Women planning to breastfeed, and their partners, often worry about how nursing will affect their lives as a couple. In all honestly, any effect breastfeeding may have on intimate relationships pales in comparison to the effect of postpartum concerns and the general exhaustion and circumstances of new parenthood. That said, there are a few things that nursing mothers, in particular, should know.
While doctors may typically tell couples that they can return to intimate relations 6 weeks after the baby’s birth, that doesn’t mean women are ready. By 6 weeks, babies should still typically be feeding every 2-3 hours at night, whether breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, and most mothers are exhausted.
Intimacy after childbirth can also be anxiety-producing for new mothers who have had either surgical or traditional births. Partners would do well to be patient and not pressure mothers just because a doctor gives the “go ahead.” When mothers are both physically and emotionally ready, breastfeeding makes little real impact.
Some women prefer to keep the breasts out of bounds of intimate relations while still nursing. This can be due to actual physical sensitivity or discomfort, a psychological preference, or both. Because of related hormones, some women experience letdown of milk during arousal or climax, and so some women prefer to wear a bra or lingerie that keeps gentle pressure on the breasts (which inhibits letdown) and captures any milk.
Other women continue to experience pleasure related to breasts, or even have increased enjoyment. Some couples involve the breastmilk in their intimate relations. These decisions are really very personal, and physical factors differ from woman to woman, so couples may want to discuss boundaries and preferences in this regard so that everyone knows what to expect.
There are a couple other breastfeeding-related details that can be helpful to know. Low estrogen associated with breastfeeding can result in feminine dryness, so a personal lubricant may be desired. Also, breasts or nipples can become sore or especially sensitive around ovulation (see my related article on this subject, linked below), which is also the time women are most hormonally otherwise “in the mood.”
Finally, it is also important to note that while breastfeeding does decrease the likelihood of pregnancy, it is NOT a reliable form of contraception. Couples engaging in sex while breastfeeding should use another form of birth control if they want to avoid pregnancy. Not all forms of hormonal birth control are compatible with breastfeeding as they affect milk supply, so be sure to tell your doctor you are nursing if you pursue this option. Physical barriers, used correctly, are generally appropriate and effective.
If couples can be sure to keep lines of communication open and have some sense of what to expect, breastfeeding need have little impact on intimacy.