When it comes to sex in early parenthood, a recent study supports what many families have known for a long time: “If mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” In the Penn State study of couples’ sexual satisfaction post-baby, researchers summarized: “First-time parents are only somewhat satisfied with their sex lives, according to health researchers who checked in with parents regularly after their baby was born. And one factor that appears to be reducing their sexual satisfaction is mothers’ stress as a new parent.”
This probably comes as no surprise to parents who are immersed in (or remember!) the sleepless nights, the unpredictable on-demand feeding patterns, the constant demands of the fussy baby, the dirty diapers, the repeat wardrobe changes for baby and parents each day, and all the social demands of hosting visiting family and friends who want to meet baby, on top of managing your responsibilities to your home, job, family, and social commitments.
To say the least, parenting a baby is exhausting. It’s also difficult to overestimate just how much pressure this demanding family phase can impose on a romantic relationship. It’s no wonder relationships often suffer.
Still, because sexual intimacy can be an important factor in keeping your relationship strong, it is important for couples to consider ways to continue nurturing their connection.
Although the Penn State study considered the dynamics of only heterosexual couples, it demonstrated that new fathers experiencing this transition tend not to experience a sexual desire and satisfaction decline unless their female partners do. That is, a new mom’s stress level translates to lower levels of sexual satisfaction for both partners.
What does this mean for new parent couples? It means that in order to stay sexually satisfied post-baby, couples should pay special attention to stress levels—especially mom’s.
Ideas for Dads/Partners
- HELP your partner! Before she asks, try to anticipate needs and be an active partner in the process. Don’t expect her to delegate tasks to you. Keep in mind that you are partners and that you share all those new responsibilities. Clean bottles, vacuum the floors, change diapers, cook a meal. Alleviating some of the household burden is likely to be met with appreciation.
- Encourage your partner to take breaks. Give her a chance to sleep in one or more times a week, for example. When you hear the baby crying at 5:30 a.m. on your day off, tend to the baby and let your partner sleep until she wakes up rested. Sleep is an essential element to alleviating stress. Consider taking turns giving each other permission to sleep longer.
Take her away from her responsibilities and spend special one-on-one time wooing her again! Bonus if you plan for the child care.
- Remember to date your partner. Take her away from her responsibilities and spend special one-on-one time wooing her again! Bonus if you plan for the child care. Help her remember what it was like to be your special someone, not just the mother of your child.
- Be affectionate—non-sexually. Hold her, gently caress her hair, rub her back, give her hugs regularly. Nurturing her emotionally may help boost love sensations and help her relax and disconnect from her daily stress. Don’t assume this will turn sexual, though. Treat sex post-baby the same way you did in the early part of your relationship, without expectation. Understand that if she experienced childbirth, she may have several weeks or months of healing before she can comfortably have sex again. Allow this to develop naturally, with gentle encouragement from your regular affection.
- Encourage her to remember to take good care of herself. Early weeks of new parenthood can be erratic, and remembering things like taking a shower and eating a meal can be challenging. If she’s not remembering the basics, chances are good that sex is also not on her mind. Besides, some new moms get so carried away by their responsibilities that they forget to do the things they love.
Ideas for New Moms
- Ask for help. Avoid believing you should be perfect in all roles, or that you should do it without help. All new parents need help. Speak up when you need help at home, and talk with your partner about ways the two of you can share responsibilities. You probably know other people who have “been there, done that” and would love the chance to help make your new life a little easier.
- Take care of you. It’s tempting to overlook a daily shower, regular meals, and a good night’s sleep when baby’s needs take such a high priority. If you can’t seem to squeeze these in any other way, this is where asking for help comes in handy. Ask your partner, family, and trusted friends to help you get the break you need to take good care of you.
- Try to relax. Easier said than done, but try. Use yoga, meditation, prayer, a long walk, a quiet bath, a spa day, or sitting with a good book or music. Give yourself a chance to recover your energy through intentional relaxation.
- Do something you love. Remind yourself that you’re more than a mom; you’re a woman with her own interests. Take some time now and then to enjoy your own activities either with friends or alone.
- Consider contacting a licensed therapist. If you’re having trouble managing stress post-baby, it could be that you’re living with postpartum depression or anxiety and may benefit from the help of a professional counselor.
Penn State: Leavitt, C. E., McDaniel, B. T., Maas, M. K.; Feinberg, M. E. (2016, May 26). Mothers’ parenting stress impacts both parents’ sexual satisfaction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160526115645.htm
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