(Disclaimer: This post is aimed at cis-gendered, heterosexual men. Queer families may experience many of the same challenges, but cis-men are particularly underserved when it comes to education about the postpartum period, thus the post is written for them.)
Guys, I want to help you out. I’m here to say, it’s not your fault that you don’t understand postpartum sexuality. Blame our culture. Men are simply not taught how to be intimate with a woman who recently gave birth. But this information is vital for the health of your relationship and your family. Here are seven tips for navigating your sex life post-baby. Your wife will thank me.
- Let go of any expectations you may have. Some women are ready to jump right back in to intimacy and others need time or reassurance. It may be hard to believe, but sex doesn’t have to be a race to the finish line. Make this time about her, and honoring her process. If you make the focus about bringing her pleasure, it will help her get comfortable with intimacy again, and in turn, with providing you pleasure.
- It can feel like her first time all over again. Penetration may be uncomfortable for her in the beginning. With a vaginal or cesarean birth, the pelvic floor can be tender. Also, with her body focused on making milk, her other mucus membranes become much dryer than usual. Lots. Of. Lube. Patience too. Spend a lot of time (I mean a lot) with foreplay and get her really turned on before you have intercourse. Focus on getting her mind in the mood, and her body will surely follow. Once you get there, take it slowly. Let her control the speed, depth and intensity.
- The boobs may be off limits. You’ve loved them. You’ve adored them. And now you can’t touch them. Not only are your wife’s breasts the object of someone else’s affection these days, they also may be sore and leaky. Don’t be surprised if she asks you not to fondle them, or if she prefers wearing a bra during sex. Orgasm can trigger the milk to let down and spray everywhere. It’s actually pretty cool and some people are into it. Let her decide which option she prefers.
- She can get pregnant without getting a period. Because ovulation occurs before menstruation, it can be easy to miss the signs (unless she’s experienced in fertility charting). It may be a bummer, but use condoms or plan for some other type of birth control method early on so her body has a chance to heal before you make another baby.
- How a woman gives birth can impact how she feels postpartum. A traumatic birth, postpartum mood disorders, and difficulty with physical healing can all contribute to challenges with intimacy, among other concerns. If your wife is having a hard time after the birth of her baby, help her get the support she needs from a professional care provider, such as a therapist, or pelvic floor specialist. It’ll be important for her to have physical and emotional support and guidance during this time.
- She needs emotional intimacy just as much as physical intimacy, and that can start right away. Make a conscious effort to listen to her, and ask her how you can help her navigate her new role. Many new mamas feel like their partners get to have the easy life. More sleep. Time away from home. Now, we know partners are extremely important too and have a vital role in caring for a new baby. But for the overwhelmed new mama, it can be easy for her to see it differently. Her hormones are fluctuating, and without a concerted effort on the part of the partner to be emotionally close, she can become resentful (even if it isn’t necessarily warranted—I’m on your side too, guys). Tell her she’s beautiful, that she’s a great mom, and that you appreciate everything she is doing to care for your newborn. Also, offer her comforting touch, such as foot or shoulder rubs, hugs, kisses, and cuddles, and see how these kinds of touch can evolve into more and more intimacy over time.
- She’s just as concerned about returning to intimacy as you are. But, she may be nervous to talk to you about it. Doctors and midwives give new mothers the clear to have sex at 6 weeks postpartum. The uterus has returned to its pre-pregnancy size, and bleeding has ceased, but 6 weeks isn’t a magical timer that goes, “Ding, ding, ding! Time to have sex!” Many women are simply not ready that early into the postpartum period. Give her time, but don’t be afraid to talk to her either and let her know that you will be there when she’s ready.
Intimacy is key to the parenting relationship. Two parents who love each other deeply provide an example to their children of what a healthy relationship looks like. If you get the chance, address any issues or concerns you may be having in your sexual relationship before your baby is born. Cultivate intimacy, and make time to discuss how it can change postpartum. Open communication makes a big difference. With patience, empathy, and respect, your postpartum relationship will thrive.