When couples decide they want to have a baby, the months of “trying” can result in a record number of hours logged between the sheets. But when the high of learning you’re pregnant transitions into physical symptoms (like bloating, nausea and unthinkably sore breasts), intimacy as you’ve known it can become a real challenge.
How do you preserve the romance of your relationship when there are ginger ale and a barf bucket resting by your bed at all times? Once you feel you can handle the throes of passion without actually throwing up, how do you gain the confidence to maneuver your new curves? When you’re in the final trimester and so awkwardly huge that just rolling over is a feat all on its own, how do you manage anything even remotely related to sex? And how will sex ever be the same after your husband witnesses your lady parts in such a graphic, miraculous state?
As doubtful as it seems, it is possible not only to maintain a certain degree of intimacy both during and after your pregnancy, but also to learn a great deal about yourself and your partner in the process. Intimacy, by definition, does not always involve sexual intercourse. Learning to explore other avenues of physical closeness makes room for much deeper levels of emotional connection. The key lies in adjusting your expectations to fit your changing body (and ever-shifting emotional state) in each stage of pregnancy and beyond.
The first trimester
You and your partner are wading into previously uncharted territory. You’ve traded Friday night happy hours for baby name discussions and an early bedtime. The most amazing sound you hear comes from a Doppler at the doctor’s office rather than a live band at the local pub. Suddenly, you are two grown-ups connected by this incredible sense of anticipation. As you establish these new emotional bonds (and experience the physiological changes of the first trimester), make a point to maintain your physical connection.
Hand-holding is a gesture that can be described most effectively with one word: sweet. It may have even been the first act of intimacy you and your husband shared when you started dating. Revive this romantic practice as a reminder of your partnership in pregnancy. Navigating the art of parenting for the first time significantly changes your doctrine of thinking. Priorities change as quickly as your waistline, and the world around you looks very different through your new-parent eyes. You begin to think like a mom even before your baby is born, and the emergence of this side of your personality isn’t lost on your partner.
You’ll see changes in your husband too. Watch the light in his eyes the first time he hears the baby’s heartbeat at your OB appointment or the crease in his forehead as he tries to sort out exactly what parts of the fuzzy ultrasound picture he’s looking at. Take the time to really see each other in this new light. Holding hands allows you to relish this life chapter and convey the message, “We’re in this together.” Rediscovering the joy of hand-holding is simple and oh-so appropriate for the shifting undercurrent in your relationship.
Hugs and kisses
In the midst of morning sickness, it’s possible to go 24 hours or more with little to no physical contact with your partner. With my first and last pregnancies, I would banish my husband to the other room in the evenings because the smell of his cologne—which had never failed to give me tingles previously—took me to a deeper level of puke purgatory. This kind of rejection, however necessary and unintentional, is often confusing and upsetting for concerned partners.
Making a concerted effort to hug or kiss your partner is important for a number of reasons. Aside from the obvious physical aspect, hugs are also comforting and reassuring. Many husbands shy away from contact with their pregnant wives because they worry about aggravating symptoms or feel unsure of how to react to the foreign experiences their wives are undergoing. A hug or kiss lets your partner know that he’s still loved and that you’re still there, hiding somewhere underneath the pale, queasy mother ship you’re becoming. Take advantage of the times of day when you feel your best to enjoy his arms around you. Make the hugs and kisses first-rate so they last through the dry spells the dry heaves cause. It’s quality over quantity right now.
The second trimester
The middle months of pregnancy are often a glorious time. Nausea has subsided. You can finally embrace your baby bump and sport some of the latest maternity fashions. And best of all, the emotional roller coaster of hormonal changes levels out for a bit, and you become like a new version of your old self. Now is the time to engage in some much-needed face time with your partner. There are certain parts of pregnancy you don’t want to miss out on, and the chance for enhanced physical connection with your man is one of them.
First trimester changes usually cause a decline in libido, but many women find they actually experience an upsurge in desire during the second trimester. Surges in progesterone and estrogen can lead to increased vaginal lubrication, heightened breast and nipple sensitivity, and greater blood flow to the pelvic area. So unless you’re having a high-risk pregnancy, now is the time to get busy!
Pregnancy also comes with the added bonus of freedom from contraception. There’s no need to fumble for a condom in the heat of the moment or hit the brakes to recall whether you took your birth control pill on time. Many couples discover a newfound playfulness and sense of liberation in their intimate encounters. Experiment with different positions (especially since the missionary position will eventually become next to impossible), and explore areas of your body that have intensified sensitivities. There are a few precautions to consider, but it is definitely possible to work within the realms of safety and still thoroughly enjoy yourself.
The frisky feeling that develops during the second trimester doesn’t always work hand-in-hand with your confidence level. Your body looks a little different than it did a few months ago, and you may be self-conscious about the changes that have taken place. But here’s the thing: Pregnant women are sexy and intriguing. Your breasts are full, your skin is glowing, your hair is lush and shiny, and you are a walking miracle of Mother Nature. Don’t let doubt and insecurity about a little extra meat on your bones overshadow the self-confidence that growing a life can give you. Your partner may be a bit nervous about your new topography, but he is also in awe of your beauty and marvels at the captivating way the soon-to-be mother of his child moves. Embrace your splendor and revitalize your level of connection.
The third trimester
What a difference three months can make! You likely feel as yucky as you did in the first trimester, but now you wobble like a Weeble to boot. Oh the joys of pregnancy! Sneezing makes you pee, your flatulence is absurd and offensive, your ankles are swollen, and that graceful, captivating way you moved in the second trimester is now an amusing waddle coupled with an inability to bend over at the waist. And your husband wants to do what when you finally fall into bed? It’s time to get creative with your mojo, mamas.
Your husband may have to come to terms with the fact that sex is not a guarantee at this stage of pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean intimacy of all kinds has to be factored out of the equation.
Massage is a great way to initiate physical contact. Let your partner start with your hips and lower back, which bear the majority of the extra weight you’re carrying. You’ll enjoy relief from sore muscles and tired joints, and your husband will enjoy feeling close to you.
During the last month of pregnancy, many practitioners suggest perineal massage using vitamin E or olive oil. This type of massage is thought to help relax the skin of your perineal area (the connecting skin between the vagina and anus) and make accommodating the baby a little easier. It may not begin as a sexual act, but it’s not off the mark to assume that massaging your nether regions might lead to something spicy. Sometimes just getting in the mood is the challenge in the third trimester, and massage of any kind can be a catalyst for desire.
Oral sex is always an option (within the realms of safety), especially if the idea of intercourse doesn’t appeal to you at this point in your pregnancy. Remember: Your blood volume is greatly increased, and your intimate areas will be extremely sensitive to the touch. Start slowly and communicate what feels pleasurable and what doesn’t.
Let’s say you’re up for intercourse. How do you make it work when your partner can hardly get to your lips to kiss you, much less reach your lower body? Adjustments must be made, and innovative ideas must be explored to make the experience pleasurable for both of you.
Your partner can try a position from behind, which allows him to caress your body, but unfortunately prevents him from seeing your face. It may also take some maneuvering to find an arrangement that is comfortable (and satisfying) for you both, so be patient. To compensate for the inability to look at your partner, enjoy some previews before the main attraction. Kissing and cuddling prior to intercourse can be engaging and will help maintain the quality of personal connection. If you prefer the closeness you feel from gazing into your partner’s eyes while making love, “woman on top” is an effective alternative. This stance allows you to control your own comfort level and still see your partner’s face. Invest the time to try different things and discover which positions work best.
Despite the miracle you and your spouse witnessed together, when you finally make it to the recovery room and the medical aspect of what you’ve gone through sinks in, it’s easy to fear that sex will never be the same. Let me be honest in saying up front that it will never be quite like it was prebaby. But the change that takes place isn’t entirely negative. Once you make it past the anxiety of the “first time,” you can enjoy rekindling and rediscovering
your sexual relationship with your partner.
The first time
The first time back in the saddle is always intimidating. Your partner has seen your private parts in a whole new light, which is cause for insecurity, but you’re also likely worried about discomfort. Your vagina has suffered some trauma, and only you can determine how to ease back into a sexual relationship. Communication with your partner is crucial, especially since he doesn’t want to cause you pain any more than you want to experience it. Here are some tips to ease anxiety and make losing your postnatal virginity more enjoyable.
• Stock up on lubricant to combat the arid conditions of your lady regions following delivery.
• Buy a sexy bra (one that’s not made for nursing!) and some thin nursing pads to prevent squirting your partner with breast milk in the heat of the moment.
• Light some candles to boost your confidence with your postbaby body. Everyone looks better in candlelight.
• Kiss! In fact, make out like teenagers. It’s been months since your husband could even wrap his arms around you. Enjoy being close to him again.
• Tell him what feels good and make adjustments when you feel pain or discomfort.
The physical change
Unless you’ve had a Caesarean section, things might be a bit, shall we say, stretchy. Elasticity does come back over time, but it’s never quite the same. Jenny McCarthy joked in her book Baby Laughs: The Naked Truth About the First Year of Mommyhood that sex after baby would be like “throwing a hotdog down a hallway.” I would say the experience is not nearly as tragic as her description sounds, but it’s certainly different than before. You’re a little looser, and some erogenous zones are a bit more difficult to locate, but this just means you and your husband will need to spend some time mapping out the new geography.
There may also be some tenderness, especially if you experienced tearing or had an episiotomy during delivery. The friction of intercourse can actually help reduce scar tissue that results from tearing. (This little tidbit was exactly what my husband wanted to hear when I complained to my doctor about my level of discomfort after the birth of my first son.) The good news is that within three months or so, you’ll begin to feel more like you did before baby, and achieving pleasure will become less daunting.
The emotional change
Just because sex will be different doesn’t mean it will be bad. The first time may be disappointing, but it’s not cause for either of you to hang up your hats and give up. The fact of the matter is the two of you have cemented an undeniable emotional bond. And when love between partners expands on such a meaningful and significant level, sex can become extraordinary. True, solidified connection is often the missing link to unparalleled passion between spouses. Nurture the joy of your new bond and bring it into the bedroom with you.
Remember that your mojo comes from within. Becoming a mom is empowering. Love yourself—new body and all—and nurture your own spirit as you and your partner plot your course through parent- hood together. Embrace each other as much as you embrace your new roles, and make it a priority to find time for intimacy.