Words: Annie Ridout

Since giving birth to my now 10-month-old baby, I’ve sometimes wondered how much sex other new mums are having. After all, with the overwhelming tiredness that accompanies a seemingly nocturnal newborn, a new mum’s new body, and the changing dynamics as a family grows from two to three – or more – finding the time and inclination can be tricky. Initially, it felt OK to ask my mum-friends how often they were getting down and dirty – along with what shape their vagina was in, how the stitches were healing and whether their nipples were constantly throbbing – but as the months went by, such questions began to seem, well, intrusive.

So what is normal? Sandy Hertz has worked as a counsellor and psychosexual therapist for more than 25 years. She confirms sex is often a problem for new parents: “What’s interesting is that couples often wait a considerable time before requesting a referral, by which time their general relationship is beginning to suffer. I think this is because having a baby is a natural and beautiful thing, so they wonder how it can possibly be the cause of relationship stress and problems.”

Conflict can grow, Hertz explains, as the dynamics in your relationship inevitably shift: “The previous attention towards each other is now going in another – very demanding – direction, and typically while the female is experiencing the newness of motherhood, the male is experiencing ‘rejection’. This in turn causes him to need more reassurance of being loved and in the male arena that means physical attention, i.e. sex.”

For many women, Hertz adds, “your breasts are now for feeding not fondling…” Given the physical and mental exhaustion you can feel at this stage, compounded by a loss of sexual appetite – not to mention the possibility of physical discomfort after giving birth – your partner’s desires can be tricky to negotiate. So what to do? “Firstly, communicate. Talk about how you are both feeling with the addition to your life. Be honest. Keep your relationship in focus, make time – however small – for yourselves: the couple. Eat together, or have a fun reminder of pre-parenthood.”

If the father watched his baby being born, it can affect how he views his partner – she is now the woman who birthed his baby rather than a sexual being

“It is understandable,” she says, “that your sex life will be reduced with early parenthood, but try not to panic – it is more about quality than quantity and again: communicate with each other. It requires a balance of him understanding his partner’s new role and her making sure he is included in her affections and attention. Small things can make a big difference”.

Finally, Hertz says, one of the pitfalls is the fantasy that everyone else’s sex life is more plentiful: “There is no such thing as ‘normal’, it’s what you both feel is right for you, whether it is once a day or once a year, as long as you both feel the same. But if the discrepancy becomes a real issue get some help – it can be sorted by a few sessions with a counsellor.”

Heather Trice trained as a midwife and practised at the Royal Free Hospital, North London. She says, on the issue of postpartum sex: “If you had stitches, as long as they dissolve and there are no problems, there should be no difficulties having sex. If the stitches are too tight you should see your GP. Some hang on for the suggested six weeks postpartum to have sex, while others start earlier and some wait longer.”

It is not just mums, she adds, who find birth can adversely impact on their inclination towards romance: “If the father watched his baby being born, this can affect how he views his partner, as she is now the woman who birthed his baby rather than a sexual being.” To reignite his view of her in more romantic terms, Trice recommends talking openly, making time for dating, doing things together that will shift the dynamics slightly back towards the way you once were as a couple.

Moreover, it is the changing nature of your lives together, Trice says, with a sudden emphasis on seemingly endless domestic tasks, that can create problems at the root of a relationship: “Each person thinks the other isn’t doing enough. The biggest turnoff is thinking that your partner isn’t pulling his weight. If each partner cleans up, helps with laundry etc – good feelings arise and stimulate desire. That’s what the woman needs.”

What the man needs, however, is slightly different: “He needs to remember who she was before she gave birth.” There are notable generational differences, according to Trice: “Women used to get the kids to bed then dress up and do their make-up to greet their man when he returned from work.” That probably doesn’t happen so much these days, as women might return to work, too; they may also feel there is more to their relationship than just looks. “But why do we get together in the first place?” Trice asks. “It’s about lust; desire.”

Trice recommends going away together before the birth. ”Have time together, remember what it’s like to just be the two of you. Imagine what problems may arise and then keep talking to each other. There is no ‘normal’ – just have sex as often as you like. If he wants more sex, talk about why. Are there insecure feelings about you loving the baby more? How much did you have before? Just talk to each other.”

During pregnancy, some women feel self-conscious about their growing bodies which can inhibit them sexually, while others bask in these changes

Couples counsellor Jan Hawkins mentions the residual physical toll of pregnancy on a woman’s body. “During pregnancy, you may be suffering with nausea and/or sickness and may also fear that having sex could provoke a miscarriage. This fear can affect men, too.” She says that couples may be reticent about asking their healthcare professionals about sex during pregnancy and therefore won’t know how healthy it is to continue normally, unless there’s a particular medical reason not to.

There is also the issue of body image during pregnancy. “Some women feel self-conscious about their growing bodies and this can inhibit them sexually, whilst other women positively bask in these changes and feel more sexual than ever. Some men, too, can feel uncomfortable about the changes they are seeing and need encouragement to accept these feelings as fleeting.”

Hawkins recommends that couples address any existing issues in the relationship before procreating. For some couples, getting pregnant has taken so long and become so mechanical that desire, fun, comfort and pleasure have disappeared, she says: “The pregnancy almost makes one or the other or both heave a sigh of relief that they haven’t got to be watching the calendar and ‘performing’.”

She agrees with both Hertz and Trice that making time for the two of you to be a couple is of paramount importance and suggests making good use of grandparents who are available, and willing, to babysit. “This is a blessing, as it encourages the bond between grandparent and grandchild and also allows a couple time to reconnect and play again.”

As for that golden question… what’s ‘normal’ for new parents, sexually? “Every couple differs in their sexual activity throughout their relationship but it is quite normal for there to be little in the way of highly active and long-lasting sex in a couple who have a young baby. Take whatever opportunities you can to rest together: cuddling, kissing and stroking during the phase where sex seems too much effort, then you’ll be better positioned to reconnect sexually when you both feel ready.”

Sex tips from self-help expert, agony aunt and life coach Dr Pam Spurr:

“Remember there are natural ways to boost your libido and recapture the romance in your relationship. A healthy diet and exercise will increase your feeling of well-being and will definitely help to get you back on track. Treat yourself to some dark chocolate and add ginger and chilli to your meals as they are natural mood enhancers and can help your sex drive.

Cast your mind back to life before starting a family. What used to excite you about your partner? Why did you decide to spend the rest of your life together? Relive your first date and the first time you had sex to recapture the romance.

While it may be tempting to head to bed as soon your baby goes to sleep, why not spend time relaxing together? Treat each other to a massage or run a nice hot bath and jump in together.

@drpamspurr

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