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An extract from The Contented Mother's Guide - by Gina Ford

Your sex life ... what sex life?!

Contented Mothers Guide

In the months after the arrival of your baby, you might hate the thought of having sex. You will be sore, tired and no doubt have the libido of a dying fly! What can help, though, is to maintain some physical closeness, such as kissing, cuddling and holding hands when you go out for a walk. Tell your partner how you are feeling as this can make you feel more relaxed about everything. Eventually, when you feel ready, gradually become more intimate by giving each other gentle massages and skin-to-skin cuddles; your sex life will slowly return. If you have had stitches or are worried about pain, think about using gentle caresses or oral sex to bring each other to orgasm, rather than trying penetration. By being patient and talking to one another, any blip will only be temporary

Many couples wonder when it is safe to start having sex again after the birth of their baby. There aren’t any hardand-fast rules about this: traditional advice used to be to wait until your postnatal check-up at six weeks after the birth, but you may find you’re ready much earlier, or later. One school of thought says it’s better to have sex before your check-up so that, if you do experience pain or other problems, you can discuss it with your GP at the time of the examination.

To have sexual relations, you obviously need to spend time together! Arrange a babysitter and go out for the evening, or have a candlelit dinner at home, to remind yourselves that you were lovers first before you were parents. Also, if you do have concerns about your sex life, it can be easier to talk things through away from home.

Physical discomfort

You may find sex painful in the first few weeks after the birth if your perineum is still bruised from stitches or tears. You may also find your caesarean scar is sore for a few weeks until it has properly healed; so, if this is the case, wait until it feels more comfortable. Likewise, you may experience vaginal discharge for several weeks after the birth, and this may put you off sex too.

To help restore pelvic tone after a vaginal birth, try practising pelvic-floor exercises - gently squeeze your muscles, as if you’re holding in wind, tense for a few seconds and then release. Pilates exercises are also good for improving pelvic strength. After having a C-section, Debbie found man-ontop positions uncomfortable. She said, ‘See it as an opportunity to try new positions - it may even spice up your sex life! It did take a while before we found out what suited us but we had fun trying!’

If you are breastfeeding, try feeding your baby before you have sex to minimise the risk of leaking milk at an intimate moment. You can always wear breast pads if it makes you feel better - and just try to laugh about it with your partner! And be aware of the myth that you can’t get pregnant if you’re breastfeeding - because you can! If you are fully breastfeeding, this does give a high degree of protection against getting pregnant, but there are no guarantees. Beware of the dangers of the weeks when you are trying to phase out breastfeeding, as you will ovulate before your period arrives. Periods usually return after six to ten weeks if you’re bottle-feeding or combining breastfeeding with bottles.

Mum's Top Tips

  • ‘I found the fact that I was breastfeeding made a huge difference when we started doing "it" after our baby was born. I was much drier down below than I was before having her, and my GP said this was totally normal and to get some lubricant (water-based if you’re using condoms). It really helped. It was still sore though; it took a few months to feel okay. I found I needed lots more foreplay than before (and a couple of glasses of wine) to help me relax but, even then, it wasn’t exactly 100 per cent comfortable for ages. I was also told that an oestrogen cream can soothe the dryness.’ Laura
  • ‘There’s a saying that goes, "Love is a muscle; it must be exercised, or it can become weak." This really helps me to focus. It takes effort to feel sexy (so that you want someone to think that you are desirable); it takes effort to wear nice clothes and put on perfume; it takes effort to give your partner a cuddle; it takes effort to just concentrate on loving by giving.’ Michelle
  • ‘I’m ready for bed by 10pm, but my husband is a night owl. So once dinner was over, I would head upstairs for a shower, then put on some sexy undies and high heels and go and get my hubby! He thinks it’s fab, and his reaction in turn makes me feel more confident about my postpregnancy body. It also means that I am in bed by 10pm! Audrey Hepburn said, "The less you make love, the less you will feel like making love." It’s all in the mind for a woman, so start thinking of yourself as a sexy woman! I bet you are anyway!’ Jo
  • ‘I think sex should be scheduled into your routine! I am shattered by the end of the day and find mornings a much better time! But whatever works for you ... Once you get back into it, it’s cool.’ Fee
  • ‘I finally achieved my pre-baby weight just before my son’s first birthday (my long-term, realistic target) and, with a great haircut two weeks ago, I am just beginning to feel good about myself again. I had a forceps delivery and a very nasty tear. I was really worried that things would have changed forever, but I am pleased to report that it does get better. A few of my friends have had weekends away with their hubbies sans baby. My friends have said that having time alone together really helped them to rediscover the special something in their relationships and that they owed the time to their husbands. Worth considering.’ Janie

Emotional issues

Emotionally, you may still be too wrapped up in looking after your baby to think about sex. Just remember, all of these thoughts are normal. Whatever your reasons for not wanting sex, don’t forget to describe (tactfully) how you’re feeling to your partner. Explain that your feelings are temporary and that you still love him. Try to show him affection, as this is the classic time for him to feel rejected. Be creative about other ways of finding intimacy together; for example, kissing and stroking. Penetrative sex is not the only way of showing your love for one another.

Seeking help

If you are finding it difficult to resolve problems with your sex life, consider attending therapy, such as that provided by Relate, the marriage guidance charity. You will discuss your difficulties and what you want to change and then be given a programme of exercises designed to increase the intimacy between you. You may feel embarrassed at first but it will be worth this to have your full loving relationship back. Talking to a sympathetic and knowledgeable third party may actually save your relationship. For more information, log on to www.relate.org.uk.

CLB Mums’ Top 10 Best Ways ... to

Revive Your Sex Life

  1. Understand that sex after birth is different for different people. Some people are back on form in two weeks, yet for the majority, it takes much longer. Don’t leave it too long. I personally felt that by six months I needed to get moving. I think it’s normal to worry about how it will be (especially for those who have had stitches), but eventually you just have to get on with it - and you’ll probably surprise yourself!
  2. Follow a routine for your child that has them in bed at 7pm! There’s nothing more off-putting than the exhaustion of caring for a young baby, but if you and your husband are able to enjoy some time together in the evening, then you are much more likely to connect on an intimate level.
  3. Most times we need to connect with our partners on a mental level, before we can connect with them in a physical way. Talking openly about your feelings and having fun together is the best tonic for maintaining a good sex life.
  4. Recognise that your partner has urges that you will never replicate. So, sometimes you may just have to grin and bear it!
  5. If you aren’t ready to have sex, go easy on your partner. Tread carefully and be sensitive when you are saying no. It is very demoralising to be physically rejected by the person you love.
  6. If sex is uncomfortable, try new positions. It took us a while to find what suited us, but I’d say the baby’s arrival has actually spiced up our sex life!
  7. Try not to tense up at the thought that it might hurt - lots of foreplay and wine helps!
  8. Organise a ‘date night’. On our date night we would order takeaway, express the baby’s feed then drink a bottle of wine. The rest just kind of follows.
  9. We always make an effort to have frequent kisses and cuddles, and we always kiss goodbye and kiss goodnight. Closeness is not just about sex and, as long as you continue to be open and emotionally close, the sexual side of things will come back.
  10. Pamper yourself and spend time on your appearance. If you feel good about yourself, you’re more likely to want to get physical with your partner.

Mum-to-Mum: No desire for sex

Query

During my pregnancy and since the arrival of our baby (he’s now four months old), I have had absolutely no desire for sex. It is now over a year since we last had sex and I don’t know what to do. It is like that part of my body has shut down. I am worried about the long-term effect this is having on our relationship. I still love my husband and find him attractive, but I don’t feel good about myself any more. All I see when I look in the mirror is stretch marks and flabby bits. I am also terrified that sex is going to hurt. Has anyone been through this, or is it just me?Rachael

Answers

‘Not having the desire for sex is totally normal. I experienced this after the arrival of each of my children, and between one pregnancy and the next. I love my husband dearly, and he is understanding and patient, but I believe sex is an important part of a couple’s life, and it is important to get the desire back somehow. The thought of sex can be worse than the action. A bit like going to the gym - you can’t be bothered to go, but once you are there, you enjoy it and feel better after. I wish that there was a magic pill to take, but I think we have to remember what our bodies have gone through with pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and sleepless nights. Is it any surprise that we aren’t in the mood?’ Nicola

‘I know you must feel like your baby’s been around forever, but four months is nothing at all. Your hormones are still settling down, and your body, thanks to Mother Nature, is saying a firm ‘No’ to any possibility of getting pregnant again this early. So it’s really not your fault that you don’t feel like sex! On top of this, you’ve had a huge physical demand from pregnancy and birth, you will be tired and you will still be adjusting mentally to your new responsibilities, so realistically, sex is not going to be top of your list! I would try to talk to your husband about this, if you haven’t already.’ Sharon

‘I’m afraid I’m one of those "back in the saddle quickly" girls: two weeks! I’m not saying this to make you feel inadequate, but to encourage you. Often these days, my husband will make amorous advances, and I’m not feeling like it at all. However, he’s very gentle and persistent, and usually has me gearing up within minutes! Anyhow, my point is that I think it’s his gentle understanding and persuasion that gets me every time. My advice would be to sit down with your husband and explain that you understand how he feels, and that you would like to resume things again, but that it’s imperative he is patient with you. If you take one small step to heal things, he will appreciate this and be more inclined to be patient.’ Kim

‘A while ago I was in exactly the same situation with regard to not wanting sex. I just wasn’t interested and would quite happily have never done it again. But that wasn’t fair on my hubby and, when we did it, I really enjoyed it. I couldn’t understand why I had been so reluctant. It is now getting easier and more regular; still less than once a month, but it was only once every six months before, so there is improvement - and hope!’ Felicity

‘Am I the only one not being pestered for sex?! Seriously, I thought I would give you a view from the other side, as in our house it is my husband who can’t be bothered with sex - and me who would be at it like a rabbit, given half a chance! But four months isn’t that long so, as others have said, give yourself time.’ Stacey

Gina says: I agree with the mums that patience and communication are key. Even the happiest marriages can take a knock in the bedroom after the arrival of a baby. But avoiding the subject of sex is the worst thing you can do. Instead, share your worries with your partner. This will help manage expectations and relieve any pressure to get back in the saddle before you’re both ready. Arm yourself with post-birth essentials, such as lubricant and massage oil, and take things slowly. Keep talking, flirting and cuddling, but sex can take up to a year to get back on track. The most important thing is that you remain intimate and close until it does.

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