Nurturing a relationship during the postpartum period can be difficult. Most experts suggest that you sustain your relationship in the same way you would at any other time in your lives together as a couple. The difference now is one of time and energy—think small. Here are some easy ways to remind your partner of how much he or she means to you:
- Spend a few minutes together doing something enjoyable each day. It might be as simple as watching the news every evening together or going for a 20 minute after-dinner walk with the baby. Don’t allow any outside interruptions during that time. This is your time together; make it a top priority!
- Keep housecleaning goals reasonable, and find ways to simplify your routine. This will allow both of you more time together to focus on other things. Get outside help if you can afford it or ask for it as a shower gift.
- Ask for exactly what you need from your partner such as, “I need a hug.” or “Can you give the baby her bath?” One of the biggest mistakes couples make is believing that their partner should anticipate needs without prompting.
- Once you feel comfortable leaving the baby with someone for a couple of hours, establish a regular weekly “date” together. Or, have a “date night” at home with a picnic in the living room.
- As often as possible, use “I” statements instead of “You” statements when discussing problems with your partner. Instead of saying, “You forgot to put the diapers out for the service to pick up,” try saying “I feel overwhelmed by details. I need your help remembering to do this task.”
- In general, try to share both your positive and negative feelings regularly. We often forget to share feelings of joy and appreciation. Keep the doors of communication open so that emotions don’t build up inside of you.
- It’s a fact of parenthood: most of your conversation will now revolve around the baby. Don’t forget to talk about other things from time to time.
- Talk to other parents. Ask them how they managed the postpartum period and get some tips on how they kept their love alive. Some may have more to share than others, but talking with other people helps you to realize that your challenges are not unique
- Don’t forget to laugh together. Humor is healing.
SEX: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE TIMING
At your six-week check-up, your midwife or doctor will probably tell you that you can resume normal sexual relations. Many women greet this announcement with mixed feelings for a number of reasons.
For one thing, you are probably still tired. If you are breastfeeding, the changed levels of estrogen in your body make you feel quite different. Even your skin feels different, and being touched may not feel the same way it did before. Your body may still be sore, or you may have sore breasts. Your breasts might start leaking the moment you even try to cuddle or have sex. All in all, things are not the same as they were before—your body has changed, and so have you.
Many women report that the constant physical contact they have with the baby makes them feel like they just want to be left alone the rest of the time. Some women feel as though their bodies are meant only for the baby’s use in the early weeks, and are turned off at the idea of sharing it with anyone else. Your partner, on the other hand, may have the opposite response and might be feeling left out, or even jealous of the attention the baby is getting from you.
Perhaps the best way to reinstate the physical bond with your partner in the postpartum period is to think of intimacy in terms of nurturing touch, rather than sexual activity. Until you feel ready for sex again, you might enjoy a lightly massage or foot rub, and you and your partner might enjoy sitting close together or going for a walk and holding hands.
Once you feel ready to have intercourse, go slowly. You will probably need to spend more time on foreplay. Add candles or music, even if you never used them before. Since hormonal changes may make you feel a little dryer than usual, try a water-soluble lubricant.
Before your baby was born, you probably never had to plan sex—you could be as spontaneous as you liked. You will get some of that spontaneity back again, but for now you may have to take your chances when they come. If you plan for sex at a certain time, and the baby foils those plans by waking up and wanting to be fed, don’t just abandon all chances to be close. Sit together while you nurse the baby and talk, and find another time later. Allow this to add an element of romantic intrigue to your relationship.
Now is the time to find creative ways to be together physically with your partner. Aromatherapy can offer a relaxing and sensuous atmosphere. Choose your favorite combination of lavender, rose, sandalwood, and rosemary essential oils, or use all four together. For instance, add 3 drops of lavender and rose and 2 drops of sandalwood and rosemary to ¼ cup of olive, almond or grapeseed oil. Adjust the amount and scent to your preference.
Find a comfortable place where you and your partner can recline for a foot massage. Spread out some towels and rub your hands together to get them warm before beginning. Mix the oil with your fingers and apply a small amount to your hands. Add more as needed. Hold your partner’s foot in both hands and massage the bottom with your thumbs. Rub the top of the foot, under the toes, the ankles, the heel—and let your partner direct you to the sore spots. You can take turns or give the foot massages simultaneously.
Sometimes the best way to rekindle romance is to practice forgiveness. During the postpartum period, you may feel more critical and judgmental. You will be tired and need help and not always know how to ask for it. Be willing to apologize if you have criticized or humiliated your partner. Be willing to accept his or her apology as well. Let go of bad feelings over an incident in the past. Let go of grudges that keep you agitated.
You will find that forgiveness is really a gift to yourself, as it is you who carries and are affected by the bad feelings. When you can let something go from the past, you will feel lighter as well. You will find your emotions heightened in these early weeks postpartum. Be gentle with yourself and with your partner.
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded Mothering.com in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Homeand A Quiet Place. Ihave conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.