The (sad) number of new parents who have date night once a week
• 66 percent were happy with their pre-baby sex life; only 24 percent are happy with their post-baby sex life.
• 74 percent say sleep is more important than sex.
• Nearly 60 percent say their partner is the one who initiates sex.
How many respondents have sex more than once a week?
Before baby 66%
After baby 24%
Breastfeeding moms, read here!
• 75 percent are having less sex than they did pre-baby.
• 80 percent say their partner wishes they had more sex.
Your bedroom used to be just that: a bedroom. Now it's a makeshift nursery, day-care center, storage facility and pump station. But newborns doesn't only change ground zero for your sex life. They can change the quality and quantity of sex, the level of intimacy and, perhaps most important, the biology of a woman's body.
Because sex is such a private and taboo subject, getting specific details about post-baby coitus is a real struggle. (There's a good reason the guy who invented the "Do Not Disturb" sign is a millionaire.) Hence, we commissioned a study to learn about the sexual practices of new parents nationwide. More than 10,000 people -- 96 percent of whom were female -- participated, making it the largest sex survey in the magazine's history. Short of peeking through the neighbors' blinds, this is as close as we'll ever get to seeing what's happening in America's most private rooms. With the help of ob-gyns, pediatricians, therapists and sexperts, we present the study's most interesting facts and trends, plus tips for restoring the bedroom to the love nest it once was.
Which one of these is not like the others?
a. Oysters b. Chocolate c. Scented candles. d. Infants
When it comes to aphrodisiacs, babies rarely make the list, and our survey proves it: Among respondents, 66 percent were happy with their pre-baby sex life, yet only 24 percent are happy with their post-baby sex life. "Pre-baby, you're trying to conceive, so you're focusing on sex," says Jill Grimes, M.D., a family physician in Austin, Texas, and author of Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs. "When you're having more sex, you have more opportunity to improve the quality as well as the quantity. Practice makes perfect."
That changes with the new arrival for several reasons, including basic anatomy and physiology. Irwin Goldstein, M.D., editor-in-chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine and director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, California, puts it bluntly: "An 8-pound item coming through the vagina can have a major anatomic impact." The tearing of the perineum and other genital tissue, episiotomies and hormonal surges --ouch! -- can all complicate mom's sexual health. According to a recent study about postpartum pain published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, nearly half of all respondents reported an episode of pelvic or genital pain lasting three months or more. Dr. Goldstein adds that approximately 20 percent of the women he treats suffer from problems related to childbirth.
"It's also about the hormone changes and what they do to how you feel," says Tania Paredes, a psychotherapist and couples counselor in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "Parenthood figures into 50 percent of the patients I see."
True or false: Sleep -- or lack thereof -- is a major obstacle to sex.
Sadly, true. A whopping 74 percent of respondents at least partially agree with the statement, "Sleep is more important than sex." When asked why they are having less post-baby sex, nearly 80 percent say, "We're too tired."
"Being a new parent is more disruptive to one's sleep than any other life adventure," says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and co-author of Baby 411 and Toddler 411. "Romance and physical exhaustion don't mix."
Breastfeeders vs. non-breastfeeders: Who's having better sex?
Interestingly, mom's decision regarding whether to breastfeed not only affects baby's health, but mom's sexual health as well.
According to the survey, breastfeeding moms are having a tougher time with post-baby sex than non-breastfeeding moms: They're less happy with their post-baby sex lives, feel less sexy and experience more pain during intercourse. When asked, "How soon after baby did you have sex?" 9 percent of breastfeeding moms say they are still waiting, compared with 2 percent of non-breastfeeding moms. Conversely, women who aren't breastfeeding are having a much more dynamic post-baby sexual experience: They have more quickies, foreplay and sexual fantasies.
For breastfeeding moms, biology is the chief libido crusher. A breastfeeding mother produces a surplus of prolactin, a hormone made by the pituitary gland in the brain. Prolactin decreases estrogen levels, which in turn thins the vaginal walls and decreases vaginal secretions -- nature's way of preventing ovulation so mom doesn't get pregnant again right away. The result is dry, uncomfortable sex -- and who wants that?
A breastfeeding mom also gets less sleep, which inhibits libido. "A breastfeeding mom is up every two to four hours either feeding her child or pumping her milk to store," says Michele Hakakha, M.D., an ob-gyn in private practice in Beverly Hills, California, and co-author of Expecting 411. "If a new mom chooses not to breastfeed, she may be sleeping through the night as her partner or another caregiver can bottle-feed formula."
Then there's the issue of mom's breasts, which have transformed from erotic icons to infant smorgasbord. "Your breasts become less of a sexual entity and more of a nourishment outlet," Dr. Grimes explains. "When you've got a baby constantly suckling at your breast, you don't really want hubby lining up for his turn."
While breastfeeding can hamper mom's sexual connection, her emotional connection has only become stronger. Compared with non-breastfeeding moms, breastfeeding moms fight less with their partner and are less worried about their partner cheating. When asked why they're having less post-baby sex, 48 percent of breastfeeders chose "I'm preoccupied with baby," compared with 32 percent of non-breastfeeders.
Dr. Hakakha has a theory why breastfeeding moms have a stronger bond. Oxytocin, another hormone made by the pituitary gland, is released during orgasm and breastfeeding. Oxytocin stimulates the part of the brain involved in trust and reinforcement, and this leads to bonding. "Looking at it from a Darwinian standpoint," she explains, "it causes women to bond to their partners so they can have more babies and perpetuate the species, and to their children so they will feed, nurture and protect them." Non-breastfeeding moms earn their own dose of oxytocin from holding, cuddling, feeding and smelling baby.
The side-effects of a C-section
What did Caesar know anyway? According to the survey, women who had Caesarean sections are more likely than those who had vaginal births to feel self-conscious with their post-baby bodies, have no libido and -- perhaps the impetus for the previous two -- struggle with postpartum depression.
"Needing to have a C-section after being in labor for hours and hours is often felt as a 'failure' by the mother," explains Dr. Hakakha. "Women often feel that their bodies have 'let them down.'" She adds that in cases of emergency C-sections, such as those for premature births and multiples, "these babies often go to the neonatal intensive care unit, where they're separated from mom. All of these factors could lead to a higher rate of postpartum depression."
Looking for romance? Don't ask a parent
When asked, "How often do you go on date night?" 67 percent say every few months or never; only 8 percent have date night once a week. Creating a romantic rendezvous at home is equally challenging. Eighty-two percent have sex either before bed or in the middle of the night, and nearly 60 percent say their partner is the one who initiates sex more often. Hypothesis, considering that 96 percent of our respondents are women: Is dad making a move on mom after those late-night feedings? Not too suave, Dad Juan de Marco.
"It's a lack of intimacy, not sex, that mars the relationship," says Paredes. "Sex is a physical act. Intimacy doesn't even have to lead to touching. It can be a deep conversation, or sitting close together while watching a movie. Women put intimacy higher on their priority list than sex. Start building this first, and the sex will come."
Reigniting the flame: surefire tips for better post-baby sex
* Be patient Mom's body needs a break after delivery. The standard recommendation is to wait four to six weeks after a vaginal delivery. If you had a C-section, your doctor may suggest waiting longer. Once you resume, think sparklers, not fireworks. "For most women, the first few times they have intercourse in the postpartum period are uncomfortable," says Dr. Hakakha.
* Back to basics Just because you can't rev the engines for those first couple of months doesn't mean you have to turn off the car. "We tend to forget what we did before we had sex," Paredes says. "There's a lot you can do that doesn't include penetration, like touching, kissing, hugging, playing and rubbing."
* Got lube? For breastfeeding moms, the increase of prolactin leads to a decrease in vaginal secretions. Try a water-based lubricant like Astroglide.
* Date night, stat! Scheduling regular outings with your partner is critical, but "don't mix baby and date night," says Paredes. "Taking the family to Babies R Us and then dinner doesn't count." Date night doesn't have to be a scene out of chick flick either. "Date night can be a candlelit dinner, but don't limit yourself. Drop off the baby with a family member or babysitter and go window-shopping through a mall. Being in each other's presence is what's important."
* Happy wife, happy life Some woman goes through a "self-esteem plunge" during the first year of motherhood, says Paredes. "She feels uncomfortable in her body that she may not even recognize. She feels guilty about going back to work, and incorporating her pre-baby life into her post-baby life. We need to give mom more credit and patience." Dad needs to lead the charge. "Help around the house more," Dr. Grimes says. "The baby introduces many new chores, and the previous ones do not disappear." The easiest chore of all: regular compliments. "Guys need to remember to tell new moms they're beautiful," she adds. "And please -- compliments need to come all the time, not just when they're asking for sex."