Many parents find it hard to get back their once-steamy sex lives after the baby comes around. According to some, this sex drought can have dire consequences as more marriages break up within the first 18 months after childbirth than any other time. Now researchers say there’s one factor that influences a post-baby sex life more than others: a mother’s stress levels. According to the research, the sexual satisfaction of both parents suffers when a new mother’s stress levels are too high.

For the study, researchers from Pennsylvania State University investigated some of the factors that can contribute most significantly to a couple’s low sexual satisfaction after having a new baby. To do this, the team looked at data from 169 expectant heterosexual couples who had participated in the Family Foundations program. In it, the couples reported the parenting stress they had experienced six months after their child’s birth and their overall sexual satisfaction a year after the birth.

"Interestingly, we found that men's parenting stress had no impact on either men's or women's sexual satisfaction,” said lead researcher Dr. Chelom E. Leavitt in a statement. Rather it was the woman’s parenting stress that seemed to impact the sexual satisfaction of both partners.

"When new moms feel fatigued by the added responsibilities of parenting, they may feel less sexual," added Leavitt. "The sexual relationship is interdependent, so when a mom feels greater stress due to parenting, not only is her sexual satisfaction diminished, the dad's sexual satisfaction is also affected."

Interestingly, while a mother’s stress strained the couple's’ sex life more than a father’s, the study revealed that mothers generally reported more sexual satisfaction at 12 months than fathers did.

Having more sex doesn't necessarily make a couple happier, but research has suggested that quality sex is closely tied to overall life satisfaction. Having sex releases hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin, making you feel physically better and emotionally closer to your partner. And, while having more sex doesn't fix all your problems, one study from last year did find that couples who made love more frequently had stronger good “gut feelings” about the quality of their marriages. Couples who say they have sex at least once a week also report more satisfaction with their relationships.

According to Leavitt, these findings may help help parents and therapists better understand the strains of new parenthood and how it can affect our personal lives.

"We know that sexual satisfaction is an important element in relationships, but as far as we know, it hasn't been studied at this transition before,” added Leavitt. "This was a good springboard for people to understand how parenting stress affects sexual satisfaction."

Source: Leavitt CE, McDaniel BT, Maas MK, Feinberg ME. Parenting Stress and Sexual Satisfaction Among First-Time Parents: A Dyadic Approach. Sex Roles . 2016