Can your relationship go back to normal after having a baby? From dates to sex, a health visitor tell us what she’s learned
The early days of parenthood can be exhausting. A baby completely changes your priorities, so your relationship is just one of the many parts of your life that may never be the same again. It’ll take a little time to work out what the new ‘normal’ is while you get used to your new role as parents, and as a couple. We asked Maggie Fisher, a health visitor with more than 30 years experience, for her thoughts.
Tension and arguments
Any underlying communication problems between the two of you can get worse once you’ve had a baby, not least because you’re both more emotional and sleep deprived. “You can’t completely baby-proof a relationship, but talking genuinely and openly is one of the most helpful things to do,” says Maggie. “Listening without blaming each other is also important.” Try to explain things from your perspective. So rather than saying: ‘You’re ignoring me,’ say: ‘It upsets me when I feel ignored.’
Remember, postnatal depression affects both mums and dads and can massively impact on a relationship. If you feel you or your partner are struggling, get help from your GP or health visitor.
How do I have an intimate relationship without sex?
It can take time before you feel ready for sex again. In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to be loving and close with your partner.
- Simple gestures
It shouldn’t take a bed scattered with roses petals to tell someone you love them. “For a stable relationship, people need five positive things to cancel out one negative thing,” explains Maggie. “This is called balance theory. Think about how those little gestures can add up, whether that’s holding hands, complimenting each other or cuddling in front of the TV.”
- Block out time to spend together
Try to do something as a couple every week or fortnight. You might need to adapt dinner and a movie to a takeaway and Netflix while the baby’s sleeping, but it’s spending time together that matters.
- Be intimate outside the bedroom
You might be used to having the bedroom as your private space, but when your baby comes along you’ll have a new little roommate for at least the first six months. Think about opportunities other than bedtime to be intimate with each other, like snuggling on the sofa.
When will I feel ready to have sex after giving birth?
There’s no ‘normal’ time to resume having sex, so try not to compare yourself to other new mums. “Different couples will be ready at different times,” says Maggie. “How you’re feeling will depend on the type of birth you had, so it can vary enormously from woman to woman. If you have stitches following a tear or episiotomy, or a Caesarean, it will take you longer to recover.” New mums can also feel tired and overwhelmed, so it’s easy to see why sex might fall to the bottom of your priority list.
It’s not just feeling sore down below that can put you off sex for a while. You might feel like your post-partum body belongs to your baby. “Your breasts can change a lot while breastfeeding, and they may be sore,” explains Maggie. “It’s also usual to have an increase in discharge and some bleeding after the birth.” Add to that barely having time for a bath, and it’s no surprise if you’re feeling unsexy. Try our feel-good fixes for new mums to perk you up.
When will my partner want to have sex again?
This can be a really tricky time for dads and partners. As well as the pressure of looking after a new baby, they might also be worried about hurting you. For others, resuming sex can be high on the agenda. “This is often because it’s one of the main ways men use to feel close and connected to their partner,” explains Maggie. It’s important to talk openly about how you’re feeling so you understand each other’s expectations and needs.
A new baby needs a lot of time and care, which is why it’s so important to spend time bonding as a couple too. “Partners can sometimes feel left out when the new baby is getting so much attention, so they may need some reassurance from you too,” says Maggie.
What should I do when I’m ready to start having sex again?
When you both feel ready to try sex again, here are a few tips.
- Take it slowly. Hormonal changes or anxiety mean you won’t be as lubricated as usual, so you might want to consider using a lubricant for the first time. It’s important to take it slow and spend plenty of time on foreplay.
- Think beyond penetration. You can still give each other pleasure without penetration, so try oral sex or mutual masturbation instead. “There are other ways to have sex without full intercourse,” says Maggie. “It’s about being fun and inventive.”
- Stop if it hurts. When you’re ready, try positions where you feel in control. For a lot of women, sex might not feel the same as before. Maggie explains that as well as physically giving birth, hormones can soften the cervix, so it’s normal for it to feel different. “If there’s any pain though, stop,” says Maggie. It’s important not to pretend everything is all right just to ‘get it over with’, or you may start to think negatively of sex. Speak to your GP or health visitor about any concerns you have.
Will I need to go back on contraception?
It may be the last thing on your mind now, but when you do start having sex again, you’ll need to think about contraception straight away. You can get pregnant as little as three weeks after the birth, even if your periods haven’t started again.
You’ll have a chance to talk to a doctor about suitable contraception before you leave the hospital with your baby, and also at your six-week postnatal check.
Ultimately, the first few months with your little one will be a huge learning curve. But remember, you’re in this together, so talk about everything from sex to money to parenting styles. If you’re secure and happy as a couple, you’re more likely to feel confident and happy as parents, too.
You can find more information and help online. Try the Me, You and Baby Too online app, a course on how to argue better and PlusBaby’s relationship support for new mums and dads. Plus, read more about your new relationship and intimacy tips at the Institute of Health Visiting.