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Sex and Breastfeeding for Nursing Mothers

Tips to Overcome the Common Concerns

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Updated April 16, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Resuming Your Sex Life

You will probably see your doctor for a postpartum examination at approximately 4 to 6 weeks after the delivery of your baby. Once the doctor gives you the ok, you can resume sexual relations with your partner. To prevent any complications with your recovery, do not begin having sex before you see your doctor, even if you've stopped bleeding and are no longer sore. Having intercourse or placing any object into the vagina before you are healed could result in an infection or other complications. Wait until after your doctor examines you and tells you that it is ok.

It's possible that breastfeeding will not affect your sex life at all. But with the addition of a new family member to take care of, along with all of the recent changes to your body, it's more likely that you and your partner will have to make a few adjustments. While some nursing mothers are anxious to get back to the physical relationship that they shared with their partner before their baby was born, others find that they have less sexual desire — or no interest in sex whatsoever. All of these responses are normal, so don't worry if you find that you have less of a sex drive these days. It's a temporary situation, and in time you will find that your desire and interest will return.

Your sexual desire isn't the only thing that can get in the way: there are other things associated with breastfeeding that may affect your sex life, too.

Your Relationship With Your Partner: Your partner may be concerned about your relationship, and he may not understand the time you need to physically heal and mentally prepare to have sex again. If he doesn't know what you're thinking, he may feel hurt, left out, neglected and worried about your lack of interest. Hurt feelings can sometimes turn into resentment and anger, which can make the relationship suffer. Make sure you let him know that you love him, you are still attracted to him, and that you want things to get back to the way they were before the baby arrived. If he knows that you just need a little more time, he is more likely to be understanding and patient.

Things you can do:

  • Bring your partner with you to your doctor visits while you are pregnant to discuss sex after childbirth. The doctor can explain the reasons you need to wait a while after the birth of your baby, and the changes that you may experience.

  • Keep the lines of communication open to prevent misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Tell your partner what's on your mind, and let him share his thoughts with you.

  • While you're healing, continue to share love and affection in other ways, such as spending time together, kissing, hugging, holding hands and talking.

  • Even if you're not sure that you're ready for sex, but the doctor has given you the go-ahead, you may want to try it anyway. Talk to your partner, and take it slowly. Resuming your sex life is a good way to reassure him that you still love him and want to be with him. And, who knows, maybe you just need to jump back into it to realize that you were ready after all.

  • You may need to schedule time to spend together. Things may not be as spontaneous as they were before, but if you don't make a plan, it may not happen at all.

  • Have your partner learn more about Sex and Breastfeeding for Partners of Nursing Mothers.

Exhaustion: Being a mom takes a lot of time and energy, especially when your baby is very young. If you're not getting restful sleep because you are waking up for feedings during the night and then taking care of the baby all day, you may be so tired that sex is the last thing you want to think about.

Things you can do:

  • Try to get some rest during the day. If you take a nap with the baby in the afternoon, you might not be as tired later in the evening.

  • When your friends and family members offer their help, accept it. Let them visit and spend time with the baby for an hour while you get a little rest.

  • Your partner can lend a hand with the baby, older children or the housework. The more he does to help you out, the more time and energy you'll have for him.

  • Eat right and exercise. Fueling your body with a healthy diet, and getting some mild to moderate exercise, can help you feel energized. Be sure to ask your doctor if it's safe to start an exercise program before you begin.

  • Ask your doctor about taking brewer's yeast, a nutritious dietary supplement that some nursing mothers take to fight fatigue. As an added benefit, it may also help you to make more breast milk.

Painful Breasts: Pain from sore nipples, engorgement, plugged milk ducts, blebs, thrush or mastitis can make the thought of sex very unappealing.

Things you can do:

  • Tell your partner what's going on with your body and discuss how you would like to exclude your breasts from any sexual encounters until you are feeling better.

  • Treat the cause of your breast pain or nipple soreness. Contact your doctor, a lactation consultant or a local La Leche group for assistance if you need it.

  • Wear a supportive nursing bra.

  • Use sexual positions that do not put pressure on your breasts.

Leaking: Sexual activity can stimulate the let-down reflex and may cause breast milk to leak or spray out of your breasts. This can be shocking or embarrassing if you and your partner are not prepared for it.

Things you can do:

  • Talk to your partner about leaking ahead of time to find out how he feels about it.

  • Place nursing pads inside of a sexy nursing bra to help keep leaks from getting in the way.

  • Pump or nurse your baby right before any sexual activity so there will be less milk in your breasts to leak out.

  • If you and your partner do not mind the leaking and your breasts are not sore, then your partner does not have to avoid them. It will not harm you or your milk supply if your partner touches or stimulates your breasts.

Less Estrogen: Your body's estrogen level is lower while you are breastfeeding, which can cause a decrease in your sex drive. It may take you longer to become aroused, and you may experience painful intercourse due to less vaginal lubrication.

Things you can do:

  • Don't rush. Give yourself more time to become aroused.

  • Use a personal lubricant to help with vaginal dryness.

  • Try different sexual positions to make intercourse more comfortable.

  • Ask your doctor about a prescription for estrogen cream to use on the vulva and vaginal opening if you're experiencing discomfort during sex.

  • Think twice about getting waxed: reduced estrogen can cause atrophic vaginitis, in which vaginal skin becomes thin and dry. If the wax is pulled too hard during removal, vulvar lacerations could result.

Your Body Image: You may not be feeling very attractive in your after-baby body. Weight gain, stretch marks, and large, hard, leaky breasts may have you feeling a little self-conscious. Plus, with very little time to shave your legs, to get dressed up in a nice outfit or do your hair and make-up, you probably don't feel all that put-together. When you feel like you don't look good, you are less likely to feel sexy and in the mood for romance.

Things you can do:

  • Eat a well balanced diet so you can get all the nutrition you need while you are breastfeeding. Making healthy choices will give you more energy and help you lose weight in a safe, gradual way.

  • If your doctor says it's ok, get some exercise. Engaging in physical activity is a good way to increase your energy level, elevate your mood, lose weight and feel better about yourself. When you feel good about yourself and your body, you are more likely to feel in the mood for sexual activity.

  • Ask your partner to watch the baby so you can take a shower and get dressed. You may even want to do your hair and put on a little makeup. Looking good can make you feel good, too.

  • Talk to your partner about you how feel about your body. A little reassurance from him that he still loves you and finds you attractive may be just what you need.

Interruptions: Babies are not always predictable, so be prepared for interruptions. If your baby needs you, you will have to stop what your doing to take care of her needs before you can go back to spending time with your partner.

Things you can do:

  • Feed the baby, change her diaper and put her down to sleep right before you plan to spend time with your partner.

  • Be flexible and be patient. Your child is only a baby for a little while. In time, as your child grows, you and your partner will find more time to spend together.

The Fear of Another Pregnancy: You just went through a pregnancy, and now you have a beautiful little baby that you have to take care of. You're very happy, and it's been a wonderful experience. But you do not even want to think about doing it all over again so soon. The fear of another pregnancy can definitely make sex a scary thought. Breastfeeding can help prevent pregnancy if you are breastfeeding exclusively around the clock (at least every 4 hours), your baby is less than 6 months old and you have not had your period yet. But if you are very certain that you do not want to become pregnant again, you should talk to your doctor at your postpartum check up to discuss using birth control. Contraception that's safe to take while you are breastfeeding is available.

Things you can do:

  • Talk to your partner about your concerns.

  • Discuss contraception with your doctor. Once you feel in control of your family planning decisions, you may feel more ready to get back to your physical relationship with your partner.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Sixth Edition.  Mosby. Philadelphia. 2005.

Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.

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