Good news for new parents: Having a baby needn't knock the sizzle out of your sex life, according to the 3,000-plus readers who responded to our relationship survey. A reassuring 71 percent of you say you're very or somewhat satisfied with your sex lives. And almost 70 percent of you think your spouses are too. What's more, 44 percent of you reported that lovemaking makes you feel even closer to your partner than it did before you became a mom.
That said, parenthood can't help but trigger at least a few sexual glitches. When we invited you to add any questions or concerns, we were inundated with queries about what's normal and what to expect. Here, sex experts address the top lovemaking concerns. Your Sex Drive and Breasts
Will I Ever Have a Normal Sex Drive Again?
My daughter is almost 2 months old, and I have little desire for sex. I still love my husband, so that's not the problem. Will I ever have a normal sex drive again?
It's natural for desire to take a nosedive after giving birth. It takes a while for a woman's body to recover: Vaginal dryness (especially common during nursing) and episiotomy scars can make intercourse uncomfortable for at least six weeks -- one reason doctors recommend waiting that long to resume sex.
Even when healing is complete, the demands of new motherhood can crowd out libido. "It's tough to feel sexy if you haven't slept through the night or taken a shower and you have spit-up on your shirt," wrote one new mom. In fact, 78 percent of respondents with decreased sex drive cited fatigue as the chief reason (followed by "not in the mood," "I don't feel sexy," and "no time"). But take heart: You should feel sexual stirrings soon. "Moms tend to get more interested once the baby is sleeping through the night and they've gotten a handle on their new routine," says Debra Haffner, president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States and coauthor of What I've Learned About Sex.
In the meantime, you could try fooling around even if you're not wild about the idea at first --you might become aroused after a few minutes of foreplay. This isn't to say that you should force yourself to continue if you don't want to, just that you may be pleasantly surprised. If you do turn your husband down, make sure to give him some reassurance that you still love him.
Keep in mind that frequency of lovemaking may never reach prebaby levels. Only 16 percent of readers whose youngest had turned 3 reported having sex three or more times a week. Part of the reason is familiarity, say experts. Couples generally make love less often after they've been married three years -- whether or not they have kids. "Everyone thinks the rest of the world is having hotter and more frequent sex," says Haffner. "But the average married couple makes love roughly 57 times a year -- which translates into once every Saturday night and a few times on vacation."
Of course, quality is more important than quantity. Seasoned sex between long-term lovers who know each other's turn-ons can be more satisfying than the frequent lovemaking of newlyweds.
Breastfeeding and Sex
As much as I love breastfeeding, it's interfering with our sex life. My vagina is dry, and my husband seems shy about touching my breasts.
Nursing prompts your body to produce less estrogen (in part, because it discourages ovulation). And estrogen is responsible for keeping vaginal tissues moist and supple. To counter dryness, try engaging in more foreplay or using an over-the-counter lubricant, such as K-Y jelly or Astroglide, suggests Jill Maura Rabin, M.D., chief of urogynecology and ambulatory care at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, in New Hyde Park, NY.
Ask your husband why he's reluctant to fondle your breasts. Perhaps he's worried that they hurt, in which case reassurance from you is what's needed. Or maybe he's turned off at the prospect of milk dribbling out during lovemaking, or he feels funny about sharing your breasts with the baby. Whatever the issue, communication is key, says Marty Klein, Ph.D., a marriage counselor and sex therapist in Palo Alto, CA. Find out if there's anything you can do to get him more interested -- emptying your breasts before sex, wearing a favorite negligee, washing your breasts clean of residual milk.
Episiotomies & Post-Baby Weight
Sex After an Episiotomy
I had an episiotomy and I don't think I was stitched up properly. It's been three months, and sex is still uncomfortable. My doctor insists that everything looks fine. Is it all in my head?
While your obstetrician may deem your episiotomy healed at the six-week checkup, it can take a year before the affected area is no longer vulnerable to pain from rigorous lovemaking. Also, scar tissue that forms at the incision site is less stretchy then normal tissue. That means the area won't "give" as easily during penetration, which adds to the discomfort.
To minimize tenderness, make sure you're well lubricated (try extending foreplay or using a vaginal lubricant), because too much friction can further irritate sensitive tissue, says Bruce Shephard, M.D., clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of South Florida School of Medicine. Go easy at first, then build up to more vigorous lovemaking over several months. Try different positions to see if a particular one is more comfortable.
If sex is very painful, make another appointment with your doctor and ask her to rule out physical problems, such as a vaginal infection. If she still insists everything's all right, consider getting a second opinion or seeing a psychologist or sex therapist to explore possible emotional reasons for the discomfort.
I have a 9-month-old daughter, and I still haven't lost all the baby weight. It's making it hard for me to feel sexy. How can I turn my husband on if I'm not comfortable with my own body?
The good news is that your husband probably thinks you're sexy -- even if you don't. While 62 percent of our survey respondents report feeling less sexy now that they're moms, more than half believe their partner thinks they're every bit as attractive as before. And 15 percent feel that their husbands find them even sexier! "But if you don't feel good about yourself, you're likely to be too inhibited to fully enjoy sex," says Elizabeth Stern, M.D., a psychiatrist at the Center for Marital and Sexual Health, in Beachwood, OH.
One long-term solution, of course, is to exercise and eat a healthy diet. Meanwhile, suggests Haffner, dimming the lights or placing candles around the room can make you feel less self-conscious. Or head to a lingerie store -- a lace teddy or silky chemise can make you feel more sensuous.
But also realize that you may need to relax your standards somewhat. Even if you get back to within a few pounds of your prepregnancy weight (many women eventually do), your shape may never be exactly the same -- hips spread, breasts droop, bellies sag. The point is that you need to accept, even celebrate, your new, more mature body -- after all, it's given you a beautiful baby with the man you love.
Loose Muscles & No Time
Tightening Loose Vaginal Muscles
Delivering my baby seemed to have stretched out my vagina -- intercourse isn't as pleasurable as it was. Will the muscles snap back?
It probably comes as no surprise that a baby's head stretches out vaginal tissues as it descends through the birth canal. A common result -- less friction (read: sensation) for both you and your husband. Just how "loose" the vagina gets depends upon everything from how long you had to push to how much the baby weighed. Fortunately, most women's vaginal muscles tighten up within a few months, but they may never shrink back down to prebaby size, according to Dr. Rabin.
You can accelerate the process by doing Kegel exercises: Squeeze your vaginal muscles as if you were trying to stop the flow of urine, and hold for at least 15 to 20 seconds. Work up to 20 repetitions, and repeat several times a day. But keep in mind that the tautness of the vagina isn't the key factor to enjoyable intercourse. It's the enthusiasm for your partner and the energy and creativity you bring to the experience that count.
How Can We Find the Time?
We have so little time for lovemaking these days that we usually get right to intercourse. As a result, I rarely have orgasms. I'd love more foreplay, but how can we find the time?
You're not alone. Half of those surveyed engage in less foreplay now that they're parents. Unfortunately, this happens just when some women feel that they need extra time to achieve orgasm (which may be because they're distracted by the baby). In fact, 27 percent of moms said they find it more difficult to climax after giving birth.
The first step is to let your partner know your needs, advises Dr. Stern. "It'll be easier to find the time if you both make it a priority," she says. Then brainstorm some solutions -- cranking up the mobile for 20 minutes in the morning, slipping between the sheets on weekends during the baby's afternoon nap.
Another approach: Make foreplay the main event and skip intercourse altogether. Experiment with alternative techniques -- oral sex, manual stimulation, erotic toys -- that may increase your pleasure and lead to orgasm.
C-Sections & Exhaustion
Sex after a C-Section
I had a C-section five months ago, and sex is still painful. Why would intercourse hurt if I didn't deliver vaginally?
One problem may be that your incision site is still tender. It usually takes at least six months for the area to mend completely. For now, try avoiding positions that put pressure on your abdomen.
Pain during penetration may be caused by vaginal dryness, which can be particularly intense if you're nursing. Again, a lubricant can help. If you experience discomfort during deep thrusting, you may have internal scarring. A cesarean incision is made very close to the cervix and the base of the uterus, and during deep penetration the penis may cause pain by ramming the cervix into this sensitive area. Until you heal completely, try extending foreplay. "The more aroused you are, the less aware you are of discomfort," says Dr. Rabin. Varying your position may reduce discomfort as well. When the man enters the woman "doggie" style (female on hands and knees), the penis tends to miss the cervix during thrusting.
Too Tired for Sex
Since I had my son a few months ago, I feel resentful that I'm doing all the work, while my husband's life hasn't changed at all. I don't think he understands that taking care of the baby is a full-time job and that I'm too tired to have sex.
Sounds like anger -- not just exhaustion -- may be the key problem, says Dr. Stern. "The most important sex organ is your brain, and if you're mad at someone you probably won't want to give them pleasure," she says. The first year of parenthood is extremely stressful for many couples. Now that you have a baby to care for, you and your husband don't have much time to spend together just having fun.
The best thing to do, says Dr. Stern, is sit down with your husband and calmly explain that you'd probably be in the mood more often if he took on more responsibility at home. And make time for some of the activities you used to enjoy together -- strap the baby on your back and go for a hand-in-hand hike; drop your son at your parents' house and take in a matinee.
Leakage & What He Thinks
Twice after lovemaking a little bit of urine leaked out. My husband and I enjoy oral sex, and I'm worried it's going to happen again. What should I do?
You may have stress urinary incontinence, in which some urine escapes when pressure is put on the pelvic area while, say, coughing, sneezing, or moving actively during sex. Childbirth weakens the muscles that support the urethra (the thin tube that ushers urine out of the body), and as a result, it may not stay tightly sealed during even light physical motion. Fortunately, the pelvic area will probably firm up within a year, a process you can accelerate by doing Kegel exercises. In the meantime, emptying your bladder before lovemaking can reduce leakage, says Dr. Rabin. If the Kegels don't help after a month or two, see your obgyn to rule out other causes, such as a bladder infection.
Do Men Have Less Sexual Desire After Seeing Delivery?
How do men really feel about making love again to their wives after seeing them in the delivery room?
That depends upon the man -- and his wife. If she had a particularly difficult delivery, he may be haunted by having watched her suffer. As a result, he could shy away from sex for a few months, worrying that intercourse may cause her additional discomfort, says Klein. Other men get grossed out by delivery (especially if they weren't prepared in advance), which can temporarily dampen desire. If your husband is reluctant to resume sex, ask him why. He may simply need to know that it's not going to hurt you. If the delivery turned him off, rest assured that his memories will fade eventually. In the meantime, getting him to open up about his feelings may help lessen their intensity.
The reassuring news: Most partners are just as sexually attracted after childbirth, if not more so. Watching the wonder of birth fills them with strong feelings of love and admiration that can carry over into the bedroom -- which is hardly surprising when you consider that bearing a child is the most awesome, and sexy, gift a woman can give.
Mary Garner Ganske wrote "Sentenced to Bed" in Parenting's April 1999 issue.