Breastfeeding and Sexuality

Issues pertaining to sexuality have always introduced a considerable
amount of controversy thanks to the differing opinions. Indeed,
sexuality has been one of the most controversial topics, especially
considering that it touches on the fundamental existence of the human
race. Sexuality, according to the America Psychological Association,
underlines a broad area of study that relates to the gender identity an
expression, sex, as well as sexual orientation of an individual. Human
sexuality underlines the ability of an individual to have erotic
experiences, as well as responses, and may influence an individual’s
sexual attraction and interest in another person. Sexuality has varied
facets including the spiritual, emotional, physical and biological
aspects. The physical or emotional aspect pertaining to sexuality
underlines the bond or connection that exists between people and is
shown through profound feelings, as well as physical manifestations of
caring, love and trust (Bartlett, A. (2005). The biological aspect, on
the other hand, underlines the reproductive mechanism, as well as the
fundamental biological drive that is controlled by hormones and exists
in every other species. Needless to say, sexuality has been examined by
scholars and researchers in varied fields, thanks to its importance and
effect on the survival of human race. Indeed, scholars have been
examining the varied aspects that influence or at least have a bearing
on sexuality. Of particular importance has been the effect of
breastfeeding on sexuality.
Since the second half of the 20th century, a trend has emerged in the
United States where a large proportion of physicians and medical
practitioners to encourage breastfeeding. While this trends or movement
has not enjoyed the success that they may initially have hoped for as a
larger number of mothers in the United States still continue using
formula milk, the importance of breastfeeding cannot be gainsaid.
Indeed, research has shown that breastfeeding improves the intelligence
quotient (IQ) of a child, protects the child from ailments and even has
a bearing on the physical and emotional development of the child.
Indeed, it also enhances the relationship between the child and the
mother. Nevertheless, quite a number of socioeconomic factors are seen
as barriers or hindrances of the success of these efforts to promote
breastfeeding. However, little research has been done on the effects
that breastfeeding has on the mothers, especially with regard to their
sexuality. Indeed, even among the physicians and medical practitioners
who encourage breastfeeding, there is still a significant constraint in
dealing or handling the issue of breastfeeding and sexuality. Scholars
have noted that as the female breast has become eroticized in the
western society, promotional messages pertaining to breastfeeding have
usually shown a tacit or unspoken conformity to social conventions
pertaining to female sexuality (Bartlett, A. (2005). Of course, any
changes in the sexuality of a woman would go unnoticed in the initial
stages of breastfeeding as the personal and couple time becomes crowded
by the imperative needs with which the infant newcomer comes. At this
time, the needs of the infant are the key focus of the family, with the
unencumbered spontaneity that the couple enjoyed becoming replaced by
the comfortable familiarity pertaining to the predictable routines and
daily schedule of the infant. The formerly exciting activities are
forced to give way to the completely new compelling interests pertaining
to the matters of the baby including the color and health of the bowel
movement, magnitudes of burps and even the quality of breastfeeding
(Bartlett, A. (2005). Indeed, Scholars have noted that, in spite of the
increased responsibility, stress and upheaval, a large number of couples
ultimately discover that getting a child introduces an entirely new
dimension to their relationship that may strengthen their bond and
enhance their relationship. However, the story may be entirely different
with regard to the woman’s sexuality. Indeed, breast feeding has a
number of negative effects on the sexuality of the woman.
One of the key effects of breastfeeding on the sexuality of a woman
revolves around the physical aspect. After giving birth, women are
advised to keep off sexual intercourse until they do not have a bright
red vaginal bleeding and are comfortable with it. Indeed, a large number
of couples resume sexual relations between 4 and 5 weeks after giving
birth and ultimately manage to have the same level of sexual intimacy
that they enjoyed before the pregnancy (Bartlett, A. (2005). However,
breastfeeding may be extremely exhaustive with a large number of mothers
underlining the extreme preoccupation, depression and fatigue with which
it comes. This often reduces sexual libido, in which case it would not
be surprising that mothers who are overwhelmed and particularly
exhausted would usually have little energy left to have sexual activity.
This is especially so for mothers who have medical complications or who
underwent delivery through the C-section as these would justifiably lake
a little longer to recover from childbirth. Of course, the frequent
complaint pertaining to being “too tired to have sex” is less common
among new fathers than new mothers thanks to the disproportionate burden
of responsibilities of infant care that women bear. While there may be
numerous factors that may cause maternal exhaustion especially with
regard to caring for the baby irrespective of the feeding method that is
used, the exhaustion of breastfeeding has an immense bearing on the
capacity of women to engage in sex (Bartlett, A. (2005). Indeed,
studies have shown that breastfeeding women have significantly less
interest in sex, less likelihood of having it and would have a higher
likelihood of finding it more painful. Studies that examined women in
the course of the weaning process also show that nursing has the
capacity to suppress sexual activity. Women who undertook breastfeeding
for a minimum of 6 months completed a questionnaire pertaining to their
health and their feelings up to a month after weaning off their babies
(Hausman, 2003). Their responses given in the four weeks prior to the
weaning process would then be compared with the responses that they gave
in the four weeks after weaning them off. The research showed that
within about 3 to 4 weeks of weaning their kids off, the participant had
a significant increase in the level of sexual activity (Australian
Breastfeeding Association, 2012). In addition, the study showed that the
women had an improvement in their moods, as well as a reduction in
fatigue, with the researchers noting that this would explain the larger
part of the increase in the appetite for sex among the women.
In addition, breastfeeding has a bearing on the biological aspect of
the nursing women, which may have a negative effect on their sexual
drive. Scholars have, in fact, noted that the reduction in the sex drive
of a woman would primarily result from the variations in the levels of
hormones that occur in the nursing women (Hausman, 2003). Nursing women
have been found to produce large amounts of a hormone called prolactin
and low amounts of oestrogen, a combination that is thought to a
decrease in interest in the sexual activity among breastfeeding women.
Indeed, a study examining the link between hormonal levels showed that
extremely low levels of hormones androstenedione and testorerone may
cause a severe decrease in sexual interest in women who are
breastfeeding. Indeed, the reduction was so severe that a comparison
could not be made with the formula feeding group as the later group did
not show any reduction whatsoever (Hausman, 2003). While this may not
necessarily be providing conclusive proof especially considering the low
number of formula feeding women, the stark contrast in the results would
indicate that there could, in fact, be a connection between the decrease
in hormone levels among breastfeeding women and the decreased sexual
drive. On the same note, it is worth noting that hormones have a bearing
on the level of comfort that a woman would experience in having sexual
intercourse (Mabilia, 2005). Scholars note that immediately after giving
birth, women do not experience ovulation, which, in essence, underlines
the low levels of oestrogen. This would, essentially, make the vaginal
cavity extremely dry, making any form of sexual activity considerably
less comfortable and could even be injurious (Mabilia, 2005). As much as
artificial lubrication using water-based lubricants may come in handy in
such instances, scholars have noted that the sex would still be less
enjoyable for the woman, which underlines the psychological aspect of
the sexual activity. Indeed, research has shown that the breastfeeding
mothers would take longer to get aroused compared to their formula
feeding counterparts (Riordan & Wambach, 2010). Prolactin, nevertheless,
is the primary culprit for the reduced sex drive among lactating or
breastfeeding women. The hormone comes as nature’s way or technique
for creating some space or reducing the rate at which a woman gives
birth to children (Blum, 2000). This, in essence, allows the first child
to be provided with the necessary nurturing prior to the arrival of
another child who would compete for the same attention. Considering that
women try to breastfeed their children for over a year, it is common to
find their children are spaced approximately two years apart. While
there are variations in this feeling and its duration among women, the
hormone comes as a natural impediment to sexual arousal and interest in
having sex amongst breastfeeding women (Fredregill & Fredregill, 2010).
This is especially when the high levels of prolactin are complemented by
the few hours of sleep that breastfeeding mothers enjoy. Of particular
note is the fact that the levels of prolactin do not fall to their
pre-pregnancy rates immediately breastfeeding stops rather it may take
some time (Australian Breastfeeding Association, 2012). However, a woman
may undergo a prolactin blood test to determine her level in case the
sexual desire does not increase after a few months of quitting
Nevertheless, there may be some external aspects to the link between
breastfeeding and sexuality. As stated earlier, breastfeeding may induce
exhaustion and depression in the mothers. In fact, breastfeeding women
have been found to have higher levels of depression than their non
nursing counterparts (Fredregill & Fredregill, 2010). This may result
from the increased levels of progesterone required in the sustenance of
pregnancy and present in high levels in nursing moms. Indeed,
progesterone has been found to wreck havoc among premenstrual women
causing moodiness, depression and breast tenderness (Blum, 2000). In
essence, the women, more often than not, revert to antidepressants,
whose effects have been known to result in a reduction in the mothers
drive or interest in sex.
On the same note, it is imperative that the emotional or psychological
aspect pertaining to sexual drive is examined. Indeed, sexuality in
general and sexual arousal in particular have their roots in the
emotional and psychological status of the woman and the man.
Unfortunately, a large number of women are primarily concerned about
their kids and tend to shut everyone and everything else out (Avery et
al, 2000). This is more common among breastfeeding women than in formula
feeding women. In addition, nursing women may experience fear of
discomfort in the course of lovemaking, which may reduce their drive and
interest in sex and cause them to give sexual intercourse a wide berth
(Riordan & Wambach, 2010). This is compounded by the disconnection
between the women and their partners, especially in instances where the
partner feels that he may be hurting the breastfeeding woman and,
therefore, become reluctant to initiate sex (Signorello et al, 2002). In
addition, the increased tenderness of the breasts may make women even
less capable of being aroused, which would essentially work down their
capacity to enjoy sex. In some instances, the breasts of a nursing mom
may become uncomfortably engorged and cracked, thereby becoming painful
and interfering with lovemaking (Barrett et al, 2000). On the same note,
the intense physical contact in the nursing relationship between the
mother and the kid, more often than not, leaves some breastfeeding women
with extremely little interest in the sexual advances of their partners
(Avery et al, 2000). The breastfeeding women, having spent the larger
part of the day with the kid at her breast, may perceive any additional
physical contact from the partner as an extra demand on her body.
Researchers have also speculated that breastfeeding may, in some way,
meet the needs of a woman for intimate touching, in which case they have
a reduction in the interest of being touched by their partners. Indeed,
studies have shown that some women respond to breastfeeding in a sexual
way and may even feel somehow aroused when undertaking the exercise
(Signorello et al, 2002). Of particular note is the fact that this may
have emanated from the hormones produced in the course of breastfeeding,
thanks to the stimulation of the nipple, in which case the stimulation
is still within the realm of the normal bodily responses or activities
(Riordan & Wambach, 2010).
Still on the physiological and psychological aspects, the feelings of
the breastfeeding mother may be affected especially with regard to the
changes in her body, as well as her capacity to undertake sexual
activity. This is especially compounded by the birth experience of the
mother, which may affect feelings pertaining to her sexuality, her body,
and even the physical effects pertaining to giving birth, drugs given in
the course of labor and delivery, as well as postpartum hormonal
adjustments (Avery et al, 2000). The feelings of the woman, especially
with regard to the partner’s feelings about her breasts will have
considerable impact on the woman’s postpartum sexuality.
As much as these effects of breastfeeding on sexuality may seem
absolute, there may be some remedies that may result in the resumption
of the sexual drive. First, it would be essential that the woman’s
partner is extremely supportive and understanding (Barrett et al, 2000).
In most cases, the partners may not understand why their partners are
not into sexual activities as much as they used to be prior to the
pregnancy and child birth. In fact, they may view such attitudes as
rejection from their partners, which would not only breed marital
problems but also may sink the woman deeper into disinterest, thanks to
the increased levels of depression (Barrett et al, 2000). Second,
seeking the attention of a physician would be essential especially with
regards to any side effects of the medication used during labor and
after giving birth. Some forms of medication may be reacting negatively
to the woman’s body thereby producing undesirable effects. This is the
same case for the delayed resumption of sex drive months after weaning
off the child, as there may be other factors at play. On the same note,
health complications pertaining to breastfeeding such as cracking of
breasts, wounds and even breast infections would need the attention of
the physician, not only for the enhancement of the sex drive of the
woman, but also to protect the child and the mother. Diets also play a
key role in enhancing the health and sexual drive of the breastfeeding
woman (Fredregill & Fredregill, 2010). Nevertheless, it is imperative
that the couple comes up with other ways of engaging in intimacy without
necessarily engaging in sexual activity or coitus (penetration). These
would not only spell satisfaction for the couple but also increase the
speed of resumption of the sex drive or interest.
In conclusion, issues pertaining to sexuality have always introduced a
considerable amount of controversy thanks to the differing opinions.
Sexuality has spiritual, physical and biological aspects. Volume of
research has been dedicated to the determination of factors that would
affect sexuality with particular interest in breast feeding. This is
especially considering the recent increase in the drive for
breastfeeding rather than formula feeding. Indeed, breastfeeding has a
bearing on the intelligence quotient of the child, as well as his
physical and emotional development (Barrett et al, 2000). However,
little research has been done on the effects of breastfeeding on the
mothers especially with regard to sexuality. Nevertheless, breastfeeding
has a negative effect on the woman’s sexuality. First, it comes with
an immense amount of exhaustion with the parents striving to ensure that
they take care of every need of the child. In addition, low amounts of
oestrogen are produced alongside high amounts of progesterone and
prolactin, a combination that would result in a decrease in sex drive
(Signorello et al, 2002). Progesterone would cause depression, while
prolactin causes vaginal dryness, a combination that would make sex less
interesting and more hurtful and uncomfortable. In addition,
breastfeeding women may be uncomfortable about their bodies and the
changes that they may have experienced. Breastfeeding also introduces
quite a lot of touching on the woman, which has been shown to cause them
to be aroused (Riordan & Wambach, 2010). They may, therefore, derive
some intimacy from the same, in which case they would be unwilling to
endure more touching from their spouses or even have some penetration.
Lastly, breastfeeding may also cause some complications on the woman
especially in instances where the woman experiences pain or has cracks
on the breasts. Nevertheless, it takes more than one factor for
breastfeeding to reduce an woman’s sex drive, in which case it would
be imperative that medical attention is sought if the sex drive does not
resume after weaning off the child.
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Signorello LB, Harlow BL, Chekos AK & Repke JT, (2002). Postpartum
sexual functioning and its relationship to perineal trauma: a
retrospective cohort study of primiparous women. Am J Obstet
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Mabilia, M. (2005). Breast feeding and sexuality: Behaviour, beliefs and
taboos among the Gogo mothers in Tanzania. New York, NY [u.a.: Berghahn.
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Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
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book: The helpful, reassuring advice and practical information you need
for a comfortable and confident nursing experience. Avon, Mass: Adams

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