Hot and Heavy

A big belly doesn'’t mean you can'’t have great sex.

Is your pregnant belly the only reminder that you and your partner once had an active sex life? Sure, sex during and after pregnancy is definitely a new frontier, but it doesn’t have to be alien territory. Here’s a brief guide to keeping alive the sexual flame — and the spark of romance that lit up your libido in the first place.

1. Get ready for some changes. You may be sidelined by nausea, fatigue and your ever-expanding figure; your man may be inhibited by the baby’s presence and the transformation of your thighs from sculpted to upholstered. The climate in your bedroom may shift from torrid to chilly, and what always worked between the two of you might not work for a while. That said, not all changes are necessarily negative. “I went on a photo shoot once with this supermodel when I was eight months pregnant,” says Susan S., a New York City writer. “The photographer paid a lot of attention to me, and I realized it was because I was so busty and voluptuous and felt really beautiful. If you enjoy the way you look, others will, too.”

2. Stick to the facts. Pregnancy begets misinformation about sex the way sex begets pregnancy. Don’t fall prey to the myths. Here are a few things you may not have known: Most pregnant women do want sex. “I was as horny as a 17-year-old boy when I was pregnant,” reports Susan S. “It was all I thought about and all I wanted.” Increased hormone production and blood flow to the genitals can create serious heat, especially in the second trimester. “I interviewed women who said they practically had orgasms just walking across the room,” says James Douglas Barron, author of She’s Having a Baby — and I’m Having a Breakdown. Try that when you’re not pregnant. Sex is not dangerous. A Greek study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology suggests that having intercourse late in pregnancy may increase the risk of preterm delivery. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists maintains that sex is safe during most pregnancies. “It’s the rare pregnancy in which sex is unsafe,” agrees Shari Brasner, M.D., an obstetrician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “If you experience vaginal bleeding, placenta previa, preterm labor (or have a history of it) or ruptured membranes, you may need to abstain,” she says. The safest course is to check with your doctor first; it’ll put your (and your mate’s) mind at ease. You can get pregnant before your period resumes. After giving birth, don’t count on breastfeeding or on an absence of periods for contraception.

3. Renew your courtship. Prospective and new parents often ignore what’s happening between them outside of the bedroom. “Hold hands. Go for walks together. Get back into courtship behaviors,” advises Eugene, Ore., sex therapist Wendy Maltz, M.S.W. “Trouble comes when people think their relationship can go on autopilot.” These renewed rituals can have long-lasting payoffs. “The couples I’ve talked to who do this start a connection that lasts well into their lives as parents,” Barron says.

4. Make the effort. Speaking of courtship, it’s easy to let things go when you’re pregnant or a brand-new mom. But unless you make the effort to light a spark, spontaneous combustion is unlikely. Waddling around the house in a spit-up-stained muumuu, allowing days to pass between showers — these are not sex-inspiring behaviors. Do your part to make it happen, or it won’t.

5. Seize the moment. If you wait until the perfect opportunity (Your pregnant belly has temporarily deflated for romantic purposes! The baby is with grandma and you’re at a B&B in Tuscany!), your child may be in college before you have sex again. Yes, you should carve out time for serious lovemaking, but in the interim (read: your real life), make hay whenever and wherever the sun shines.

6. Go slow after the baby. Plan on a hiatus in the weeks after your baby’s birth. First, physical recuperation is a must. Second, the demands of early parenthood can be totally depleting. “The oxytocin released during breastfeeding is the same hormone that is released when a woman has an orgasm,” says Maltz, who is the editor of Intimate Kisses: The Poetry of Sexual Pleasure (New World Library, 2001). “To your body, breastfeeding can be like having seven or eight orgasms a day.” (Not that nursing feels like an orgasm, but it can be equally tiring.) Lingering soreness, constant fatigue and feeling “touched out” may all contribute to flagging desire. This is a good time for alternate kinds of connecting and communicating. Once you’re ready and you have your doctor’s OK, around six weeks postpartum you can resume having intercourse; just take it easy the first few times. Because nursing can lower hormone levels, many breastfeeding women find a water-based lubricant helpful. Most women (men, too) may find a glass of wine salubrious. Just don’t overdo it if you are nursing.

7. Welcome the new era. A postpartum slump may be nature’s way of making sure your children are appropriately spaced. But don’t let celibacy become a lifelong habit — if it persists for months on end, talk to your doctor. Then again, don’t fret excessively about how your sex life has changed. It’s a cliché, but soon enough your “waistline” will measure less than 60 inches, your episiotomy stitches won’t throb, and your child won’t always respond by crying hysterically, Pavlov-style, every time you and your partner get near each other. Enjoy your new life, sexual challenges and all.