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Why your partner asks for postpartum sex, according to a psychologist

Plus, four ways to really connect with your partner after birth.

postpartum_sex

Leave it to a guy to bring up sex. But before you click away, hear me out. I'm a husband, dad of two little ones and a women's health advocate. I regularly see new parents we work with as a women's health advocate experience the challenge of figuring out physical and emotional intimacy after a baby is born.

But I'm not actually here to talk about sex. Sure, it's among the most common questions dads and partners ask me. However, the conversation about postpartum sex isn't really about sex at all—it's about connection and shifting relationship dynamics. Frankly, it's about loss and rebirth.

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It took over a year for my wife and I to truly reconnect after our daughter was born. I vividly recall the evening we sat drinking wine on our Brooklyn fire escape, a few weeks after Adena stopped breastfeeding. There was something different about her—she was present and still. She looked at me in a way that reminded me of the old us. She described it feeling like a year-long fog lifting. I felt it, too.

I've since learned how much complexity is wrapped up in intimacy after childbirth. How it's equal parts emotional and physical and how mothers and partners so easily misinterpret each other on this.

I've learned about the mental load of motherhood and the tireless checklist running through a mother's mind at all times. I've learned that postpartum hormonal changes affect libido and sexual comfort, which some believe is nature's way of helping us space out pregnancies so women's bodies have a chance to heal. I've also learned how extremely common it is for mothers to need time to regain a genuine interest in sex. (And when I say "time" I don't mean the highly anticipated "6 week appointment." I mean months, a year—all super normal.)

The connection disconnect

In my work, I partner with and learn from many of the nation's top postpartum experts, including Dr. Dan Singley, psychologist and founder of San Diego's Center for Men's Excellence. He's an expert in the male transition to fatherhood and works with couples to help them navigate this life stage. "In the stress of the transition into parenthood, so much pressure is put on sex," says Singley. "Some people think physical intimacy and emotional intimacy go together. That physical sex is what's going to save them and bring them together. It won't."

This often gets lost in translation: When your partner asks for sex, they are likely seeking connection.

You may feel like we're just impatient, but we're actually longing for you. We miss you. This disconnect can lead to feelings of rejection. Because when you say "no," we may hear, "I don't want you," which is likely not what you're saying at all. But until there is an open conversation about what's really going on, the cycle will continue.

The rebirth of your relationship after childbirth

This is not a sad story of a lost relationship. Yes, there is loss of what once was—but there is also rebirth. The shift to co-parents is a huge one and my wife and I were really good at it, but it took us time to find our new rhythm as co-parents and lovers. In fact, it's something we actively work on daily.

I spoke with Dr. Singley about tips to help new parents navigate this period. Here are four ways you can connect with your partner after birth:

1. Redefine intimacy

Intimacy doesn't have to be sex, and sex doesn't have to be penetrative. Hugging, kissing, back rubs, even sitting on the sofa with your legs touching—these are all forms of physical intimacy that can make partners feel connected. "I tell clients to ask, 'What did we used to do that we're not doing now? What's important to you? To me?" says Singley.

Tapping into your pre-baby selves is the first step to reconnecting as a couple, not just co-parents.

2. Make the space

As mothers, you constantly give to others. But it's difficult to find the capacity for genuine connection while running on empty—there must be something left to give. Ask your partner for time to reconnect with yourself, as someone other than 'mother.' Go out with friends, take a yoga class, do something just for you. It will benefit you both.

3. Start talking

Communicate openly about sex with your partner. Share what you're going through so it doesn't feel like a personal rejection. Reaffirm your love for them and remind them (and yourself) that this is a temporary period. Talk about your needs and boundaries. "Approach it in a way that's neither shaming nor demanding. Instead, have a sense of compassion, even humor, about it," says Singley.

4. Consider a new mantra: "Not that, but this"

Singley says the most successful couples can hear each other's needs. "Even if they have some guilt or shame for not wanting the same thing, they can hear their partner," he says.

"One of the healthiest ways I've seen couples navigate this journey is [not that, but this] approach." If one partner initiates intimacy but the other isn't interested, consider what you are willing to do. "You could say, 'I'm not in a place to have sex right now but maybe we can take a bath together." Not that, but this. "By hearing your partner but also offering an alternative you're comfortable with, you bypass the rejection and shame spiral that tends to come up when one partner isn't exactly in the same place," says Singley.

Parts of new parenthood can be tough, no doubt. It's a major life shift that, frankly, no one's being totally honest about. So I'm sharing our journey with the hope that it helps you through yours. Stay positive, take naps and, when in doubt, hold hands.

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These are the best bath time products you can get for under $20

These budget-friendly products really make a splash.

With babies and toddlers, bath time is about so much more than washing off: It's an opportunity for fun, sensory play and sweet bonding moments—with the added benefit of a cuddly, clean baby afterward.

Because bathing your baby is part business, part playtime, you're going to want products that can help with both of those activities. After countless bath times, here are the products that our editors think really make a splash. (Better yet, each item is less than $20!)

Comforts Bath Wash & Shampoo

Comforts Baby Wash & Shampoo

Made with oat extract, this bath wash and shampoo combo is designed to leave delicate skin cleansed and nourished. You and your baby will both appreciate the tear-free formula—so you can really focus on the bath time fun.

Munckin Soft Spot Bath Mat

Munchkin slip mat

When your little one is splish-splashing in the bath, help keep them from also sliding around with a soft, anti-slip bath mat. With strong suction cups to keep it in place and extra cushion to make bath time even more comfortable for your little one, this is an essential in our books.

Comforts Baby Lotion

Comforts baby lotion

For most of us, the bath time ritual continues when your baby is out of the tub when you want to moisturize their freshly cleaned skin. We look for lotions that are hypoallergenic, nourishing and designed to protect their skin.

The First Years Stack Up Cups

First year stack cups

When it comes to bath toys, nothing beats the classic set of stackable cups: Sort them by size, practice pouring water, pile them high—your little one will have fun with these every single bath time.

Comforts Baby Oil

Comforts baby oil

For dry skin that needs a little extra TLC, our team loves Comforts' fast-absorbing baby oil aloe vera and vitamin E. Pro tip: When applied right after drying off your baby, the absorption is even more effective.

KidCo Bath Toy Organizer

KidCo Bath Organizer

Between bathing supplies, wash rags, toys and more, the tub sure can get crowded in a hurry. We like that this organizer gives your little one space to play and bathe while still keeping everything you need within reach.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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