It's a familiar scene: both new parents sink gratefully into haven't-been-changed-in-forever bed sheets after a long day. There's maybe two or three hours before the rousing cry of their newborn or infant shatters the momentary silence. One parent looks at the clock, then at the prone body still sleeping on the other side of the bed and thinks: "It's your turn to get up." In those early days of a child's life, rarely do new parents think "What happened to sex?!?"
It's not news that the sex life of new parents takes a nosedive after the birth of a baby. Nothing wreaks havoc on a sex life like those early days of sleeplessness, constant guests and the wailing of a newborn. Seldom, however, do couples truly expect the dip to be quite so drastic. What happened to lazy mornings spent lounging in bed? Where did the dates and romance go?
The "Sex versus sleep" dilemma is often a hot button topic among the new parents I see in my practice. It's common for there to be a fairly serious disconnect between partners: one might question "Will I ever have sex again," while the other wonders "Will I ever WANT to have sex again?" and both think "I need sleep, not sex."
Physical intimacy IS important, however, and while it doesn't have to revolve around intercourse per se, touch connects parents in a way that's separate from new baby. Just as it's important to bond and attach with a new child through physical contact, touch between adults nurtures their relationship. However, any caress can be particularly difficult for breastfeeding moms, or the primary caretaker of a colicky baby who spend their hours holding and carrying a new infant.
So how does a couple shift into "sex mode" when the siren call of sleep is so strong and one parent might feel 'all touched out?' First, decide what makes you feel the LEAST like a parent for a few moments before engaging with your partner. Learning what allows your shift from parent to partner is the key to picking sex over sleep.
Sometimes what put you in the mood before the baby arrived just isn't effective after the baby.
Try engaging in an honest dialogue with your partner and setting boundaries. If your new idea of foreplay is a clean house and a thirty-minute shower before cozying up, it's worth clarifying your needs in a discussion first. The more specific you can get over what makes you feel like part of a couple, and not just a parent, the better. Such discussions bolster your relationship, and create a closeness that will ultimately help make physical intimacy easier in the future.
Making an effort to be intimate with your partner can sometimes feel tedious and exhausting, especially when sleep is at a premium and your individual needs for physicality may not be in sync. When the intensity of caring for a new baby is at an all time high, connection and closeness doesn't have to disappear, it just may mean a few less minutes of that well-deserved shut-eye.