LISA BIRNBACH: Hi, I'm Lisa Birnbach for howdini.com. In these sleep-deprived days we live in, there are people who will tell you that sleep is the new sex. That's especially true if there's a new baby in your home, or even a not-so-new baby. So how do you rekindle your sex life after a baby? We got answers from couples therapist Rachel Sussman. Hi, Rachel.
RACHEL SUSSMAN: Hi, Lisa.
LISA BIRNBACH: It's true; we all crave sleep. And after your baby is born, you're not feeling sexy and you're feeling sleepy. What's a woman to do?
RACHEL SUSSMAN: You're absolutely right, and I work with a lot of young couples whose marriage seems to go a little bit off-kilter during a pregnancy and after the birth of a first child or a second child or a fourth or a fifth. And this is a time where couples really can run into problems.
LISA BIRNBACH: Well, you don't feel sexy and you don't feel attractive and you're self-conscious maybe that your husband doesn't find you sexy or attractive.
RACHEL SUSSMAN: Absolutely, and from the male perspective, the first year after the baby's born, they often see you bonding with the baby. If you are nursing or if you're staying home and your husband's going to work, there's so much Mommy and me time that the husbands can tend to feel a little bit left out and neglected. And oftentimes, if they can't articulate that they'll act out by wanting, or even demanding, sex.
LISA BIRNBACH: Well, what do you recommend that they do? You're a nursing mom, let's say. Your husband wants to take you away a weekend, but you're locked into feeding your baby.
RACHEL SUSSMAN: It's a complicated problem, and compromise is really so important in every relationship-- compromise, and really having an open forum for discussion. And if something's going on and you're not feeling sexy and you're feeling like your husband's upset or he's brooding, a couple really needs to talk about it, and they need to find the words to say, "Hey, our romance is sort of on the back burner right now," and see what they can do, if anything, to continue moving forward as a unit, as a couple.
LISA BIRNBACH: Can the father actually get jealous of the infant?
RACHEL SUSSMAN: Absolutely, and jealous is a strong word, but it does come into play. Really, they feel neglected; they feel left out. Sometimes figuring out how to bring the father more into the equation could really solve the problem. If the father feels more involved and more connected to the baby and the mom, he'll act out less sexually or put less demands on you.
LISA BIRNBACH: What are the sexual ramifications of fatigue?
RACHEL SUSSMAN: Well, I don't think anyone feels sexy when they're really, really run down, and that is something I really often tease out in a session. Are people getting enough sleep, and are people eating well and getting enough exercise? A lot of research out there shows that your sex drive and your sex life can be improved by really taking care of yourself.
LISA BIRNBACH: How do you make it so that the baby is not the interceptor, but you're a family and mom and dad are still sexual creatures?
RACHEL SUSSMAN: Well, listen, I think once the woman's body has healed and she's starting to feel better, it's important that the couple discuss how to reintroduce sex back into their life. For some couples it will come naturally, but for other couples it just feels a little bit uncomfortable and awkward. It could be like being on a first date again, and I think that can be a really nice thing and a fun thing, getting to know each other again and reintroducing sex.
LISA BIRNBACH: When a woman is nursing her baby, do men have reactions to that of a sexual nature?
RACHEL SUSSMAN: In fact, I've heard quite the opposite that a man often has a hard time thinking of a woman in the same way because now he's seeing her as a nursing Madonna-type of figure, and he can often have a hard time thinking of her or remembering her as that real sexual being. So sometimes the work I need to do is reintroducing that back into the couple and having the man remember and think about his wife as a sexual being. And a woman, as you said, often doesn't feel good about her body after pregnancy, and I think it's really important that the husband continues to tell the wife that he is attracted to her, how beautiful she looks, and how much he loves her and how proud of her he is as a mother.
LISA BIRNBACH: Is there anything you can tell us about those nights when your husband wants to make love and you are just too exhausted? Maybe you should just go along with it and not protest.
RACHEL SUSSMAN: Well, timing is everything, and I think if you have just had the most terrible day and you are so sleep deprived and you're just feeling so terrible, is there a way you can say no to your husband that doesn't mean like, "No, never again"?
LISA BIRNBACH: Okay, but you may say, "Tonight isn't the right time, darling, but I can't wait," and then your husband might remind you that last night wasn't the right time either, and the night before that wasn't the right time. Because when you're not focused on sex, it's hard to change your focus.
RACHEL SUSSMAN: You're absolutely right, and that would be the time to really sit down with your husband and discuss when could be the right time and could there be a sex date or one or two nights a week where you are spending some time together as a couple after the baby goes to bed.
LISA BIRNBACH: To have this kind of fun, you have to do some work.
RACHEL SUSSMAN: Without a doubt, and I think once you get into it and once you've set some time to do it, it will seem like less work, and it will seem more natural and spontaneous to you.
LISA BIRNBACH: Thanks, Rachel. For howdini, I'm Lisa Birnbach.