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Sex After Baby: Q&A with Dr. Jessica O’Reilly

When I was pregnant, friends would hint at the fact that once the baby arrived, I’d lose my sex drive completely, never mind find time to fit a quick shag in. I didn’t believe them. I’ve always had a healthy (crazy) sex drive! Sex is a major part of my life and my husband’s life. We love it. It keeps us sane. We used to boink almost daily. But then – BAM – kid comes along and it literally disappears. Two years in, things are still far from being regular.

To help address some of the issues that so many new moms feel, we asked Dr. Jessica O’Reilly, North America’s leading sexologist, to give us some advice. With a PhD in Human Sexuality, Dr. O’Reilly knows a lot about sex. She’s just one of the many experts who will be conducting seminars at The Everything To Do With Sex Show this weekend.

How long should you wait before having sex after the baby is born?

Most women wait at least six weeks before having sex, but there is no sense in comparing yourself to averages. It will depend on a variety of factors from the physical (did you have a Caesarian? did you receive stitches and how are they healing?) to the practical (are you getting enough sleep? do you have the support of a sitter or family?).

Remember, there are a variety of normal changes after childbirth:

-A decrease in sexual activity is a near-universal experience — especially in the early months, so fret not!
-You may lose interest in sex, desire or intimacy (e.g., cuddling) in some ways, or prefer masturbating and other non-penetrative activities.
-A number of factors can impact both your sex drive and the relationship: changes in sleep patterns, exhaustion, breast feeding (tender breasts), pain in the pelvic region (e.g., from delivery and/or episiotomy), pain in the abdominal area (e.g., from Caesarian birth), or pain in the joints (from the hormone Relaxin).
-Emotional factors can also impact interest in sex: body image (weight gain and shape changes are a normal, healthy part of becoming a mother, but the process of learning to love your new and always evolving body can impact your desire for sex); mood (1 in 7 new moms experience post-partum depression, but mood swings are common and many new mothers experience the “Baby Blues”).
-Partner support: Pre-baby relationship satisfaction levels and the baby’s sleeping habits have a significant impact on the sexual relationship.

Desire levels often return by week 4, though practical factors (e.g., no sleep!) often delay partnered sexual activity for longer; after three months, 85% of women have had intercourse.

If we’re not really feeling like having sex, but feel that we should for the health of our relationship, what should we do? I mean, sex is important!

Ask your partner to “service” you! Many new mothers see sex as an obligation as opposed to a pleasure, as they’re exhausted, stressed out and dealing with significant hormonal and physiological shifts. It’s time to rewrite the script and get greedy. You’ll likely find that reciprocation and connection follow — not to mention a boost in mood, energy and relaxation.

If you’re not in the mood for sex, but want to get in the mood, do whatever it takes to be open to pleasure. Give your partner directions. Close your eyes and think of Ryan Gosling. Read a sexy story. Use a vibrator. Get creative!

Finding time is really hard when you’re a new mom. Either you begin having sex, and the baby cries, or there is never a moment where you and your partner are both feeling it, during the only slivers of time that you have to do it. What are three tips you offer couples that are in this space?

Be affectionate outside of the bedroom. Don’t wait until sex is on the table to hug, kiss and snuggle, as you can risk avoiding physical touch altogether. Tell your partner if you want more affection and be specific (e.g., “I want you to hold my hand at the table,” or “It would feel great if you hugged me as soon as you walk in at night.”) Physical affection increases the likelihood that you’ll have sex, as an increase in oxytocin and vasopressin levels heighten intimacy. Studies suggest that couples have more sex during periods of intimacy.

If you’re dealing with exhaustion, know you’re not alone. From late night feeding schedules that lead to sleepless nights to hormonal shifts that drain you both emotionally and physically, it isn’t uncommon for new parents to feel entirely drained. With exhaustion comes a dip in libido and many new parents lose interest in sex altogether — temporarily.

The fix: Experienced parents will tell you that it will get easier, but you have some options in the meantime:

-Take shifts: There is no reason for both parents to get up in the middle of the night, so take turns when you can. Don’t count the number of hours of sleep you’ve had/missed, as this can further intensify your exhaustion.
-Get outside: Go for a walk if you can. Fresh air can boost the immune system, reduce stress and energize your body and mind.
-Take it easy on yourself: You can’t do everything, so say no to invitations and requests that aren’t a priority.
-Consider the services of a sleep doula who can help to make your nights a little easier.
-Keep the intimacy high even if you stop having sex. Snuggle, kiss, hug and DIY if you can find the time.

Seriously, will we ever have sex again like we used to? 

Your sex life is constantly evolving, so don’t pine for old times. When we yearn to experience feelings in the same way as we did in the past, we’ll find ourselves let down more often than not. Instead of focusing on the past, think about what you want to feel right now. Do you want to feel sexy? Do you want to feel a release? Do you want to feel close to your partner? These feelings are more important than the act itself.

I’ve worked with hundreds of couples who say their sex life is hotter than ever after twenty and even thirty years of marriage and they all experienced a dip (and often a rut) post-baby, so know that you’re not alone. Once your child starts sleeping more regularly and following a regular schedule, it will be easier to get back on track. However, in the meantime, ensure that you and your partner are still treating one another like lovers and not just co-parents. Flirt with one another. Admire one another. Watch porn together. Laugh together. Steal ten minutes over a drink before bed. Compliment one another. Cry if you want to. Make sure you’re still taking care of one another while you’re taking care of the baby.

The Everything To Do With Sex Show is happening all weekend long at Enercare Centre (Direct Energy Centre). Mama, we feel your struggle but if you can find a sitter for two hours, the Everything To Do With Sex Show will surely take you out of your regular routine! We think it makes for a pretty fun date. If talking about sex has become challenging, this would also be a great place to casually chat with one another, while browsing the largest assortment of vibrators EVER. Who knows, you may discover a couple new things to try too!

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