I read a comic strip once about pregnancy and childbirth that had the title “Help, my entertainment center is now a juice bar!”
While it struck my funny bone, there is so much truth in that statement.
We may think that adding our firstborn to the family will be all hunky-dory, fun and games, but the reality is it usually results in a DECREASE in marital quality. Navigating the relationship issues that transpire following the birth of a child can be tough!
If you’re a young parent reading this today, know that you guys are awesome! You may not feel awesome most days, but keep going. Props to you for navigating these tough times while bringing a new generation into the world.
So, what really goes on in our relationships and with our sexuality following the birth of a child?
Let’s talk about some realistic expectations, and how to create resiliency in your marriage to make this as positive an experience as possible.
The ‘New’ Norm
It is no surprise that a woman’s sexual desire and the frequency of intercourse in the early postpartum period is reduced. What surprised me was that breastfeeding was the cause.
Another thing that affects sexual intercourse during pregnancy and four months postpartum is the woman’s view of her changing roles. If the woman views her shift from the work role being primary to the mother role being primary in a positive light, there will be a greater frequency of sexual intercourse.
If you’re in this stage of life, be sure to discuss, as a couple, how you’re feeling about moving from being in the workforce to becoming a mother. Talk about what is positive, what you’re going to miss, and what you expect to be challenging.
Given that physical intimacy is reduced around the birth of a child, let us emphasize that having kids is NOT an ideal way to bring life or intimacy to your marriage. Rather than looking to baby to fulfill a need, bring your fullness to your baby. Use those first few years of marriage to focus on building a robust relationship, and from that healthy place, bring children into the family unit.
Another normal complication, which may be quite unpleasant, is Dyspareunia – pain during intercourse for women. The research says that 3 months after delivery 58% of women experienced dyspareunia, 39% experienced vaginal dryness, and 44% suffered a loss of sexual desire. Those are high numbers!
8-9 months later 26% still experienced dyspareunia, 22% had vaginal dryness, and 35% still suffered a loss of sexual desire. The scary part is only 20% of women discussed postnatal sexual problems with a physician.
You may think you are alone or unique, but you’re not! Talk to your doctor!
You can’t have pleasurable sex if you’re in pain while your husband’s penis is in your vagina. It is such a common issue and nothing to be ashamed about. Again, make sure you talk to your doctor.
I laughed at the results of the next study we looked at: they studied 768 first time parents and found that sexual desire is greater among fathers than mothers! Really… what a surprise!
Unfortunately, though, the tension between the sexual desires of the couple can become a focus of attention rather than the baby.
Add into the equation that men typically see sexuality as a way to intimacy, and women see intimacy as a way to sexuality, and it gets tricky. The husband can very quickly end up lonely and feeling emotional emptiness, but when Wife is experiencing pain and exhaustion, what are they to do?
One idea is to place more of an emphasis on sensuality over sexuality – hugging, kissing and caressing. Couples that compensate with this are better able to stay connected because it confirms each other and the affection they have for one another.
Another part for tired young moms to remember here is that you may have low desire because you are tired, but you can still be open to arousal. It’s the difference between going to bed wanting to do something versus going to bed willing to be open to something.
During all this though – be sure to focus on communication. Just because you’re tired, and your attention is diverted elsewhere, and there may be physical limitations to sexuality, it does not mean you’ve fallen out of love or that your marriage is on the rocks! This is just how it goes sometimes- the ‘new norm’.
To new Dad’s out there: if you’re pushing for sex when your wife is exhausted, she may draw away. When a new mom has no desire because she is just trying to make it through the day, she does not dare to show you any tenderness in case that is misunderstood as sexual interest.
So, what can you do? Again, talk about it!
Acknowledge that baby and sex are competing. Allow mom to say, “I want to be loving but I may not be able to be sexual”. Make the physical relationship non-demanding. If there is no pressure, and the ability to be tender, with no expectations, the wife may relax enough to become aroused, but if that doesn’t happen, husband, you need to respect that and not take it as a personal rejection!
This takes really good communication and the willingness for the husband to honor the trauma done to his wife’s body. Both husband and wife need to accept that this little cutie they’ve created takes some work and that it takes a different kind of together, but it IS going to be OK! There are many parents out there who are a little further along and they’re having sex like they’re on vacation. So, hang in there!
Remember, there are many things that influence relationship quality and sexual satisfaction after the birth of a child. Fatigue plays a huge part, as does the physical impact of the childbearing process. Then breastfeeding has an impact too.
Another thing to throw in the mix for many couples is post-partum depression. The depressive mood is an issue for many. If you are going through this, have compassion for yourself. Husband – have compassion for your wife.
One of the significant facts that came out of a study of over 400 women was a financial worry. What does that have to do with postpartum depression? If a new mother is worrying about finances, it increases the risk of depression. A good conversation is necessary (preferably before you are pregnant) to figure out what can be cut out of the family spending. You may not be able to keep the same standard of living, but thinking about what you can do to reduce these worries helps.
Another major factor for a woman is social support. Remember ladies, it’s when you least feel like getting out of bed that it is most necessary for you to do so. There are many “Mom’s” programs at churches or community centers that would welcome you and help you realize you are not alone in your struggles.
Lastly, focus on the positive. The new life… The little smiles… That particular little newborn smile… The joys…
If you’re out there and having a hard time, reach out. Yes, life with a newborn is a challenge, but there are more people out there that care for you than maybe you can see right now. If it’s really, really hard, make sure you reach out to your family doctor and get some help there as well.
So, while the ‘new norm’ isn’t necessarily all pleasant, remember it’s only for the short term. Communicating with your spouse and having compassion for their new norm goes a long way in keeping your marriage healthy when life is changing. Hang in there; you’ll make it through!
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