7 Things No One Tells You About Sex After Childbirth

This article was originally published on November 13, 2015.

My husband and I spent a lot of time during my pregnancy reassuring each other that we didn’t have to change just because we were having a kid. Before we’d gotten pregnant, we were fairly open-minded sexually and we didn’t see why we’d have to give that up with parenthood. At first, maybe, because we’d be pretty tired. But doctors give the okay to get back on the horse (so to speak) six weeks postpartum — and that seemed like an eternity.

My pregnancy certainly kept us in that mindset. After the utter exhaustion and starvation of the first trimester, I felt hale, hearty, and horny. My body was flooded with hormones and I was ready to rumble. Until I got too big to even sit up properly, we had a pretty steady sex life. Then, I gave birth and everything shifted.

It’s not that sex stopped. (We actually had sex even before we were supposed to, five weeks after our baby was born — and yes, I had an episiotomy.) It’s that it changed. Sex has been part of my life since I was a teenager and I was pretty confident that I knew what it felt like and how to do it. I was wrong. Ahead, seven things you may not know about sex after childbirth — but should.
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You may lactate when you're excited — especially when you orgasm.

No, it’s not the plot of a particularly cheesy porn movie, it is a scientific fact: Orgasm releases the hormone oxytocin, which is tied to the “milk ejection reflex,” commonly called “milk letdown.” Milk can start dripping, or in some cases even actively spraying from your nipples — and all over your partner. In fact, it’s not impossible for lactation to occur during orgasm even in women who have never given birth.

For a new mom, it can be incredibly embarrassing to experience this reflex when you’re supposed to be getting jiggy. There is a lot of stigma surrounding nursing and breastmilk, and some partners are not big fans of the substance; my husband, for example, thought it tasted gross and smelled like dirt. That made me self-conscious when we had sex and we probably had sex less often because I was concerned about making everything...icky.
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The hormones post-childbirth and during lactation can reduce or eliminate vaginal lubrication.

Surprise! Even if she is completely aroused, a new mom might not produce any lubrication at all during sexual intercourse. Janet Morrison, a midwife and sex coach with a PhD in human sexuality, says: "Estrogen levels are greatly elevated [during] pregnancy. After childbirth, estrogen drops dramatically...this low level corresponds with low sex drive and the vagina’s decreased ability to produce lubrication." If you are used to getting very wet, or your partner is used to you getting very wet, this can be frustrating.

New mother Jessica, 29, had this experience. “My body produces significantly less natural lubricant when I’m nursing. That combined with the tearing/healing made almost any touching of the vaginal-area skin, let alone inside the vagina, very painful, always feeling like it was getting ‘caught.’”

Introducing lube into your relationship may seem awkward at first if you’ve never used it before, but it can make sex more enjoyable for both partners, especially after the birth of a child.
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Postpartum hormones can reduce or erase libido.

Between lactation and the loss of your placenta (that hormone-rich organ that was keeping you on an even keel through the last trimester), there are real hormonal shifts that can make you decisively not in the mood.

But other factors may contribute to a low postpartum libido, too. Giving birth is like an emotional and physical marathon sprint: Just when you’re completely exhausted and can’t handle one more second of physical work, someone either pulls a baby out of your crotch or cuts you open. And before you can even catch your breath, you’re being wheeled out of the hospital and sent home with an infant. Justine, 31, who gave birth about 18 months ago, says, “My libido went down the drain. Before I had babies, orgasms were like cups of coffee: I needed at least one day! My sex drive was always higher than my husband's and I was up for anything. For the first year after having a baby, sex became a once-in-awhile, half-assed attempt at connecting with my husband. Between the sleep exhaustion, postpartum depression, and C-section recovery, my sex drive took a triple-whammy.”
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Of course, it could also go the other way.

“I was surprised at how turned on I was in those early weeks after giving birth,” says Karen, 30. “I think my hormones were crazy, and seeing my husband as a dad was exciting.”
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Sex is not limited to intercourse in the traditional sense.

Your definition of what constitutes sex will probably change. In a 2013 Michigan study, which surveyed 114 partners of new mothers, nearly 60% of partners reported that they had received oral sex from the new mom within six weeks after the birth of a child.

New mother Laura, 33, found that non-vaginal intercourse became a crucial part of her postpartum sex life. “I had a first-degree tear, but the doctor was overzealous and almost sewed me closed. Because of the oversewing, my first year postpartum consisted of mostly oral sex/hand jobs/sex toys with very little vaginal penetration [and] it worked really well for us. My husband thought it was great and I could enjoy him with no pain.”

In short, foreplay doesn’t have to be a prelude to vaginal intercourse; it can be the main event.

Trust your body to tell you when you’re ready for vaginal intercourse and communicate with your partner about what you’re comfortable with.
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Breastfeeding can feel sexually stimulating.

As Ricki Lake’s documentary Breastmilk puts it: “If breast-feeding weren’t pleasurable, that would have meant the demise of the human race." There is not a lot of first-person storytelling on this topic, though, as you might imagine.

In the early 1990s, first-time mom Denise Perrigo called a crisis hotline because she found herself becoming aroused while nursing her toddler. Instead of offering her advice from a La Leche League lactation consultant as she requested, she was instead arrested and lost custody of her child for almost a year.

Breastfeeding itself isn’t a sexual act, of course. But because the same hormone, oxytocin, is released during breastfeeding and during orgasm, arousal is not out of the question. Dr. Morrison explains: "Oxytocin is produced when an infant suckles at the breast. It also results in smooth muscle contractions of the uterus and contributes to the orgasmic response. Since oxytocin plays this dual role, it is not unusual for a new mother to experience feelings of genital arousal during breastfeeding. This is not an indication that the mother has sexual feelings for her baby; it merely means that she is sensitive to her body’s normal responses to this hormone." Furthermore, some women receive sexual stimulation from any sort of contact with their nipples.

Bottom line: This won’t necessarily happen to you. But if it does, you’re not alone, and there are good reasons for it.
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You might be less kinky.

Getting bigger with every passing moment and feeling like an alien is roiling around in your midsection are not the only physical changes you might encounter during pregnancy. A friend of mine who was into some pretty rough stuff before getting pregnant reported to me that she could no longer handle any pressure at all around her throat — no sexy collars, no choking, no turtlenecks, even. It was like her body was saying, Nope, we need all that oxygen, sorry.

Justine, who suffered from postpartum depression, says she felt “emotionally raw” after the birth of her child. “I needed a lot of TLC from my husband,” she says. “So I responded to gentle ‘lovemaking’ as opposed to the rough pseudo-BDSM kind of stuff I enjoyed pre-baby.”

There isn’t a hard and fast rule or reason for this, either. It might be that you just don’t have the time to set up those elaborate role-playing scenes you used to enjoy. When baby only naps for half an hour and you still need to eat lunch, a quickie sounds a lot more manageable. It might be due to exhaustion or stress. Emotions are shifting and fluctuating a lot in the first year, too, for both first-time mamas and their partners. This doesn’t mean you’ll never be kinky again. But it might mean you’ll take a break for a bit.

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