It's crucial to do a little relationship prep work for parenthood, according to sexpert Ian Kerner.

Editor’s Note: Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex for CNN Health. Read more from him on his website, GoodInBed.

Story highlights

After a baby is born, sex and intimacy often take a back seat

A baby can affect relationships regardless of marital status, studies show

It's crucial to do a little prep work for parenthood

Schedule a play date with your partner to reconnect

CNN  — 

Every parent knows how it goes: First comes love, then comes commitment, then comes baby – and there goes your sex life.

In fact, if you were to ask new moms and dads how things are in bed, they’d probably complain about not getting enough sleep. Sex and intimacy often take a back seat to late-night feedings and diaper changes.

And lest you think that this sex slump is just the natural progression of wedded bliss, consider this: Having a baby can put a damper on your relationship whether or not there’s a ring on your finger.

A recent study, published in the March issue of Family Process, looked at more than 71,000 Norwegian women who had recently given birth.

Ian Kerner

Researchers found that both married women and those who were living with, but not married to, their child’s father experienced similar decreases in relationship satisfaction during the transition into parenthood.

“It is striking that even in Norway, a nation in which there is a great deal of institutional support for parents through the transition to having children, the decrease in marital satisfaction with the birth of children that is typically seen in the United States and elsewhere still occurs,” said Jay Lebow, the journal’s editor. “It also is striking that this decrease occurs whether or not couples are married.”

Sex or money: Which makes you happier?

This study supports earlier research: Another study from the University of Denver found that 90% of new parents experience a decline in relationship satisfaction, while a recent survey by the online magazine Baby Talk showed that fewer than a quarter of new parents were happy with their post-baby sex lives.

Said psychiatrist Gail Saltz, “Couples go from feeling that they are essentially taking care of each other to taking care of their children, and the loss of care taken from your partner leads to less relationship satisfaction. It is a psychological shift in the dynamic of the relationship that may not even be rooted in very much concrete action, or lack thereof, but more a feeling that your partner can’t take care of you like they used to.”

That’s why it’s crucial to do a little prep work for parenthood. You wouldn’t welcome a child without baby-proofing your home, right? And just as you’d invest in outlet covers and cabinet locks, baby-proofing your relationship can go a long way, too. It’s not about being selfish: By taking care of yourself and your partner, you’ll be better able to take care of your kids.

Are you too tired for sex?

A few tips to get started:

Make your bedroom a sacred space. When you’re a parent, you already have more limits on your time and space. It’s important to keep something for yourselves, and the bedroom is no exception. Think of it this way: Your bed should be for sleep and sex – and neither of those things is likely if you’re sharing it with your baby.

Get touchy-feely. Parenthood naturally redirects a lot of your attention – and affection – from your partner and to your child. While there’s no doubt that your new bundle of joy needs that love, you’ve got to save some intimacy for your significant other, too.

Squeeze in physical touch when you can, whether that means a quick pat on the butt or a 30-second hug that’s meant to boost levels of oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone” that helps couples feel closer.

Have a play date with your partner. Take advantage of friends and relatives who offer to visit with your kids, or hire a sitter for the afternoon or evening. You’ll be surprised by how much just a few hours of couple time can rejuvenate your relationship.

“While your partner was once the focus of your world, it’s natural for the kids to take center stage leading to feeling distant as a couple,” said sex coach Amy Levine.

“No matter how busy your schedules and lives may be, it’s important to have alone time with your mate, whether that means having a baby sitter stay with them downstairs when you have fun time in the sack or if you make a plan for a date out of the house.”

Just do it. Easier said than done? Maybe. But sex begets sex: The more you have it, the more you want it. Even if you’re exhausted, give it a try. You might be surprised to find yourself feeling frisky again. And the satisfaction you feel with your partner will help you both be better parents to your little one.

Political differences and the bedroom