Breastfeeding means some major changes for your body. Along with producing milk to feed your baby, your breasts will likely become larger and may feel uncomfortable, your nipples may be sore or cracked and can change in appearance, and the hormone levels in your body will be different than during pregnancy. And that’s not even mentioning what a newborn baby does to your sleep patterns. When you think about it, it makes sense that breastfeeding would affect your sex life.
Generally, your doctor will tell you to wait until your postpartum checkup to have any kind of vaginal sex. If you feel up to clitoral stimulation before your checkup — either during solo masturbation or with a partner — there’s no reason not to go for it, unless your doctor has told you otherwise. And of course, kissing, cuddling, and making out are all options, too. But if you don’t feel up to any kind of sexual activity in the weeks after giving birth, that’s totally normal. After your doctor gives you the go-ahead, let’s look at what breastfeeding means for your sex life.
While you’re breastfeeding, your body produces increased amounts of the hormone prolactin in order to stimulate milk production. Those higher prolactin levels go along with lower estrogen levels, and lower estrogen levels mean vaginal dryness. If you have any kind of penetrative sex while breastfeeding, it’s extra important to use lube, because your body won’t produce as much of its own lubrication as it normally does.
While you’re breastfeeding, your breasts will probably leak milk even when you're not feeding your baby. Your breasts might leak when you look at a photo of your baby on your phone, or while you're soaping up in the shower, or even randomly. Breast leaking can also happen during sexual activity with your partner. This is normal — the hormone oxytocin is involved with both breast milk production and with orgasm. For some, leaking during sex is a turn-off, but for others, it's a turn-on, or no big deal. If you dislike it, it may help to wear a bra during sex.
Even if you don’t experience or aren’t bothered by leakage during sex, your breasts will likely feel different while you’re breastfeeding. Breast play or nipple stimulation might feel uncomfortable or painful while you’re breastfeeding — especially if you're pumping or if you have mastitis, a painful inflammation of the breast tissue that arises from breastfeeding. If you still feel sexual but don't want your breasts touched, you can ask your partner to focus on other body parts. On the other hand, having your breasts touched by your partner might feel like a nice change.
Becoming “touched out”
You don’t have to breastfeed or give birth to become “touched out,” but it’s even more common while breastfeeding. This phrase is used to refer to the feeling that caregivers of newborns and young children can get: when you’re being touched by a baby all day, you might not want any “extra” touch after the baby is asleep, even if it’s coming from a romantic partner.
“Physically, you have a baby against your body, or in your arms, or literally sucking on your body for such a long time, that by the end of the day, or at the point that someone else is ready to touch your body, it feels like ‘no more, I have nothing left to give,’” Alyia Cutler, a birth and postpartum doula and a co-owner at Wyld Womyn, previously told Refinery29.
The physical, hormonal, and emotional changes that come with breastfeeding can all add up to a lower libido. If you want to have sex while breastfeeding, go for it! But if you don’t want to have sex while breastfeeding, that’s also normal. Your libido might get higher as more time passes after giving birth, as you get used to breastfeeding, as your baby begins feeding less frequently, or when you stop breastfeeding.
Remember, sex isn't the only way to create intimacy with your partner. “We always talk about the power of eye gazing or holding hands or trying to be intimate in ways that have nothing to do with physical touch: taking a walk together, engaging in deep conversation. There's also cuddling and massage,” Cutler said. No matter what intimacy looks like for you, you can work with your partner to make sure that you're getting what you need while you're going through the hard work of breastfeeding.