Take your time

Be patient with yourself in these first weeks with your new baby. Remember that you and your family have undergone a tremendous change. It can be daunting, discouraging, thrilling and perplexing, all in the same hour. In time, you'll grow stronger physically. And your skills as a parent will grow, too, day by day, as you explore with this new person in your world.

This month, you may also be interested in:

• "Complications: Postpartum conditions," page 579

Nurturing your relationship

As you and your partner begin to bond with the baby and form a family, it's important to make time for yourselves as a couple. The postpartum period is a time of major adjustment for a couple as you work out how to share parenting duties and relate to each other in your new role as parents. Here are some tips for coping with the changes in your relationship and nurturing your partnership:

• Keep the lines of communication open. Being a new parent can be scary for both people. It helps to talk about these feelings with your partner. Share your feelings about what's happening in your sexual relationship, too.

• Share the job and experiences of parenting. Being a parent is easier for both of you if you share the work. Both parents should be ready to respond to the baby's cries, give the baby baths and change diapers. The dad can help out with feedings. If the mom is breast-feeding, she can pump some milk for dad's use at nighttime feedings. In addition, take time to do fun things together as a family. Young babies are very portable, so you can include the baby in your social life and continue your lifestyle to a large degree. Allow your shared love for your baby to bring you closer together as a couple.

• Make decisions together. If you disagree about how to take care of the baby, work it out. Getting comfortable with this process can help you make tougher decisions later.

• Spend time alone together. Even though you're both busy with the baby and other responsibilities, finding time in your daily routine when you and your partner can be alone together is an important way to maintain your relationship. At home, continue small rituals you may have together, such as doing a crossword puzzle together or chatting at the end of the day. Plan dates on a regular basis. Turn to someone you trust for baby-sitting and get some time together away from the baby.

• Take turns giving each other breaks. Each parent needs some time away from the baby.

• Be patient and ease back into sex. Many couples experience a decrease in sexual activity in the first year after childbirth — for many reasons. You may be too exhausted and sore to even think about sex in the first weeks and months after the birth. Many women feel less attractive in the postpartum period and experience a lack of libido or inability to achieve orgasm. Intercourse may be painful, due to hormonal changes and breast-feeding.

Whether you've given birth vaginally or had a Caesarean birth, your body can need several weeks to heal. Most women wait three to six weeks before resuming intercourse. If you had a Caesarean birth, your health care provider may advise you to wait six weeks. You can gain confidence about resuming intercourse when you no longer feel pain as you press on your vaginal opening or episiotomy.

During the weeks when you're not having intercourse, aim to maintain emotional and sexual intimacy. Lovemaking without intercourse can resume soon after birth if you wish. This can reaffirm your affection for each other.

When you do resume intercourse, lubricating creams or gels may be necessary because lower hormone levels cause vaginal dryness. Try different positions to take pressure off the sore area and control penetration. Be honest with your partner and tell him if sex causes you discomfort or pain. Finally, unless you want to become pregnant again immediately, use birth control.

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