Having a baby kills your sex life, and there’s almost no way around it. First there’s the nuts and bolts physical recovery for a woman after giving birth. Then there are the weeks, months, or years she may spend adjusting to changes in her body and self-image. Add a monkey wrench of hormonal changes linked to breastfeeding and the fact that both partners are at risk for the libido crash of postpartum depression. There’s fatigue, of course. And a fundamental reshaping of personal identities and relationship dynamics that might make it hard to feel sexy. All of these changes and adjustments hit many couples unexpectedly, says Dr. Carolyn Cowan, Ph.D., who researches couples’ transition to parenthood at the University of California, Berkeley. “There are just a lot of things working against feelings of closeness,” says Cowan.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Sex After Kids
Now that we have that out, what can be done? Rest assured: You can overcome these stressors and rekindle your love life. We reached out to relationship exports to find the three tips that couples rely on to start having sex again.
Make time for each other
Restoring a battered sex life takes dedicated time and energy. That often means either setting aside time just for sex, or scheduling a date night once a week. “Parents need time to reconnect emotionally outside of the bedroom, as a couple,” says Dr. Dana Dorfman, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and parenting expert. “This reminds them of their pre-children relationship and its dimensionality,” including the desires they felt for each other.
If setting aside personal time feels selfish when you have another fragile life to care for, consider the ways in which a strong relationship will benefit your child. Intimacy, including sex, is important to the health of a relationship, and thus of the whole family unit, says Dr. Galenda Rhoades, Ph.D., a relationship psychologist. If you have to get a sitter for the night, so be it. It’s for the baby’s own good. And when you’re out on that date, avoid talking about the baby. Do something fun and flirty. Try to stop thinking about being a parent.
Be patient with each other
It’s normal for her to feel physically uncomfortable with sex after the child is born, says couples therapy researcher Dr. Brian Doss, Ph.D. So plan on taking a gentle approach as things move back toward your pre-baby days.
Instead of penetration, take the time you’ve carved out with each other early on to explore the full spectrum of eroticism. “Remember what it was like when you first met, before you had sex,” says sexologist Amy Levine. “Kiss, hold hands, cuddle without the expectation for more in those moments.” When intercourse is off the table, you want to maintain a physical connection without creating a sense of urgency. When the time is right, masturbate with each other, suggests sex therapist Stephanie Buehler. Then, when she feels ready, move slowly toward penetration. You’ll want to use lubrication and spend extra time on foreplay. Then let her take charge, trying positions that put her in control of speed, pace, and depth of penetration. “After several attempts, if intercourse is still uncomfortable, the couple should stop until the woman gets a gynecological check-up,” says Buehler. Sex shouldn’t be painful, and a doctor can help detect and treat problems.
Communicate with each other
This may seem simple, but it’s not. “Most couples aren’t very good at talking about intimacy before they have babies,” says Cowan. So it’s even harder afterward — you’ve been through a lot together, and the old playbook no longer works. So don’t assume that your sex life will just fall back into place. You have to be proactive, which means being communicative.
Start simple: Tell each other why you feel you need time together alone. Talk about what you fear (that you’ll be a sexless couple, perhaps?) and what you feel like you need (there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you need intimacy). Build a dialogue that helps you find a slow path forward with each other so your love life comes out even stronger than it was before. Because ultimately it’s a deep and meaningful understanding that allows you to not just have sex, but good sex — the kind you’ll both be able to get excited about for years. On that, the experts we spoke to were in solid agreement.