A lack of libido postpartum and particularly whilst breastfeeding, is a common but rarely discussed issue among nursing moms. Whilst you probably talk about everything from the size of your baby’s poos to the evolving colour of your nipples with other moms, navigating sex – or a lack of it whilst breastfeeding is seldom a topic of conversation.
If you have lost your libido since becoming a mom, or you are struggling with other barriers to resuming your love life, you are not alone and here’s why:
Prolactin: Great for milk making, not love-making
Prolactin is the hormone responsible for stimulating your breasts to produce milk. However, it is also associated with a reduced sex drive (1). This means that whilst your milk supply may be abundant, the desire to be amorous may not.
There is little that you can do to alter your hormone levels, but be assured that as your little one grows and consumes other foods and fluids, your milk supply will decrease and your hormone levels will regulate. Until that time, being open and honest with your partner is key to maintaining your bond. Making time to be vulnerable with one another will help to keep you connected even in the temporary absence of physical intimacy.
Boobs are for baby
Particularly in the early days of breastfeeding, you or your partner may see your boobs as off-limits when it comes to sex. Thinking of your breasts as for your baby is common and normal – after all, for now they may be their sole source of nutrition and comfort. You may have sore, tender and leaky nipples too – hardly a recipe for romance. It is important to remember that whilst you may experience some initial tenderness, you should not experience pain while breastfeeding. If you do, you should seek advice from a lactation consultant as soon as possible.
Leaky boobs are an inconvenient but natural part of breastfeeding life. It may feel odd at first if your boobs leak during intimate moments, but if you expect it to happen, laugh and talk about it with your partner, it need not be a barrier to the two of you getting close. If it is a passion killer for either of you, keep your bra on and wear nursing pads as you make love. Again, the leaking will reduce in time as your babe gets older and your supply regulates.
Feeling touched out
Whether you are nursing a colicky newborn or a teething toddler, it is incredibly common to feel touched out at some point in your breastfeeding journey. If possible, make a plan each day for at least some time when you are not being touched by anyone – your children or your partner. Ultimately you and your partner will benefit from you having this me-time and so it is in their interest as well as yours to make it happen.
If you are nursing a child over 12 months old who is consuming plenty of other food, you may consider introducing some boundaries and moving away from on-demand nursing. They are after all, still your boobs and you get to decide how and when they are touched. If you have always breastfed your babe responsively, expect there to be some resistance as you change this, but introduce these changes anyway if they are what you need. Comfort your child in other ways sometimes or use distraction if you simply do not want to whip out a boob again. Taking back a little ownership of your body will help you to feel less depleted and more likely to want to be touched intimately too.
Oh. So. Tired.
As a breastfeeding mama, you may also be sleep deprived and quite frankly, exhausted. This may be especially true if your nursling is more wakeful than sleepy. Sleep deprivation can lead to elevated stress-levels and the stress hormone cortisol is another passion killer. Combat this by practicing breathing exercises and meditating to calm your nervous system.
Talk to your partner too about how once you are more rested, you will have energy for more exciting pursuits. Maximize on rest and sleep by cosleeping or breastsleeping and by having your partner wake up with your children as often as possible, so that you can have a lie-in. Explain to your other half that the sexiest thing they can do for you right now is the laundry or the dishes. Whatever it is that you need to feel less tired, ask your lover for just that.
Whilst bed-sharing may give you as much sleep as possible, it could also be a barrier to intimacy. Three in a bed may make for fewer opportunities for love-making whenever the mood strikes. My top tips are to wait until your little one is deep asleep and use white noise to disguise any sounds that might wake them up. Take your party to the bedroom floor or another room if possible. No, it may not sound as sexy as your pre-baby exploits, but actually the most important thing is that you make time for one another. This may not be your season for four hour romps in every room of the house, but that does not mean that you can’t find the time and space for a quickie!
Another useful tip is to make time for one another during the daytime whilst your babe is with a loving caregiver. Find a time when you can both be off work and spend a few hours together undisturbed. Daytime dates are a seriously underrated but valuable way to reconnect with your partner postpartum. They may not be possible very often, but whenever they are, seize the opportunity to spend time alone as couple.
Many moms experience physical traumas during labour that may take longer than anticipated to heal. From episiotomies and pelvic floor damage to vaginal dryness, there are many reasons why sex may not be comfortable for you postpartum. Painful intercourse need not be the norm for you though and you should always seek medical advice if you experience pain during sex.
Vaginal dryness while breastfeeding is caused by reduced levels of oestrogen (2). Again, this will improve in time as your little one gets older and nurses less; until that time, lubricants can help. There are lots of over the counter options available to try, or you could try natural lubricants such as unrefined, organic coconut oil or 100% pure aloe vera gel. Experiment with your partner to see what works best for you. A word of caution: because of its anti microbial, alkaline properties, coconut oil could make you more prone to developing thrush or bacterial vaginosis (3). Experiment to find out what works best for you and your lover.
Mental barriers to making love while breastfeeding are incredibly common. Many moms struggle with poor body image postpartum and feel self-conscious about having sex. A sense of a loss of identity as a woman independent of being a mother may be partly to blame. How can you feel sexy if you spend 10-12 hours a day attached to you baby and listening to nursery rhymes?
Having time for yourself is absolutely crucial to feeling like a sexual being and not just a nurturer and carer. When did you last spend a few hours simply doing something that you love that was entirely for you and no-one else? When did you last wear clothes and underwear that made you feel like a sexy siren? When did you last have a moment for completely indulgent self-love, self-care and self-pleasure? Talk about these things with your partner and make a plan together so that you can have regular me-time to feel like yourself again. Once you do, your libido will follow.
These tips are adapted from my book, ‘Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition’