The Effects of Nursing on a New Mother’s Sexuality
The SMSNA periodically receives and publishes ‘guest editorials.’ The current article was submitted by Mia Barnes, a freelance writer and researcher who specializes in women's health, wellness, and healthy living. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine.
Breastfeeding is a beautiful way to nourish your child and strengthen the mother-baby bond. It can also affect your sex life and sexuality. Prior to giving birth, breasts were an erogenous zone meant for your and your partner’s pleasure. Now, they have more than one function, which can feel confusing. In addition, surging hormones from breastfeeding can change how a woman’s body reacts to sexual stimulation.
Knowledge is your best tool to overcome these challenges once you have approval from your doctor and are ready to have sex again.
Decreased Sex Drive
During the postpartum period, prolactin, the hormone responsible for encouraging breast milk supply, surges. While prolactin is high, other hormones like estrogen and testosterone decrease substantially and remain low while breastfeeding. These hormones are essential to a healthy sex drive, so a nursing mother’s desire for sexual intimacy may be much lower while breastfeeding.
Fear of Pregnancy
Breastfeeding can cause lactational amenorrhea, the prolonged absence of a period due to hormone fluctuations. This phenomenon can trick couples into thinking they’re safe from getting pregnant again. However, it’s entirely possible to ovulate and achieve pregnancy without having a period.
Since modern women are more aware than ever of this possibility, they may be more likely to avoid intimacy during this period, worried about getting pregnant again so soon. Using a backup form of contraception can reduce those insecurities and help you feel more confident about enjoying sex with your partner.
Diminished Body Image
For many women, the postpartum changes to their bodies serve as a deterrent to physical intimacy. Stretch marks, varicose or spider veins, drastically increased breast size and an expanded belly make some women uncomfortable displaying themselves naked. These feelings are normal and may dissipate as you grow accustomed to this new body and some postpartum changes improve.
With continued breastfeeding, you may even find you like the new curves and larger, rounder breasts. With help from their partners, some breastfeeding moms learn to find the changes erotic rather than something to hide.
It’s important to note that your thoughts and experience are valid and normal no matter how you feel.
Having a new baby is exhausting, especially when you choose to breastfeed. You or your partner are up through the night to nourish your little one or change their diaper. As such, you’ll both have less energy for sexual intimacy. New moms struggle the most since their breastfeeding times keep them up more at night. Plus, for women especially, sex is as much a mental experience as a physical one. A tired body and mind make it challenging to fully commit to having sex and decrease the likelihood of enjoying the experience.
Partners can help by taking on any nighttime wakings that don’t require a feed. Also, planning a cute romantic experience while the baby naps in the evening could help your loved one feel safe, comfortable and more eager for a sexual experience.
The same hormone levels that reduce sexual desire are responsible for making sex more physically challenging as well. Decreased estrogen and testosterone can equate to less vaginal lubrication, even with stimulation.
When a nursing mother’s mind and body aren’t prepared for penetration, it can make sexual intimacy extremely uncomfortable. If you decide you’re ready and have the go-ahead from the doctor to begin having sex again, keep water-based lubricant on hand to make both of you more comfortable and increase enjoyment.
Sore and Leaky Nipples
Understandably, the body part most affected by nursing are breasts. A new mother’s hormones work overtime to produce milk for her little one. However, these changes can make sexual intimacy more complicated for both partners.
Especially in the beginning, breastfeeding will leave breasts sore and nipples irritated and chapped. Talking to your partner about looking and not touching for a while could help prevent pain and make sex more enjoyable.
Increased arousal and orgasm can lead to excessive nipple discharge. As such, you can decide together that you don’t mind the leakage and choose to let it flow naturally. Alternatively, breastfeeding before intercourse or wearing a nursing bra can make both of you feel more comfortable.
Keep Dialogue Open With Your Partner
As you learn to navigate this new stage, keep communication open with your partner. Discuss what feels good and what does not. Being honest and upfront with them can make intimacy more comfortable physically and mentally for both of you.
Intimacy and sexuality should be an ongoing conversation since feelings and individual challenges can shift from day to day. Treat each other with love and kindness and physical intimacy will become easier.
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