For a lot of parents, the postpartum period isn't exactly the sexiest time of their lives.
There's the new baby, for one thing, and all of the less savoury aspects of new parenthood — such as diaper explosions, a near-constant stream of spit up, and baby's aversion to sleeping at night — that come along with that little bundle of joy.
There's also the leaky boobs, painful C-section scars, hemorrhoids, and recovery from vaginal tearing that a new mom might have to contend with. Throw in a dash of hormones, sprinkle with the weight of the responsibility you suddenly feel for a helpless baby, toss with colic, and that's the perfect recipe for taking sex off the table. At least for now.
In the newest episode of our parenting video series, "Life After Birth," we dissect how drastically sex can change after you have a baby. But there are still ways to connect with your partner when sexual intimacy is a no-go. And it's more important than ever to try.
"Maintaining intimacy and feelings of connection with a partner can help you feel more like a unit (or team) in managing all of the new responsibilities that come with becoming a parent," Dr. Natalie Rosen, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, told HuffPost Canada in an email interview.
The majority of couples — over 90 per cent — experience changes to their sex lives after having a baby, said Rosen, who also leads Dalhousie's Couples and Sexual Health Laboratory, and is a member of the Canadian Sex Research Forum.
"It's important to talk to your partner about your needs — whether those needs are to find time to connect sexually, or not — so that you can understand each others' perspectives and aim for a compromise."
With that said, here are some non-sex ways to feel intimate with your partner:
1. Spend time together focused on non-baby things
Remember when your entire life wasn't consumed by diapers and feedings and putting lids back on Play-Doh containers? What kind of activities did you and your partner used to enjoy? Try to incorporate some of these back into your life when you have a bit of downtime — even if it means letting some household tasks slide.
"Try to find a balance between all of the household chores you might try and get done when the baby is sleeping (dishes! laundry! groceries!) and time together focused on non-baby things," Rosen said.
Play a game of cards. Watch a movie and cuddle. Talk about that new book you both wish you had time to read.
2. Show affection with no expectations
Showing affection, even when it doesn't (or you don't want it to) lead to sex increases feelings of satisfaction with the relationship, Rosen said.
Make eye contact. Hug. Kiss each other hello and goodbye. Touch feet in bed. Listen to each other — like, really listen, phones down and everything — when the other talks. Make each other coffee in the morning.
A little empathy and kindness can go a long way.
3. Do a family activity that's out of your norm
Reconnecting as a couple doesn't always have to happen when the kids aren't around.
Research suggests that trying something a little out of the ordinary can spark feelings of desire in couples, Rosen said. So why not try doing something different — as a family?
Break out of your routine together. Go for a skate, explore a new neighbourhood, drive to the next town for lunch, plan a monthly excursion, or have a picnic.
You'll all appreciate doing something out of the ordinary, and you may find it increases your va-va-voom for your partner.
4. Have no-pressure date nights
OK, sometimes reconnecting does need to happen when the kids aren't around.
"If too long goes by that you do nothing as a couple, you lose sight of what attracted you to each other, why you're together, and all the fun stuff you used to do," Dr. Laurie Betito, a clinical psychologist and sex and relationship expert in Montreal, previously told HuffPost Canada.
Have a date with your partner, and keep in mind that a date can be anything that encourages playfulness and connection, whether that's going out for dinner or just playing a boozy board game after the kids go to bed.
Remove the pressure and expectation of sex, and remember that your only goal is to enjoy each other's company.
5. Touch each other
Yes, you're probably touched all day by your child. But walking around with a velcro baby or a toddler wrapped around your leg isn't exactly the same as embracing your partner, and it's still important to do the latter.
Touch does not have to = sex. Even non-sexual touching will help you reconnect.
Give each other massages. Cuddle in bed. Have a bath. Hold hands. If you want, you could even *gasp* make out.
It will increase your desire for each other, and keep you connected until you're ready to take that next step.
6. When you do it, remember that sex might be different now
Oh, hey! So you're feeling ready to take that next step!
First, you'll want to think about context, Rosen said, noting that desire is very context-specific. You might feel sexier in the afternoon, when you have more energy, than you would after the kids finally go to sleep, for instance. So consider setting aside some time for sex during their nap.
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"It's hard to get in the mood late at night when both of you are exhausted and thinking about the next time the baby might wake up," she said.
You should also remember that you or your partner's sexual preferences may have changed since having a baby. A woman's nipples might be more sensitive from breastfeeding, or she might still be healing from childbirth and penetration could be painful, Rosen said.
"Explore some other ways to be sexually intimate that accommodate these changes, which may only be temporary," she added.
Oral sex, mutual masturbation, using a lubricant, or maintaining a "bra on" rule are just a few fun ways to get back in the groove of things.
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