Six weeks is certainly not a magic number. It's a moment a new dad anticipates as giddily as baseball's opening day -- your six-week postpartum checkup. Because after a month and a half of abstinence (or even more, if you weren't into third-trimester sex), he knows that if all goes well, your doctor will give you the green light to go for it again. At that point, your postpartum bleeding will have stopped, lacerations should be healed, and your cervix will have closed up, says Jennifer Wider, M.D., author of The New Mom's Survival Guide. "But every woman is different," she adds, "and frankly, many moms aren't ready to have sex at that point, even if they're physically fine." Besides the fear of pain, there are a million other reasons you might not be so eager to get naked with your guy: You're exhausted, you've got the baby blues, your breasts feel like they've been chomped on by a rabid wolf, you're still carrying extra weight, or frankly, you're out of practice. "Don't let your partner or a date on a calendar dictate when you're ready," says Dr. Wider. "You have to feel comfortable, both physically and mentally." That could be in weeks or months (sorry, hubby), but there are other sexy ways to connect.2. Cuddling and kissing can be hot. Really.
Remember back when you were dating, and making out on the couch or merely running your fingers down your guy's arm made both of you electric with desire? This is a great time to relive those moments, especially if you're not ready for intercourse yet. "New dads can feel disconnected; they're craving intimacy," says Ian Kerner, Ph.D., a sex therapist and coauthor of Love in the Time of Colic. Even if your guy would never say so, he may be just a wee bit jealous of all the physical attention you're lavishing on the baby. So make an extra effort to brush against him while you're in the kitchen, hold hands while catching up on your fave TV series, and practice some good old-fashioned, window-steaming tongue kisses (though you may have to remind him beforehand of just how far you're willing to go right now). He'll still be counting the minutes until the main attraction, but you'll stay emotionally connected until you're ready to roll.3. Hormones are a new-mom's frenemy.
For those first few months after childbirth, your body is a cauldron of rapidly shifting hormones. If you're nursing, you get a dose of prolactin, which does the miraculous job of helping your breasts produce milk. The trade-off is that it also suppresses the production of estrogen and progesterone, which can cause both a low libido and vaginal dryness, explains Dr. Wider. New moms also get a surge of oxytocin, the hormone that gives you the warm fuzzies when cuddling your baby. "This bonding hormone can make you think, I'm in love with my baby. Who is this big muscle-y guy trying to get in on the action?" points out Dr. Kerner. As if that's not enough to deal with, all those fluctuating hormones can interfere with your sleep patterns, making it difficult to conk out even when the baby is down -- leaving you with little energy for sex. Generous gobs of water-based lubricant can help with the dryness. If they don't, ask your doctor about using a low-dose estrogen cream.
It can restore elasticity and lubrication to vaginal tissues, but it could also affect your milk supply if you're nursing.4. It will hurt, but not as much as you may think.
It's no wonder that conjuring having intercourse for the first time post-baby can make you reflexively cross your legs. Not only did your vagina stretch wide enough for the baby's noggin to pass through (often accompanied by some tearing) but the perineum, that delicate area between your vagina and rectum, may have also torn or been snipped in an episiotomy. You should be healed by six weeks, but you might not want your honey near you. "For many women, the thought of putting anything close to that area can evoke fear and anxiety, which can make you tense up and feel more pain," says Dr. Wider. That's why relaxation is the single most important part of foreplay. Says Dr. Kerner: "For a woman to get aroused, she has to deactivate all stressful thoughts, so think about what will ease your mind the most, whether it's a massage, a bath, or even sharing a sexual fantasy with your partner." Then take it slooowly. Use tons of lubricant and start with just one fingertip, making sure to let your partner know when it's time for a breather. If sharp pain persists, scar tissue could be the culprit, so talk to your doctor. She may be able to suggest treatments.5. Things might get a little leaky up top.
It's destined to occur the first time you start to feel really affectionate: You ease under the covers, he slides his hand up your body, and ... your breasts start shooting milk like a water gun. Hey, it happens! To prevent this kind of wet-blanket moment, put on your sexiest bra and stuff it full of cotton nursing pads. Then, explain to your husband that he has to be extra gentle with your breasts. If your nipples are sore and you feel "touched-out" by the baby, ask him to pretend he's in a museum and to just admire, don't touch. "This is a great opportunity to talk about what feels good and what doesn't, and to try out other kinds of foreplay," says Dr. Kerner. Encourage him to explore with his hands and mouth all those other sensitive areas of your body -- the nape of your neck, the small of your back, the inside of your knee. Who knows? You may discover euphoria in the most unexpected place.6. And things might get leaky down below.
After your body goes through the Olympian feat of pushing out a baby, it takes a while for the muscles of your pelvic floor to recover, especially if you had a long labor. So when you sneeze or giggle, you might find yourself peeing a tiny bit, which, of course, is not the sexiest feeling in the world. To turn off the faucet, practice Kegels daily (tighten your pelvic muscles as if stopping the flow of urine and hold for five to ten seconds before releasing; repeat ten times). And don't worry about a trickle during intercourse; he'll be so excited that you're actually having sex that he'll never notice.7. Your husband thinks you look sexy, even if you don't feel that way.
One of the biggest obstacles to satisfying post-baby sex for some women isn't wonky hormones or episiotomies, says Dr. Wider: It's how they feel about their body. "Everything looks different after childbirth -- your breasts have changed, you may have stretch marks or a C-section scar, and you're still carrying extra weight," she says. "Most of us want to wave a magic wand and be back to our pre-baby body immediately, but it takes time. You should be mighty proud of what your body accomplished." In the meantime, do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel sexy -- dim the lighting, buy a silky baby-doll nightie, slather yourself in your favorite scented lotion. Banish all thoughts of dimples and a muffin top, says Dr. Kerner, a dad of two. "You look great to your guy. He's just excited that you're not nine months pregnant anymore!" Besides, what you consider to be unwanted extra pounds, your partner may see as va-va-voomy new curves!8. You'll have to grab sex when you can. (That's what naps are for!)
In your previous life, you probably had a pretty comfortable routine: A leisurely dinner, shower, bed, and bingo! But now that a tiny tyrant has taken over your schedule, you'll have to squeeze in opportunities for intimacy whenever you can find them, whether it's at 2 in the afternoon or 5 in the morning. (Hey, it's better than watching infomercials!) If you're doing plenty of kissing and cuddling, it will feel more natural to head into the bedroom for a quickie while the baby's in his post-nursing stupor. And if you think you're too worn out to be interested in sex, you might be in for a pleasant surprise. "Sex itself is not tiring; it's actually rejuvenating," says Dr. Kerner. "It can counteract a lot of the exhaustion and stress you feel."9. Your baby won't know if you get it on while she's in the room.
Whether she's zonked out in her bassinet next to your bed or cooing happily in the bouncy seat on the floor, she honestly has no idea what you guys are doing under the sheets. So don't let proximity stifle your love life. Of course, she might wake up and start howling just when things are heating up, but that's part of the deal, says Dr. Kerner. "Coitus interruptus is the name of the game when you're parents," he says ruefully. "You just have to go for it and hope you make it through." But the important thing is that you try, not just for your sake, but for your baby's. "Happy babies are those who have happy parents. And happy parents are connected and have a good sex life," says Dr. Kerner.10. It gets better!
For many couples, sex once more becomes fantastic. Eventually, you'll start to feel like yourself again, and you'll enjoy it, says Dr. Wider. The pounds will drop off, hormones will settle down (especially after you wean), and -- though you can't fathom it now -- your baby will sleep through the night. And you'll find that when you get back into a sexual groove, your connection to each other will be deeper and more romantic than ever before. (See the passionate testimonies below.) Think of it this way: If no one ever wanted to have sex after having a baby, there would be a lot more families with only one kid!
Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.