six months postpartum, and as many as 33 per cent of women still reported painful sexual intercourse at one year to 18 months postpartum.
"I call it a silent killer because people don't really talk about it. They think once the healing is done down there that there's going to be no pain during sex ... but pain during sex actually persists for a good number of women beyond those first six weeks or so," Rosen said.
We don't have to follow this idea that it's intercourse or nothing. There are other ways to be sexually intimate with your partner.Natalie Rosen
Breastfeeding, which can cause vaginal dryness, can also contribute to painful intercourse, Rosen said. But the good news is that, generally, for most women genital and pelvic pain doesn't persist beyond a year after giving birth, Rosen said.
If you or your partner are experiencing pain, try adapting your sexual activities and expanding your repertoire, Rosen said.
"We don't have to follow this idea that it's intercourse or nothing. There are other ways to be sexually intimate with your partner," Rosen said.
It's also worth it to have discussions about where the pain is located, and if certain positions might be more comfortable, Rosen added.
A little empathy goes a long way
About 90 per cent of couples resume having sex by three months postpartum, but their sexual satisfaction is still pretty low, Rosen said.
"It's like they're getting back into it, but it's not going that well. Or they're getting back into it because they feel like they should or one person wants to but the other person doesn't," Rosen said.
Empathy for your partner plays a big role in satisfaction, Rosen said. Research has shown that feeling compassion and concern for your partner is linked to higher sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction in new parents.
"When you feel cared for by your partner and you feel like your partner is really trying to understand what you're going through, that increases feelings of connection and intimacy and closeness, which translates to wanting to have sex with them," Rosen said.
More tips to get your groove back
Talk about your sexual preferences, which may have changed since having a baby. For instance, a woman who may have once found breast stimulation erotic may not feel the same way while she's breastfeeding, Rosen said.
Finding time to connect outside the bedroom can also help foster more intimacy, Rosen added.
And remember that desire doesn't always flip on like a light switch. However, a lot of women do report "responsive desire," Rosen said, where if they spend time being intimate, talking, touching, and kissing their partner, that can actually help their desire toward their partner.
"You kind of have to get the motor running."
Give yourself a break
If your sex life still isn't close to what it used to be, or anything much at all, don't feel guilty.
"Parents need to give themselves a bit of a break," Rosen said.
"This is a major life transition with all sorts of new stressors and changes and things going on in their relationship and their body, especially for new moms, and a little bit of self-compassion and a little bit of empathy can go a long way," Rosen said.
And remember: it will get better. Eventually, your baby will sleep. Your (or your partner's) boobs will be boobs again. And you'll develop interests beyond just keeping your baby (and yourself) alive that will likely include re-connecting with your partner.
"That first year is pretty difficult," Rosen said.
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