Relationships

How your sex life can change as a breastfeeding mom

Author: Canadian Living

Relationships

How your sex life can change as a breastfeeding mom

Nursing can definitely put a damper on your sex life, but it's important for couples to understand this is normal. When asked about what her sex life was like while she was breastfeeding, new mom Julie says: "I think breastfeeding is a beautiful way to bond with and nourish a baby, and I can't imagine doing it any other way. But, if my husband dared to ask for sex during the months I was breastfeeding, I was turned off -- I felt like everybody wanted a piece of me."

Many new moms share Julie's sentiment. While many new parents embrace breastfeeding because of its nutritional benefits and the bonding aspects, it's not uncommon that these same parents report a nosedive in their sex life. The good news? Research shows this is completely natural.

We turned to Jean Kouba, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant who runs her own private practice, Halton Breastfeeding in Oakville, Ont., for some insight on the relationship between breastfeeding and libido.

Kouba recently conducted research on this subject, surveying 135 new moms about their experiences with breastfeeding and sex. She reports that it's completely normal for a woman to experience a loss of libido while nursing. She explains that the reasons libido is affected by breastfeeding include "biological, psychological and social factors."

1. Hormonal shifts can decrease libido

Similar to puberty, pregnancy and menopause, postpartum is a time in a woman's life when she experiences huge hormonal changes. "Blame it all on the hormones!" says Kouba. Androgens -- otherwise known as the sex hormones -- naturally decrease in women who are lactating. Many breastfeeding women will "naturally not feel in the mood," says Kouba.

2. Lack of sleep makes us crave less sex

Although it would definitely be a lot more convenient if all babies were on a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. schedule, Kouba reminds us that a baby is actually on a "24-hour wheel." Dealing with a fussy baby at two or three in the morning is a huge drain on your energy reserves. In fact, the women Kouba surveyed ranked tiredness as one of the top factors that impacted their desire to have sex.

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3. Body image can make us feel less desirable
Pregnancy changes the way your body looks. A woman who may have been a perfect size six before her pregnancy might find that certain areas of her post-pregnancy body have a bit more "padding" or even that her shape has changed entirely, says Kouba. Although these changes aren't necessarily permanent, they can affect how a woman feels about her body as well as her desire to have sex.

4. Feeling "in demand"
Breast-feeding itself can change the way a woman views her own body. "You have this tiny person attached to your chest all day who relies on you for nourishment, and you're consumed by his or her needs," says Kouba. By throwing sex into the mix, women will often feel overwhelmed, as though their bodies are constantly "in demand." It's normal for women to not want to be touched by another person during this time.

5. Sex can be painful or awkward
After giving birth, the decrease in your body's estrogen and progesterone levels may cause a thinning of the vaginal lining which can result in dryness, making sex painful for some women. When a woman is nursing, her body creates oxytocin, the hormone that stimulates milk ejection. Coincidentally, this is the same hormone that is released during orgasm. When a breastfeeding woman orgasms, it's likely that milk will be expelled at the same time. For some people it can create an awkwardness around sex.

It all comes down to communication: Kouba says that communication is key, and she suggests that "partners need to keep talking" in order to work through these issues. Parents also need to spend time alone as a couple. Kouba suggests that a "date night" -- an evening that involves a nice dinner, some cuddling and not necessarily any sex -- might be a good opportunity for couples to reconnect.

She also stresses that couples need to cut themselves some slack and recognize that the ups and downs they are experiencing while breastfeeding are completely ok. "If a woman really doesn't feel like having sex in those first few months after delivery, that's normal," says Kouba. However, she adds that every couple's experiences are different. If a couple does want to have sex after having a baby, then "that's normal, too."

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How your sex life can change as a breastfeeding mom

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