3 Conversations to Have During Pregnancy for Better Postpartum Intimacy

Every pregnancy and every child has taught me something new. As the L&D nurse who taught my childbirth class in 2015 often said, “no two mother-baby couplets are the same.”

But one thing is true of every pregnancy and new baby: I have to lean on my husband a lot, and I’ve had to relearn how to do that, again and again, amidst the transitions of new motherhood.

For all couples, welcoming a child is an intense and emotional time in a marriage—in good ways, mostly, but in stressful ways, too.

It will be difficult to have big, emotional conversations during the sleepless and chaotic months of life with a newborn. But if you can lay the groundwork for better intimacy now, you’ll be more prepared to support each other and will feel more loved once baby arrives—and that will make for a much more blissful transition as a growing family.

Don’t forget to touch on each of these topics before baby arrives. You’ll be so glad you did!

1. What are you family planning needs, and how often should you touch base and discuss whether they’ve changed?

Talk openly with your spouse about whether you anticipate wanting to avoid pregnancy for a period of time after this baby is born. Are you hoping to have children close together, or would you prefer to have a bit more time between pregnancies?

First thing’s first: You can get pregnant while breastfeeding. Delayed return of fertility is not a given, and many women conceive before having their first postpartum period. Please don’t assume it can’t happen to you! And don’t assume you and your spouse are already on the same page about whether you want it to happen. A surprising number of couples believe they’re in agreement about this issue without discussing it, or simply don’t think about it until after the birth—and that can make for a lot of conflict.

I have encountered two types of couples when it comes to family planning postpartum: “whatever happens, happens” and “we are not ready.

Both philosophies are valid. Neither is wrong. I, for one, tend to land in the second group. The newborn stage is hard on me, and it takes a lot of focus to stay afloat.

Of course, any baby would be welcomed with open arms. Every child is a gift and will be received as such! But, so far as we can be, my husband and I are intentional about delaying pregnancy in those early postpartum months.

If you’re more the type to go with the flow and conceive when you will, that’s great! It’s good to be on the same page either way.

Most importantly, no matter what you expect to feel or want before this baby is born, be sure to establish some targets with your spouse about how frequently you should revisit this topic after the birth. Things can and do change—either because your feelings are different than you anticipate, or something health-related happens that introduces new factors—so you’ll want to communicate well on this as your family grows.

If you do hope to delay pregnancy, have a good strategy in place. Charting for natural family planning often looks drastically different postpartum and while breastfeeding, so be prepared for a learning curve and some follow-up courses with your instructor—even if you’ve been using the same method without issue for years.

Bring these questions to this conversation to help you cover everything:

  • Do you need to urgently delay pregnancy for a period of time after this baby is born? Or are you comfortable not charting for fertility? Does this differ from what you were used to pre-pregnancy and, if so, are you feeling prepared for that change?
  • What will you do if something about the birth, or mom’s or baby’s health, forces you to change those plans? How can you support each other if this change in plans is upsetting?
  • What NFP method will you use, if necessary?
  • How confident are you in that method?

2. How will you prepare for sex to look or feel different while you’re still healing and your new family responsibilities are placing extra demand on you?

Parenthood changes a lot of things in a marriage. Certainly these changes are beautiful, and a welcome part of growing together with your spouse. But there are also some growing pains involved.

One common challenge is with physical intimacy. The large majority of couples enjoy a normal sex life after the birth of a child, but there can be an adjustment period. Lingering discomfort from delivery (especially if there were complications), the drastic hormonal changes that come with birth and breastfeeding, a lack of sleep for both parents, new stresses, complexity with NFP, and simply less time in the day can mean sex is less frequent, less easy, or less comfortable for a while postpartum.

To prevent hurt feelings and miscommunication in the moment, it’s important to address these possibilities with your spouse before baby arrives. You might have a tough time talking about it in detail in advance—it’s difficult to imagine what all of these complications might be or feel like, especially if this is your first child—but it could be even harder when sensitivities run high after baby arrives, so it’s good to open the lines of communication early.

Be open about your fears and anxieties on this subject—including not just those involving physical difficulties, but emotional ones, too. In particular, talk about how you might help soften the blow for one another on the occasions you’ll need to turn down sex. Encourage one another to be open to intimacy, even if it’s not top-of-mind, when you’re able, because the opportunity to reconnect and draw closer is more beneficial than you might expect if you’re not immediately in the mood.

You should also be comfortable discussing how you can be more receptive to each other’s needs, help each other enjoy sex, and what you’ll do if any ongoing issues arise and need medical attention.

Bring these questions to this conversation to help you cover everything:

  • How long is too long without intimacy? Are you willing to be generous with each other in this way, while respecting each other’s need for rest and space?
  • What will you do if sex is initially painful once you’re postpartum? How can you emotionally support each other through it?
  • Do you have medical resources lined up to address painful intercourse if necessary? Will you want to pursue them right away, or take more time to heal on your own first?
  • What insecurities or concerns are you feeling about how sex might be different after the birth of a child? How can you help soothe them for each other?
  • How can you ensure you’re communicating openly and often with one another about this subject? Can you agree on some codewords or phrases to help break the ice before discussing it, in case you find it difficult to bring it up in the moment?

3. What types of nonsexual intimacy will help you stay close to one another if sex is not an option?

Whether you need to abstain in support of physical healing or NFP, or simply aren’t up for sex as frequently for a while, it’s absolutely critical not to let the separation get between you and your spouse. Sex isn’t everything, but it is good for an awful lot of things, and that’s not something to be discounted—especially in a time as stressful and exhausting as life with a newborn.

It is especially beneficial to discuss this one well before your due date. As pregnancy progresses, sex may become uncomfortable or self-conscious or tricky. Even if you have no restrictions during pregnancy, your medical provider is likely to instruct you to abstain for the first six weeks postpartum. That may be a longer dry spell than you’re used to as a couple, so being well prepared will help.

The biggest thing here, as cliched as it may sound, is to deeply understand one another’s love languages and how to fulfill them outside of physical intimacy. Practice your skills in other areas: kind words, helpful gestures, exchanging gifts, and spending focused time together. Be open about what helps you feel loved and appreciated, and what you tend not to notice.

If one of you has physical intimacy as a primary love language, but the other doesn’t, talk about that in detail. Does cuddling or other physical touch help during periods of abstinence, or do you find it frustrating? If you’re at odds on those preferences, how can you compromise so neither of you feels rejected in the moment?

This is also a good time to talk about what it means to feel “touched out,” and how the physical neediness of a baby might interfere with your physical closeness as a couple. For Mom, it can be simply exhausting to hold, feed, and rock a baby all day and night. For Dad, the messy diaper changes or looking after older children solo while Mom tends to the new baby could zap a lot of energy. These are normal feelings, and it’s okay to want some additional personal space during this season. But it’s important to be gentle and generous with one another about communicating and fulfilling that need, so no one’s left feeling unwanted.

Bring these questions to this conversation to help you cover everything:

  • How can you connect with one another when you’re feeling distant but can’t be physically intimate?
  • What good habits can you establish to stay close as you adapt to your new roles as a family?
  • How can you express the need for space or time to yourself without being hurtful or feeling guilty?
  • What sorts of physical touch help you feel close when sex is not an option, and what’s too much?
  • Which love languages do you share, which differ between you, and how can you better practice them for each other starting right now?

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