Mothering, Postpartum, Sleep
Recently, I was teaching a class to new parents, helping them to understand the benefits of sharing sleep with their babies; benefits such as enhanced attachment, better sleep for the whole family, improved breastfeeding.
I knew it would happen at some point, the inevitable but important question about intimacy. I noticed one Dad squirming a bit, looking ready to speak and then stopping, until finally he asked, “Is sharing sleep with our baby the reason for my partner’s lack of interest in sex?”
A lot of nervous laughter, a few audible sighs of relief, and the discussion began…
New mothers and fathers are exhausted. They are learning about their baby while experiencing sleep deprivation. This is especially true for the mother. Mothering a newborn can be stressful, exhilarating, anxiety-causing all at the same time. Sex is quite likely the last thing on a new mother’s mind.
Nature has designed hormones that help a mother bond with her baby. They are uniquely high in the early months postpartum and these hormones send a strong message…”baby, baby, baby and more baby” leaving little emotional connection for other relationships. This is temporary. As breastfeeding becomes established, hormones level out and mother begins to shift her focus from the intense mother/baby relationship to other important relationships.
It takes time to heal from birth. Vaginal soreness often accompanied by stitches and/or an episiotomy, incision pain from a Caesarean birth, heavy milk-filled breasts, hemorrhoids and sore pelvic floor muscles all take time to heal and to return to normal. Many mothers find that vaginal dryness (caused by postpartum hormones) can be a problem after childbirth so remember to purchase an over-the-counter lubricant to have on hand when the time is right.
Although most health care providers will say that after six weeks mothers can return to sexual activity, many women find that this isn’t enough time to recover physically and emotionally from birth. So what can a couple do to reconnect and enjoy one another postpartum?
- No matter where baby sleeps…next to mom, in a cradle, in a crib…night time mothering is a reality. In the early months, and often much longer, mothers are needed at night (Dads are too) and sleep is a priority. When baby sleeps, mama sleeps. So try to find other times, once both parents have had a chance to rest, for intimacy. Mornings, nap times, car rides (well maybe only for the adventuresome!) Remember, babies don’t care what you are up to and they are oblivious to intimate moments between parents.
- It can take some time for a new mother to become comfortable with her post pregnancy body. Partners, remind her that she is beautiful in your eyes and that you love her for reasons other than physical ones. After all, she earned those stretch marks and loose belly muscles growing a human baby…pretty impressive work!
- Focus on intimacy not sex. Massage, foot rubs, tenderness, kisses, hand-holding. Look for ways to express affection. Intimacy doesn’t have to involve intercourse. As one new mother declared, “when my partner loads the dishwasher, it’s equivalent to foreplay in my postpartum state of mind”.
- Both partners need to remember to rest when baby sleeps. Everything is better, including the possibility for intimacy, when parents are not exhausted.
- Eat well. A nourished mother feels better. Less sugar, more real food. Drink lots of water.
- Find a way for the new mother to do some things she enjoys. Fresh air, yoga, a movie.
- Know that you are not alone and your experience is not unique. This too shall pass.
Just as I expected, as is usual during discussions with new parents, normalizing postpartum and early parenting, especially from the mother’s perspective, brought a sense of relief and comfort to the group. We all laughed together, shared stories, nodded in agreement and enjoyed the camaraderie that comes from open and authentic conversation.
As new parents, it seems we often look at our partners and think “What’s happened to us? Where did we go? Where is life as we once knew it?”
And my answer is always the same…you will find a new normal, a new way of being. As parents you will be even better versions of yourselves than you were previously.
After all, your baby is counting on it.