R-Rated Event: You thought your roommate was sound asleep when you and your partner decided to heat it up under the covers. Just as things start to get hot and heavy, you hear an epic cry. Busted! And it's not by your college roomie -- it's by your own baby. Don't worry, you don't have to sign your infant up for therapy. "Seeing or hearing sex at an early age is unlikely to have any lasting effects, but any loud noises or vigorous movements may seem scary to young children," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., Parents advisor and coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality.
Make it G-Rated: Some couples find it difficult to get comfortable with the idea of having sex with a baby in earshot, even if she's not sharing your bedroom. But don't give up too easily. When the baby is asleep, get creative about finding absolute privacy. You'll solve two problems at once: You won't get caught in the act, and you'll be able to relax and get your groove on because you won't be anxious about being seen or heard. Grab the monitor and head down the hall for a steamy shower scene, or initiate a round of Seven Minutes in Heaven. "Instead of thinking about it as trying to protect the baby, imagine that you're sneaking around. It's a good way to turn a tricky situation into a turn-on," suggests Kristen Chase, author of The Mominatrix's Guide to Sex. You can also use background noise to tone things down. The next time you're in the mood for sex, try downloading a white-noise app on your smartphone. The sound of crickets chirping can be your secret code for "meet me in the guest room."
R-Rated Event: While even the most loving couples have been known to exchange words, it almost goes without saying that you lower the volume after you bring home your baby. But don't feel as though you suddenly need to have a conflict-free life. "It can be a good thing for children to see their parents disagree productively," says Angela Lamson, Ph.D., director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at East Carolina University, in Greenville, North Carolina.
Make it G-Rated: Most important for your little one is that you remain calm as you care for him throughout the day. "Finding healthy ways to manage your anger is the best care you can provide," says Dr. Lamson. It might not be possible to wait until baby's naptime to have a discussion about your mother-in-law's announcement that she's coming to visit. However, if your infant starts to cry or gets fussy in the middle of your heated conversation, it's smart to take a time-out. Though he might just be hungry, use his cries as a reminder to tone things down.
Going forward, prevent clashes by recognizing when it's not a good time to bring up tender topics in the first place, such as when your partner walks in the door after a long day at work or you're trying to make dinner while keeping your cranky baby happy. Instead, agree on a time to discuss the issue later.
R-Rated Event: It's 3 a.m., and once again you're awake with your baby. What could be more tempting while you're nursing than putting your feet up and watching the Law and Order: SVU reruns that used to be your guilty pleasure. However, just because your baby can't tell the difference between a murder and a comedy doesn't mean she isn't processing the show on some level. "Infants are finely tuned to the emotional tone of what's on the screen. If there's fear, anger, pain, or crying, they can pick up on it," says Parents advisor Michael Rich, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Center on Media and Child Health, at Children's Hospital Boston. Even if what you're watching is kid-friendly, a baby will be clued in to the fact that you are paying more attention to something other than him, and he'll get distracted by your wandering attention, says Dr. Rich. In the case of a late-night feeding, that might end up meaning less sleep for both of you.
Make it G-Rated: Your goal is to get your baby back to sleep as quickly as possible, so stay on task and avoid any stimulating light or noise. "You might miss a few late-night movies, but the reward will be a child who learns to self-soothe and will eventually be able to fall back to sleep on his own so you can get more shut-eye too," says Dr. Rich.
R-Rated Event: When your favorite Kanye West song comes on the car radio, of course you want to pump up the volume. But with a baby in the backseat, it's better to let it fade into the background. The lyrics might not be appropriate, but what's more of a concern at this age is your infant's hearing. "A child should never be in a car where there's a rock concert going on," says Brian Fligor, Sc.D., director of Diagnostic Audiology at Children's Hospital Boston. Babies thrive developmentally in a relatively quiet, language-rich atmosphere. "Loud background music acts like a temporary hearing loss for a young child. If you keep the volume up, your baby misses out on hearing adults speak, which is how he learns language," says Dr. Fligor. And it's not just about music. Consider your baby's hearing before bringing her to any loud event, such as a pro football game or a NASCAR race.
Make it G-Rated: As a rule of thumb, keep the noise level no louder than that of a busy coffee shop, suggests Dr. Fligor. And if you miss the good old days of being able to sing along while the radio's blaring, ask your partner to take over baby duty for a bit, grab the car keys or lace up your running shoes, and go. Even if it's just a quick trip to the store for ice cream or a jog around the neighborhood, you can crank up some Lady Gaga and even sing along.
Originally published in the July 2011 issue of Parents magazine.