Breastfeeding and Female Sexuality

December 10, 2020
The female sexual response varies according to different stages of life. With that in mind, we want to discuss the relationship between breastfeeding and female sexuality.

The first week of August is World Breastfeeding Week, and you can find publications all over the media about the issue: the benefits for mother and baby, how to overcome difficulties… even publications defending a women’s right to breastfeed in public without it being a crime.

Until recently, this was the case in many states in the United States, and it still is in many places and countries. In this article, however, we don’t want to talk about that issue in particular, but rather the relationship between breastfeeding and female sexuality.

Female sexuality in the postpartum period is very complex, and there are still gaps in our knowledge about it. It’s full of myths, and addressing them is a challenge for health professionals and the women who are in this stage.

Knowledge of the factors that can influence this stage is fundamental for understanding and responding to the possible dysfunctions that may appear in the postpartum period. At the same time, it’s crucial to simply understand the changes that occur in the weeks following the birth of the baby in terms of sexuality.

Is there a relationship between breastfeeding and female sexuality?

Few studies to date shed any light on the subject, but let’s see how breastfeeding can influence female sexuality and the erotic life of women.

Hormonal factors:

We know that postpartum itself is a hormonal roller coaster. And a very particular hormonal state characterizes breastfeeding in particular, which helps maintain lactation over time. However, this affects women in various spheres – one of them being sexual.

Low levels of estrogen mean that there’s little vaginal lubrication. Therefore, if no lubricant is used during intercourse, it’s painful. At the same time, it appears that high levels of oxytocin may contribute to lower libido in women. Also, prolactin, which is also at increased levels, contributes to low sex drive.

A couple sitting on a couch, at a distance from one another, looking frustrated.
Less lubrication:

As we mentioned above, this is mainly due to hormonal factors. However, it’s a problem that you can easily solve with lubricants.

However, not all are good or lubricate equally. Some, especially water-based lubricants, work at first but soon dissolve or evaporate, leaving the same dryness as at the beginning. Therefore, the friction that intercourse involves can cause pain to women and even irritation.

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Breastfeeding and female sexuality: Dyspareunia

This word refers to pain during penetrative sex. It seems that, when comparing women who breastfeed and those who bottle-feed, it’s the latter who have a higher score in terms of pain during intercourse. This is regardless of the type of delivery they’ve had. This seems to last for the entire duration of breastfeeding.

Lower desire

Hormones are the only contributing factor. Many of the changes that occur in the postpartum period can affect a postpartum woman’s desire for sex. These include role changes, the baby’s constant dependence on the mother, feelings of insecurity, of being tied to the baby, the lack of spontaneity that characterizes the postpartum period…

Often, we have to spend almost every waking minute of the day (and night) caring for our little ones. This doesn’t allow for much time, or desire, to be intimate with our partners.

It’s true that we can extrapolate many of the above changes to women who choose to bottlefeed. However, the scores on the indices of female sexual function that assess desire are generally lower in women who breastfeed.

Breastfeeding and female sexuality: Self-perception

Women who breastfeed may suffer alterations in their self-image. For example, breasts and areolas may also be larger, with continuous milk secretion or greater pigmentation. Breasts go from being an erotic object to the source of food for our little one.

Also, for many women, they’re very sensitive, making touch uncomfortable.

During breastfeeding, many women gain weight. What’s more, body fat is distributed in a very peculiar way, predominantly on the hips. Therefore, women may not recognize themselves in the mirror. These changes, which continue during breastfeeding, can make women feel unsexy, and this affects their sexuality.

A woman looking at herself in a shattered mirror, which projects a distorted image of her face.
Insomnia

Due to the multiple times that woman have to wake up to meet their baby’s feeding demands, mothers who breastfeed are more at risk of sleep deprivation than mothers who don’t breastfeed.

This, according to studies, could directly affect sexual relations. Many women need rest rather than intimate encounters with their partners. Clearly, a lack of sleep influences sexual relations.

Read also: Insomnia Disorder: Causes and Treatment

A 2018 study concluded that the number of times a woman must wake up to breastfeed during the night could directly and negatively influence women’s sexual function. However, there was no difference in those whose babies seldom woke up and breastfed preferentially during the day in comparison to those who chose to bottlefeed.

Conclusion regarding breastfeeding and female sexuality

Female sexuality is cyclical and very complex, being affected by multiple factors. Being aware of them and how they can affect us can help us anticipate and respect the changes that can modify the female sexual response in different stages of life, including the breastfeeding period.