reconnecting after having kids.
Five ways to keep the spark alive.
It’s a fact that having a baby directly impacts personal identity and even the most intimate partnership(s). After having children, it becomes more difficult to carve out space for your relationship, and as the child continues to grow, your role as a caretaker becomes more demanding. When kids come into the picture, it changes the dynamic that you and your partner(s) once had alone, so it can take time to rebuild the intimacy that perhaps once felt so effortless. Sometimes couples struggle for months or even years with rebuilding intimacy within the relationship after having children.
It’s paramount to the success of the relationship to cultivate time to spend together when you’re awake, alive, and have the mental space to engage with one another. Regardless of what you do to rebuild a connection with your partner(s), it’s essential to take action and put in the work, which can often feel tough.
Intimacy after childbirth
After a vaginal birth, it usually takes at least six weeks for bleeding to stop and stitches to heal—but it’s a good idea to talk with both your partner and your doctor about when it’s safe to resume intercourse. Though parents who deliver via C-section may not have the same kind of damage to their birth canal, they should still hold off for about the same time: Birth, however you go through it, can be a traumatic experience that the body needs adequate time to recover from.
Even then, it’s important to set realistic expectations and to not be too hard on yourself: Women are just as likely to report sexual dysfunction (fatigue, lack of arousal, difficulty reaching orgasm) 12 weeks after childbirth no matter which way they delivered, according to research published in the International Journal of Impotence Research.
Research published in December 2017 in the journal Midwifery shows that 78% of women who completed a questionnaire resumed vaginal sex by three months postpartum, and 94% by six months. But emotional satisfaction with intimacy declines after childbirth, from 67.3% reporting high satisfaction at three months, to just under 50% at 18 months postpartum. It should be noted that the percentage of women reporting “very” pleasurable sex does increase postpartum, from 40.1% at three months to 49.1% at 18 months. So what does this say? Sex seems to improve once the body has more time to heal after childbirth—but emotional satisfaction declines as the child(ren) get older. Rekindling intimacy after childbirth may be a priority for a couple, then, but it’s critical to make sure there’s a good measure of emotional reconnecting happening, too.
How often do parents have sex?
For new parents, having sex as kids get older can only get more difficult. While there is some research that breastfeeding increases sexual motivation in women, many women experience the exact opposite effect, finding that breastfeeding kills their sex drive. The stats are also not promising. A survey conducted by the mattress company Leesa found that 46% of respondents said the quality of their sex life got worse after they had kids; in the same survey, 61% of women said they wanted to have sex less after they had kids, and 30% of men agreed. On average, parents had a 47% decrease in sexual frequency.
Kids are demanding in different ways at different ages, so it’s natural that finding time for intimacy (or even finding the desire for intimacy) will present some challenges. That said, it’s worth making the time—even if it’s necessary to put some time on the calendar and ask a grandparent to entertain the kids for a bit: research published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science in 2015 showed that couples who had sex at least once a week were happier than those who had sex less often, Time reported.
Here’s our list of ways to help cultivate and maintain a sense of intimacy with your spouse or partner as the difficulties of parenthood arise.
Don’t be complacent
The first step is believing that you’re worthy of intimacy and that your own needs are still significant. If you’re waiting for the most convenient time to recreate intimate moments with your partner(s), you’ll be waiting a very long time. After children, the entire family dynamic shifts and it can take a lot of work to create special moments that once felt so effortless. There are so many additional stresses that come along with children, so it’s easy to cast your romantic life to the side. But research says that if you continue to wait it out, recapturing that intimacy becomes more and more difficult as time passes by, the New York Times reported in 2019.
Any partnership requires work—it needs to be nurtured regularly to thrive. Researchers
say that avoiding complacent behavioral patterns can be as simple as touching more or being conscious of physical connection, which is a primal way of bonding with your partner(s).
Slow it down
After a vaginal birth, the body takes at least six weeks to heal. Often both partners are eager to have sex by this time, but sometimes they’re simply not ready even though they’ve been physically cleared to do so. Once medical issues are ruled out, doctors advise couples to try starting over within the relationship by rekindling the sexual connection perhaps in the same way they may have done so when they first started dating or getting to know one another. Things such as making out, cuddling, holding one another, and spending time alone can help encourage sexual acts and a gradual movement in the direction of bare skin contact.
Studies say that when a birth parent is involved, this person is simply getting used to a brand new body and feeling comfortable in their skin once again. The entire meaning of their body and what it does has changed, and it’s sometimes difficult to take in so much change at once. It’s also important to remember that intimacy doesn’t simply equate to sex—it’s about loyalty, trust, commitment, enjoying small moments together, and getting through the more difficult transformative times with each other.
Nurture your individual needs
When children come into the picture, it’s easy to place yourself and your relationship in the foreground. But it’s so important to notice your own physical and emotional needs. In doing this, you’ll feel more empowered and energized to nurture your relationship with your partner(s) as well. Sometimes everyday encounters can feel like just another task on the daily to-do list, but it’s essential to carve out time for yourself and your partner(s). Many couples go through periods where cultivating intimacy feels almost intrusive, and this is a key sign that you each need time for self-care.
It’s important to ask yourself what you need to do to take care of yourself so that you’re able to feel connected to your sexuality and share that with your partner(s). That can come down to something simple, such as taking time out of the day to meditate, read a book, or go to the gym. Engaging in the act of self-care is extremely important for couples as well. Write down a few things that you used to enjoy doing together that helped to create a sense of closeness, and make adjustments within your new daily routine to create moments of physical and emotional intimacy.
One of the best ways to nurture and spark a sense of sexual intimacy is to think about what turns you on. Simply reminding yourselves of the great sexual connection and experiences that you had together can make room for, or cultivate the desire to have more. It’s important to remind yourself what traits you love about your partner(s) and what things they bring to the relationship.
Sexual desire doesn’t usually just come out of nowhere spontaneously—instead, it comes from a place called responsive desire which is directly corrected to erotic stimulation. It’s helpful to think about significant sexy moments that you experienced together, which can often motivate the body and mind to want those kinds of encounters again.
Create a safe space
Making your bedroom into a safe space can truly help to cultivate moments of intimacy. Within these protective confines, it can feel easier to bring up the aspects of your personality that feel in line with erotic desire and connection. You can physically and mentally close the door to the outside world for a moment and focus on sexual connection. Often, those physical spaces can become reminders of the fact that you’re now a caregiver. It’s important to remove those things from your physical and mental space to help you make sure your bedroom is thought of as a true sanctuary.