Trying to measure up in every way can be harmful to your sex life.
As new parents seek to rebuild their romantic life as a couple, various emotional aspects come into play. They can have long-term effects on the desire for lovemaking and on how responsive the partners are to each other.
For starters, having a baby has an obvious effect on a woman's body image. Mothers are eager to regain their pre-pregnant shape, even mothers who came to love their pregnant bodies -- the fullness, the shiny hair, the glow in their eyes and the high color of their cheeks.
After the birth, some women have described themselves as "deflated, floppy balloons." Their figures don't miraculously return to normal. Exhausted from lack of sleep and the seemingly unending daily work of tending the baby, many a new mother feels less than desirable as a love partner.
It's crucial for the new father to make his partner feel cherished during this difficult period. Dads may also find resuming a love life difficult. Some men, for example, are unnerved when arousal makes a new mother's breasts spurt milk. Feeding the baby first helps -- so does a sense of humor.
Sexuality is closely tied to self-esteem, and even confident women may feel at sea in the postpartum period. Trying to handle a seven-pounder who doesn't adhere to a schedule or even speak the same language can knock holes in anyone's self esteem.
It's also normal for a woman to feel resentful. Since -- even if she's just on maternity leave -- she's likely to spend her first weeks as a mother at home with full responsibility for the baby while her husband resumes his job. Unless a woman has help with the housework, she may find it difficult even to dress by dinnertime -- much less fix dinner.
Tiredness, trying to be a good mother and keeping the household going can leave a woman with little desire for lovemaking -- and guilt or anger that she needs to measure up here, too. If these feelings prove difficult to shake, she may experience postpartum anxiety or depression. It's important for couples to understand the connection between depressed feelings and lack of interest in sex, and seek help for lingering depression.
Both partners may be experiencing anger, another emotion that chills sexual desire and response. If the new father participated actively before and at the birth, he may now feel neglected as the mother seems to spend all her time with the baby. As he tries to balance work with his share of baby care, he may resent the demands of a boss during the day and a new tiny boss who makes demands on his sleep and energy at night.
New mothers often complain that they feel "touched out" by having to hold the baby or by its presence against their body during breastfeeding. Not being able to give of herself and her body to meet the sexual needs of her husband may make her feel inadequate -- or angry. Many new mothers feel that when physicians give advice about resuming sexual relations, the underlying message is that they must perform for their partner, regardless of their own needs.
Experiencing any or all of these reactions will affect how partners return to intimacy. But it is possible to make romance bloom again. It requires couples to talk openly about their feelings, fears and frustrations. And they need to find time for closeness, to find quiet moments to be together -- and laugh together.