Does your husband ever see you as truly sexy after having a baby?

Does your husband ever see you as truly sexy after having a baby

Philippa Mason recalls that it was a friend’s wife who broke the taboo. Her warning was as shocking as it was unequivocal: ‘Don’t expect to have sex for the first year of your baby’s life,’ she said as she waved me and my husband out of the door.

‘I was glad she said it, although not at the time. She was the only person who warned me explicitly about the effect a first-born child can have on an as-yet-unscathed marriage.

‘Up until that point the warnings had been oblique. “Things change after you’ve had a baby,” women at work would murmur. Or: “Your life is going to be turned upside down.”

Baby blues: Matt Milchard with wife Laura and baby Oliver, left, and Russell Clarke with partner Alex and baby Minnie Baby blues: Matt Milchard with wife Laura and baby Oliver, left, and Russell Clarke with partner Alex and baby Minnie

Baby blues: Matt Milchard with wife Laura and baby Oliver, left, and Russell Clarke with partner Alex and baby Minnie

‘I didn’t realise that was a coded way of saying: “Expect a total loss of libido and to be downgraded to second place in your beloved husband’s affections”,’ recalls Philippa.

The cataclysmic effect the arrival a new baby has on its parents’ relationship — particularly their sex life — is rarely addressed. However, a recent survey reveals a stark and uncompromising truth. Almost half the mothers questioned in research by the website Netmums believe the man in their life no longer finds them attractive.

The women accuse their husbands of ‘forgetting’ about their sexual identity since they became mothers. According to researchers these men have put on ‘baby blinkers’: they view their partners solely through the prism of their new role as mums.

When asked to choose the words their husband would use to describe them, just 12 per cent of mothers said ‘feminine’ while the overwhelming majority — 69 per cent — opted simply for ‘tired’.

The research is paralleled by Philippa’s experience. Her baby daughter’s arrival heralded a shift in her husband’s affections: it was as if she had become invisible.

‘The first sense I got that something was wrong was the day after the birth of our daughter,’ she recalls. ‘I was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a Caesarean. I needed to go to the bathroom. But when I tried to stand up I fell back on to the bed in pain. Instead of jumping up to help me, my husband looked at me coldly. I don’t know if he was just shocked, or if my pain didn’t register. But I did know was that I was off his radar. I wasn’t his Number One love any more.

“I had a sense of loss. I mourned the marriage we once had – before our daughter was born”

‘Once home, it got worse. My husband decided he wanted our four-day-old baby to sleep between us in our bed. I was devastated. Our bed represented our love. I didn’t want a third person in it. And so the arguments began. If I said the baby needed the blinds in her room down, my husband said they needed to be up. If I said the bathwater was too hot, my husband would lower our daughter into it anyway, dismissing my concerns with a curt warning that I was becoming like his mother.

‘After a few weeks my husband announced he wanted to have sex. Just as my friend’s wife had warned, it was the last thing I felt like. And that frightened me. Nobody explained to me that most women find sexual foreplay around the breasts repugnant when they are breastfeeding. And that breastfeeding can remove any remnants of a libido you might have after two months of broken sleep and a daily battle of the wills.

‘I’d heard the warnings about new fathers straying if they didn’t have their sexual needs met. So I went through the motions, heavily dependent on lubricant for the first time in my life. I went to my GP to ask for a check-up. “Just ask your husband to put more effort into foreplay,” she said. But we needed more than just foreplay. We needed professional help.

‘For three years we ploughed on not wanting to admit our unhappiness. I could manage during the week when my husband was at work. But I dreaded the moment he came home because the aggravation would start. And the sense of loss. I mourned the marriage we once had — before our daughter was born.’

The ebbing away of self-identity; the dwindling of physical intimacy and the misery it induces, are echoed in the survey. The British mums who were questioned, aged between 18 and their late 50s, agreed that motherhood has a negative effect on sex lives.


Three”s a crowd: British mums who were questioned, aged between 18 and their late 50s, agreed that motherhood has a negative effect on sex lives (posed by models)

A third felt they were simply seen as a mum and no longer as a lover. Only 2 per cent said their partner would consider them ‘sensual’, while more than one in five despairingly believed their spouses regarded them as ‘sexless’.

Over three quarters said they made love less than before their children arrived and for many — especially young mothers — this led to a loss of self-confidence and a sense that a ‘mumsy’ persona had usurped their former, more confident selves.

So what is going on Adrienne Burgess, head of research at the Fatherhood Institute believes many couples are engaged in a ‘dance of misunderstandings’ after the birth of a baby.

‘Often new mums make the assumption that their partner no longer fancies them,’ she says. ‘They feel fat and tired and lack confidence as a result, so they don’t put out sexual messages, and if the man is not proactive about complimenting them on their looks it becomes a vicious circle.

‘Research bears out the fact that most men still find their partners attractive after they’ve had a baby — sexual chemistry is bound up in so much more than looks — but they will also be aware that their partners are exhausted and they’ll tend not to be pushy about wanting sex.’

The experience of Ed Owen, 37, a writer from Tooting, South-West London, and dad to James, three, and Ben, one, corroborates this. ‘Immediately after our first son James was born, sex was unthinkable,’ recalls Ed, who runs the website DaddybeGood, and lives with his partner Lauren, 36, a social worker.

‘I’d expected a lull in activity — after all, Lauren had just given birth, she’d had stitches — but I didn’t anticipate that it would be a year before we got back to any semblance of normality.

“One minute you”re a spontaneous passionate couple, the next you”re two exhausted strangers struggling on only two hours sleep a night”

‘Exhaustion definitely played its part, and while Lauren was feeding James her breasts were very tender and sensitive, which made things difficult. We couldn’t behave normally. Life in the early days was rather depressing. I felt like a drone, going through a never-ending list of chores.

‘And although I didn’t have a problem with Lauren’s post-baby body at all, I’d inadvertently say the wrong things, like, “Why don’t you wear this or that any more” And she’d say, “It’s because I’m too fat. There are loads of clothes that don’t fit me now”. So I learned to stay away from that kind of subject.’

Sleep deprivation and the irritability that inevitably accompanies it also create a fertile environment for rows.

In his book Fatherhood: The Truth, Marcus Berkmann notes how couples engage in tiredness competitions. He dubs them the ‘Tiredness Olympics’, because they last four years. ‘My partner was always more tired and more miserable than I was,’ he writes.

‘When forced to get up in the night, even though it was her turn, her sighs would virtually strip the duvet from the bed. And as sympathy dies, so your determination to exert your human rights becomes stronger. If it was my turn for a lie-in, nuclear war wouldn’t shift me.’

Small wonder new parents’ desire for sex surrenders to the urge to sleep. Russell Clarke, 31, a PR executive from Warwickshire who is dad to an 11-month-old daughter, Minnie, sums it up: ‘When you have a baby you have to accept that your romantic relationship is put on hold.

‘One moment you’ve been a couple, with a spontaneous, passionate relationship, the next you’re two exhausted people struggling by on two or four hours sleep a night. But you accept that all the focus has to be on the baby and you put other aspects of your relationship on a back-burner,’ says Russell, who lives with his partner Alex, 32, a part-time bank customer services manager.

‘Friends had tried to tell me what to expect, but absolutely nothing can prepare you for the onslaught on your emotions and the sheer exhaustion.’

Left out: Fathers often feel replaced in their wife

Left out: Fathers often feel replaced in their wife”s affections when a baby comes along (posed by models)

Ed Owen recognises the feeling of being side-lined by a new intruder: ‘At the outset, you don’t feel like the baby even recognises you. Because Lauren was breastfeeding, most of the interactions were with her, and there were a good few times when I was passed the baby and it just cried and wanted to go back. Not a good introduction.’

The revelation that breasts, once viewed merely as sexual appendages, now have a nutritional role, is a shock to some new dads. As Marcus Berkmann observes, ‘The notion that such wondrous creations have a function as well as ornamental value, is one of the more startling facts of new fatherhood.’

For Russell Clarke, bottle-feeding was not so much a way of circumventing this truth, as a method of becoming a more involved father.

‘We both agreed that Alex wasn’t going to breastfeed — nothing to do with the effect on her breasts, but because we both wanted to share the feeding,’ he says. ‘Minnie was two weeks early and fed every one to two hours. So we rotated who would get up next. For the first two months Minnie slept in our bedroom in a Moses basket, which obviously has an effect, but it was the most sensible thing to do.

“The trick is to accept that this is a transient phase. Sex lives do recover”

‘Of course there are times when you think back to how your relationship used to be, but you have to remind yourself that you have this amazing, special new person in your life, and for a while you have to forget about the physical side of your relationship. You have to support each other. That’s the main thing.’

For Matt Milchard, 38, who is dad to five-month-old Oliver, hands-on fatherhood meant getting up at night to support his wife Laura, 26, while she was feeding.

‘At first he fed every three hours through the night, and although Laura was breastfeeding I would get up and help, too,’ he says. ‘I work so hard I rarely get more than four hours’ sleep a night anyway, so it doesn’t make much difference. Oliver rarely goes to sleep before midnight, so we are with him all night.

‘Actually, Laura is the one who may feel “pushed out”, because I rarely put him down — I love hugging him,’ says Matt, who lives in Greenwich, South-East London, and runs two children’s party businesses.

This equable view of parenting will chime with a third of couples, says Adrienne Burgess. She points out that research tends to conclude that 33 per cent of new parents believe their relationship has not changed much; that the tired and grumpy phase will pass and that their sex lives will recover.

A third say their relationship is enhanced by the arrival of the baby — although she concedes it is unlikely they will be; ‘having sex all the time’ — and a further third complain that their relationships have worsened.

‘This third will say they are not communicating, that they are constantly rowing, and sex — or lack of it — will often be a part of that,’ she says.

‘The trick is to accept that this is a transient phase. Sex lives do recover. Usually they don’t revert to the pre-baby intensity and regularity. The trajectory is gently downwards, both in terms of frequency and levels of passion, but that’s the way of the world. So couples should not worry if they make love less often after they’ve had a baby.’


In another survey by Netmums, the majority of women (27 per cent) waited six – eight weeks after giving birth before having sex

The impact of becoming a first-time father is routinely underestimated, experts agree. Education programmes focus almost exclusively on the new mum’s role while the fresh burden of responsibility — both financial and physical — borne by dads is often over-looked.

Even before their new babies enter the world, dads, it seems, have to intuit what is required of them. It begins in the delivery room, ‘where men are expected to be birth coaches, which is absolutely ridiculous,’ says Adrienne. ‘How are they supposed to know what’s going on They should just be there to bear witness to what’s happening and try to help keep the atmosphere calm.’

One solution is to shift the bias of parenting education programmes to include dads, and to acknowledge the vital role they play. ‘Men who are the main breadwinners get bloody tired after a day’s work in the office but they often don’t get recognition for it,’ says Adrienne.

‘Mums tend to be the ones who’ve had the broken nights and that’s ghastly, but instead of saying, “It’s all right for you. I was up four times last night” perhaps they should try being sympathetic to their husbands and partners. And the important thing to bear in mind is that the exhaustion will pass.’

For Philippa the answer was more radical: after three years spent fruitlessly trying to exhume their pre-baby happiness, she and her husband sought counselling.

‘In just one session I offloaded “my stash of resentments” as we now laughingly refer to them,’ she recalls. ‘My husband listened astonished. Then he apologised. Over eight sessions we learned that a breakdown of communication was our problem, not a lack of love. We learned both of us had been trying our best. And we learned that we still love each other very much.’

For Ed, solace came eventually, simply through the over-riding joy that parenting brings. He sums it up: ‘There is a happy ending. Things improve and you learn to become a team — mum, dad and baby.

‘It takes a while before you realise that this team has another name, too: it’s a family. It creeps up on you by stealth; you’ve become a family. And after all, that’s what life is about, isn’t it’

Some names have been changed