Ever wondered if you are the only couple doing that one thing after you had a baby?
Everywhere you go, there’s more on what to expect when you’re expecting. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll hear about the things less frequently talked about – bizarre body changes and disappointing relationship dynamics.
But let’s dare to go one layer even deeper and talk about the behaviors that couples do that almost never get talked about.
I only happen to know about these because of my work as a birth doula and my specialty as a therapist in pregnancy, postpartum, and sex therapy.
It’s funny how many couples tell me about these… and everyone mistakenly thinks they’re the only ones doing them. So it’s about time we talk about them.
The secret is out.
1. HAVE SEX NEXT TO THE BABY
There’s so much talk about the couples who don’t have sex as much after they have a baby – and there are a lot of reasons why this is true for many couples.
But some couples do still have sex after they have a baby.
And when they do, they don’t get to be choosy about when and where.
Parenthood comes with some serious restrictions on free time. This means that many couples end up having sex whenever and wherever they can… including next to their sleeping baby.
This is especially true for couples who share beds with their little ones. My clients of course talk about preferring sex away from their children (obviously sex is sexier that way) but for many couples, bedtime is still the best time for sex.
As far as age limit, most of my clients talk about this when their baby is still a baby baby. By the time they hit toddler years, children are more observant meaning that the risk of getting caught is greater. They are also less likely to still be bed sharing at that age.
If you are one of these couples:
Keep having sex next to your sleeping baby! But be sure to create time and space for sex in other adult-only spaces, too.
Sex isn’t just about the orgasm and there’s only so much we can do if we are trying to be careful not to wake someone.
For the best quality sex, make sex a priority before bedtime.
And if you’re bed sharing with your little one, it’s time to learn some new uses for your couch, the spare bedroom, floors with rugs, and the kitchen table.
2. HAVE SEX WHILE BREASTFEEDING
Even the people who admit to having sex next their sleeping babies don’t always admit to this one. And yes, this takes it a bit farther. But I’ve known countless people who have admitted to this sexy secret and I think far more people do it than care to share with me.
If you’re instantly horrified by this one, imagine this:
You had a great day with the kids and even got some things done that were important to you. You’re feeling productive and engaged. Your partner is similarly feeling great and when you lay down together in the evening, both of you are interested in sex and neither of you is too tired. It feels like a miracle.
So you start snuggling and you give each other the signals and the touching gets more steamy and now you’re finally having sex. You’ve wiggled over to the far side of the bed and your sleeping baby is a couple feet away. You’re being quiet and you’re both loving that this is finally happening. It feels it’s been months since your last time having sex – and maybe it really has been.
You’re really into it, both of you, you can tell you’re almost done… and then suddenly that baby starts fussing.
You try ignoring it for a minute but the crying is ruining your groove. You try reaching over and patting a back or rubbing a chest but that baby just won’t stop crying! So maybe you change positions and lean your chest into the baby’s face and bam. No more crying. Magic.
And here’s the real magic:
Not only is breastfeeding crazy effective at stopping the crying, but since you’re breastfeeding all the time, your body isn’t terribly distracted by the sensation. You’re able to actually stay (mostly) in tune with your partner. Perhaps your orgasm isn’t as accessible now but it’s still intimacy.
When women mention giving in to their crying child and breastfeeding while continuing to have sex, they are often ashamed to admit it. They think sexuality should not be part of feeding their baby.
They see their breasts as functional in two very distinct and separate ways – and they believe the setting dictates how they should be used.
So here’s the thing on this one:
Do what works for you. If sex is important and this is a way to “finish” it when you want to, go for it. But if you’re turned off by the idea or it would ruin your memory of the beautiful sex and intimacy you were just having with your partner, then don’t. There will be other opportunities, too.
For many of us, our babies came from sex and love. If you can’t imagine your body being used for sex, love, and babies all at one time, maybe read some of Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth and learn how truly connected all of these are in the language that our body speaks.
Whatever you choose is best for you, know that you are not alone and don’t feel ashamed.
(Oh, and don’t let your partner decide for you. If they say to just feed the baby to make it quiet down but you are turned off by that idea, say no. The last thing you ever want to do is pressure your sexual self into something that feels “disgusting” or unsafe.)
3. LACTATE ON THEIR PARTNER
I first heard about this one from a friend. I was pregnant with my first baby and my friend was talking about how her partner had found it a real turn on when she would lactate on him while they were having sex.
I told my partner and we laughed about it, both of us staying on the look out for the leaking. When it eventually did happen, we laughed even harder – but I wouldn’t call it a turn on for either of us.
This one probably happens to a ridiculously huge number of people and here’s why:
When a baby suckles on the nipple and massages the breast with their tiny little paw hands, the woman’s body tells her brain to produce two hormones: prolactin (in the pituitary gland) and oxytocin (in the posterior lobe). [source]
Prolactin is directly related to the mammary glands and the secretion of the milk itself – but oxytocin is the important one to pay attention to for our purposes.
Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for the “let down” of milk – that trickling sensation of milk filling the breasts like balloons. The oxytocin reflex is conditioned to respond to when we are holding, smelling, seeing, hearing, or even thinking lovingly about our baby.
Oxytocin is also called the “love hormone” and is released in the pituitary gland during orgasm.
If you’re still struggling with being able to see your breasts as both functionally life-giving and sexual at the same time, think again.
For couples who experience this one, have some fun with it. Know that if you squirt your partner with some breast milk, it just means you’re feeling really connected to them and perhaps you are having some really great sex.
Smile, laugh, play, and tell all your friends.
4. TASTE THE BREAST MILK
Some couples choose to explore this adventure together. They intentionally choose to taste the milk that their baby is so obsessed with.
Other couples accidentally taste the milk when they are engaging in some sexy foreplay and suddenly get a squirt in the mouth (see #3 above).
It’s totally normal to be curious about this foreign substance. My favorite story came from clients who decided to do a taste test and compared cow’s milk, goat milk, non-dairy milk, and breast milk. They took a sip of each and decided that breast milk is most similar to a coconut milk texture and lightness but tasted a little sweeter than cow’s milk.
Their experiment was creative, intimate, and fun. Date night idea?!
5. TASTE THE PLACENTA
Okay, stay with me. You can maybe get on board with the curiosity to taste the milk. And you understand the accidental tasting of the milk – although you might not love the taste test experiment date idea as much as my clients did (I thought it sounded pretty awesome).
But you just don’t know about this one.
Couples who decide to taste the placenta are far more common than you think. Of course it isn’t most couples who do this but placenta encapsulation is quickly gaining in popularity – even in mainstream circles. This is mostly due to reported improvements in breast milk supply and possible prevention of (or assistance with) postpartum depression.
And once you’re encapsulating your placenta, it’s not that much of a stretch to think about ingesting it in other ways.
I chose to encapsulate my placenta for both of my babies. My wonderful doula did this service for me (she was trained and educated in the procedure) and I also asked her to make me a raw placenta smoothie immediately after the births.
For my first smoothie, I offered for my partner to try it and he declined. He was curious but he didn’t care for the idea of tasting one of my organs. He was missing out because that smoothie was amazingly delicious and you would never have known it had placenta in it.
With our second baby, I saved enough pieces of raw placenta to make smoothies for the first few days after the birth. My partner declined the first smoothie again – but on day two, he asked to try it.
Turns out he had been regretting not tasting it with our first baby because, as he put it, when else would he get the chance? This is the same reason and curiosity I hear from clients all the time. In our case, my partner was pleasantly surprised with the taste and it’s given us some great material for jokes.
If you are one of these couples:
It’s not gross. It’s not weird. You’re not the only one.
If you want to be one of these couples, try putting mulberry juice into your smoothie. That was my secret for hiding the color and beautifying the taste. It’s crazy good.
6. STOP CARING ABOUT THEIR PETS
You know those couples who aren’t sure they’re ready for a baby so they get a dog instead? They give lots of reasons.
Maybe they are practicing parenthood or they’re waiting longer to have children. hey’re focusing on their careers or they’re wanting to do all the things they think they won’t be able to do after having kids.
Here’s the problem:
I can’t count how many times clients have told me about their declining interest and compassion for their animals after having children.
Parenthood is all consuming. We oftentimes don’t have the brain capacity for even one more thing by the end of the day. We don’t want to have to remember to feed and water another dependent.
We also usually feel a little tapped out physically and don’t really want more living creatures following us, sitting on us, or needing us. We just want some space.
Many of my clients who talk about this changing relationship with their pets feel guilty. They are sad that their love for their animals has seemed to wilt in the shadow of their love for their babies. But honestly, I can’t think of anything more normal and acceptable.
Don’t feel bad that your love falls into a hierarchy. It’s totally fine.
7. JUDGE FRIENDS WITHOUT KIDS
It’s uncomfortable to admit that my partner and I are one of these couples – but let me explain.
We don’t judge our friends who don’t have children by thinking they should have kids. We are not interested in dictating their life choices and we won’t pretend to know what’s best for them.
We also certainly don’t want to fall into the horribly condescending space of treating people poorly when they are unable to (or choose not to) have children. This is a huge cultural problem that needs to be addressed.
But we still judge our friends without kids.
We judge them in the way we judge the past versions of ourselves.
The versions of ourselves that thought we were really busy or really tired. The ones who complained about various excuses for why they couldn’t make it to the gym or go disc golfing.
Probably every parent client I have ever had has talked about this one.
When our childless friends complain about something, we often hear (in the back of our minds):
You don’t even know.
And then our mind does some back flips trying to imagine what it would be like if we could have that same complaint.
We think about how glorious it would be to complain that we couldn’t get a full work out in because we had a hair appointment to go to. Or a date night. Or a girl’s night.
We are jealous that for them, “I’m so tired” means they only got five or six hours of sleep the last few nights and they can’t wait to sleep in this weekend to catch up.
You don’t even know, our mind says. And then we think about how we’ve been waking up every two to three hours for three years. Our weekend mornings are full of fast footsteps, big cries, and loud laughter – and we don’t remember what it feels like to “catch up” on sleep.
If you are one of these couples, you are just like every other couple. And even though all of these things are perhaps true, be sure not to be mean, rude, condescending, or dismissive about it.
Everything is relative and “exhausted” used to mean something different to you, too.
8. WITHDRAW FROM FRIENDS WITHOUT KIDS
This one isn’t really “shocking” but it’s widely misunderstood. As our friends start to have children, we notice that they become less and less available. But it isn’t actually because they are too busy.
As childless families, we hear our parent friends turn down every opportunity to hang out with us and we imagine them in all their “busy-ness” – running around after crying babies and chasing toddlers through grocery aisles.
So here’s the shocking part:
Parents tend to prefer to spend time with other parents… and it does not mean parents lead crazy hectic lives without any down time.
It’s really a matter of comfort.
Many of my clients talk about their sadness in drifting away from close friends before baby came along. This is one of the many many griefs and losses one experiences in entering parenthood. But even when these friends are available, my clients repeatedly discuss declining the invites or refraining from reaching out.
Couples tend to withdraw from friends without kids and gravitate towards those with children of similar ages because this creates a shared experience and understanding that alleviates a lot of stress.
You might think it would be most comfortable to spend time with your childless friends because that means there are fewer tiny humans running around distracting you and making messes.
Yet many of my clients say that’s just not the case. And I agree.
Here’s the truth on why it is more comfortable to spend time with friends who have kids:
- Visiting a friend who has children means the space is likely to be somewhat more child-friendly and include toys and new things to engage and entertain your child.
- When parent friends visit your home, you aren’t as self-conscious about the dishes in the sink, clothes in the hallway, crumbs on the carpet, rolled up dirty diapers waiting to be taken to the trash, snacks who knows how old sitting in snack cups around the house, and toys literally everywhere.
- Trying to have a conversation and being interrupted 12 times in two minutes is hard – but it’s much easier if you’re used to it. Your parent friends totally understand and while you have to fend off the whining toddler right now, your friend will have their turn in a few minutes. It is shared distraction and you both forgive and accept. Friends without children don’t always understand how normal this is and are more likely to comment on the distractions or ask about them. This can make you feel judged or insecure about your perfectly normal child – and it might even make you more irritable with them.
- Going out of the house can be an ordeal with children. Friends with kids tend to naturally help keep an eye on your little ones. Responsibility of watching children is shared between adults because you already both do this naturally. Going to the park with your friends who don’t have children means that your friend is trying to engage you in conversation but isn’t used to paying attention to very fast escape artists who eat everything and know no fear. Without their added support, it can be stressful and anxiety-producing to keep track of your kids and also try to simultaneously engage in a meaningful conversation.
- You are also more likely to be able to have a meaningful conversation because your kids will play with their kids and keep themselves somewhat entertained. And of these meaningful conversations, you are more free to talk about all types of parenting things that are present pieces of your everyday puzzle. It’s always pleasant to talk with someone who has a shared experience or interest with us. Oh, and the thing that will make time with your non-parent friends the LEAST comfortable? When they offer parenting advice.
- If your friendship is restricted to times when you don’t have your child with you, there’s only so long this friendship can last. After all, this is one of the biggest parts of yourself as a human now. Your friendship can’t sustain if it has to only take place separated from a huge part of your personhood and your life at this developmental stage for you.
If you find yourself (and your partner) distancing from friends who are important to you, share with them why.
Let them know it isn’t that your life is too full to fit them in.
Talk with them about comfort and stress. Perhaps there are ways they can learn to be helpful while engaging with you around your children. Maybe you want them to grab a water cup for your toddler when they want one, or make sure the door is locked, or hold the baby so you can have your arms free for once.
Remember that your friend doesn’t have the benefit of intuition from shared experience in parenthood. If the relationship is important to you, help them understand your side, learn about theirs, and find a way to meet in the middle.
9. MAKE OUT
This is the one sexy secret that I’m most excited to share. Couples tell me all the time about how they have recently rediscovered making out. And it’s a beautiful thing.
But wait. It didn’t come that easy to most of them. They weren’t just sitting on the couch, baby sleeping, and they decided to start necking.
Instead, it usually looks like a few months of couples therapy sessions to:
- Reconnect emotionally
- Process the pregnancy and birth experience
- Navigate through some giant identity shifts
- Start talking about intimacy
Usually, these are the couples where one partner (usually the one who recently gave birth) isn’t ready for sex and the arguments have begun to get cyclical.
These couples tell me:
One of us wants intimacy and the other doesn’t.
That’s only half right, though. Both partners want intimacy. Rarely do I see that one doesn’t – and usually it is in the case of some other factors like verbal/emotional abuse or sexual abuse/trauma/pressure.
For most couples, both partners want intimacy. But do both want sex? I’m not always so sure. And really, it doesn’t matter as much.
There are so many amazing ways to have intimacy without sex. So when we start to really deconstruct what couples are talking about in my office and we discover they aren’t as polarized in their desires as they think they are, we get into the fun territory.
We start talking about flirting, sharing household and childcare responsibilities, dating, playfulness, affection, accepting influence, being positive, and yes – making out. This is when couples rediscover (or discover for the first time) the art of making out on the couch under the blanket. Maybe some grinding. Maybe some soft touching. But nothing more.
This is safe intimacy. Controlled, sensual, loving, affectionate, and safe. Making out leading nowhere. No expectations, no assumptions, no pressure.
This type of intimacy begets more intimacy – but only if both partners accept that there doesn’t have to be more.
Many of the couples I work with learn how to make out after they have a baby. And if they aren’t ready to make out, they do foot massages and they get playful with each other. They develop other forms of intimacy.
The media portrays a terrible image of relationships after baby. It tells us that you’ll be sexless and lonely, you’ll argue all the time, and sometimes you’ll even hate your partner.
These things are all true for some couples but not for all. And when we group everyone together here, normalizing these experiences, we forget to normalize the options out of this terrible sad lonely pit.
Sexless couples can still be romantic and affectionate. They can still be intimately engaged.
If you are the couple who has rediscovered making out, great! Tell all your friends and help encourage them to seek professional support during this crazy hard time so they can get back to intimacy with their partner, too.
If making out feels almost impossible but you would love to be this intimate with your partner, get in to a therapist and start processing through all of the gunk that comes up in pregnancy and postpartum.
Emotional closeness leads to physical closeness – but pregnancy and postpartum can take us farther away from our partner than we’ve ever been.
The more you can join on the same team, the less you will fight. And the less you fight, the more kind and compassionate you will be. Couples who are more kind and compassionate also find it easier to step into playfulness and affection.
Surprise surprise. So start remembering you two are in this together, be generous towards your partner, talk about all the hard changes you are both going through, learn how to reconnect emotionally, and soon you’ll be making out after the baby has gone to sleep – whether that’s on the couch or a couple feet away in the bed.
The secret is out.
Set up a counseling appointment with Kelsey.