First-time parents are entering a world of unknowns when it comes to their new baby, but also when it comes to how they function as both a couple and sleep-deprived parents. An Ottawa sexologist and doula found she was one of the few researchers looking at the sex lives of new moms and dads when she set out to study this transition during her doctoral studies.
Catherine de Pierrepont’s PhD in population health at the University of Ottawa was funded in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Her thesis looked at the sexual relationships of 67 Francophone couples in Ottawa and eastern Ontario. She found a sharp decline in sexual activity from late pregnancy, continuing for about six months after childbirth. She says this period is a vulnerable time for couples who want to maintain a healthy relationship.
De Pierrepont spoke to the Star about how to keep intimacy alive during pregnancy and the first few years of parenthood.
What should new parents know about how their relationship will change after a baby?
They’re not prepared. Nobody talks about it. They talk about the health of the baby and the health of the mother and that’s it. You can’t go through the transition to parenthood without changes at the intimacy level. What I say to new parents is: the first thing you have to do is talk about sexuality to each other, and after with a health-care professional.
So what is normal, or safe during pregnancy?
Pretty much everything. If you don’t have complications that a health care professional tells you, you can have sex. You can’t hurt the baby. We know that women’s desire is linked with her biological changes and with every trimester it goes down, and after birth there’s a period where you might not have desire. You’re caught up with a baby and a new life.
But there’s ways to help that. You have to talk about it — you don’t have to always have penetration. Sexuality and sexual activities are wider than that. The important thing is to keep that intimate connection with your partner. That’s the greatest thing couples can do.
But I assume most new moms who just delivered a baby yesterday won’t want to have sex tomorrow.
Yes, health-care professionals usually say you have to wait six to eight weeks after birth. The first sexual activities after that period, there is going to be discomfort, or sometimes pain. It’s going to go away. If it doesn’t go away after six months, that’s a problem and you should see a health-care professional.
Desire for women is linked with biological and psychological changes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a relationship, a connection with your partner. So what I say to parents is if you don’t want to have sex, maybe you want to cuddle, maybe you want to touch or give massages. The important thing is to keep a physical link.
What should couples be asking about?
Some women are afraid during the third trimester they might hurt the baby and men are also very afraid of that, or to cause a premature delivery. These are the questions they have and since they don’t know the answer, they do nothing and they can actually fall apart, feel separate from their partner.
But what about Google?
There’s a lot of misinformation. There’s also good information but you have to work to find it. (Couples) also look at forums, but what we see on forums are usually horror stories. Just because someone had one problem, it’s not going to be the same for everyone.
We talked a lot about mothers, but what about fathers?
They are afraid of hurting the baby, and also hurting their partner. They worry they are putting pressure on their partner but also want an active sexual life. They are caught in between.
When does desire come back? Does it come back the same way?
Perinatal sexuality is a bubble. A temporary bubble of adjustment. But after, it’s not necessarily going to be the same. Your body changes, your mind changes. It’s going to be a new sexuality. It’s a good thing. It’s evolution.
Sometimes I tell parents, plan a date. You can go out and get back the connection with your partner. Plan a sexual date. It’s going to be less spontaneous and a bit awkward at the start but you have to plan time for sex. That’s a big change. Every opportunity you get, you have to take it. It might not be as romantic as before, but this is life. Now you have a baby.
This interview has been edited and condensed.