World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated in the first week of August., and much has been published on social networks about its benefits for mother and child, how to overcome difficulties and, even, the right of women to breastfeed in public has been claimed without this constituting a crime – until very recently it was in many states in the United States, and still is in many places and countries. However, in this article we don’t want to talk about it but about how breastfeeding affects female sexuality.
Female sexuality after childbirth is very complex and its knowledge still has gaps. It is full of myths and its approach is a challenge for health professionals and women at this stage.
The knowledge of the factors that can influence this phase is essential to understand and respond to possible dysfunctions that can appear in the puerperium, or simply understand the changes that occur in the weeks following the birth of the child in terms of sexuality.
Is breastfeeding a factor affecting sexual function?
To date there are few studies that shed light on the subject, but let’s see how breastfeeding can influence female sexuality and women’s erotic life:
We know that postpartum itself is a hormonal roller coaster, and specifically, breastfeeding is characterized by a very particular hormonal state which helps it to maintain itself, but which affects women in various areas; one of them is sexual.
Low estrogen levels mean that there is little vaginal lubrication and, therefore, if no lubricant is used during intercourse, it is painful. Moreover, it appears that high levels of oxytocin may be related to lower libido in women. Also, prolactin, which is also elevated, is associated with low sex drive.
As we have seen before, this is mainly due to hormonal factors; However, it is easily fixed with lubricants. But beware, not all are worth and lubricate the same way. Some, especially water-based or mucus-based ones, may be lubricating at first, but soon evaporate, leaving the same dryness at first, so that the friction involved in intercourse can cause pain to the woman and even irritation.
By this word we mean the pain during intercourse with penetration; it is also sometimes called coitalgia. It seems that when comparing bottle-feeding women, it is the latter who score higher in terms of pain during intercourse, regardless of the type of birth they have had. And it also seems to last as long as breastfeeding lasts.
It is not only influenced by hormonal factors, but also many of the changes that occur in the postpartum period can affect a woman’s desire for sex puerperal, such as role changes, the constant dependence of the child on the mother, feelings of insecurity, of bonding with the child, the lack of spontaneity that characterizes the postpartum period (in which we are at the expense of the little time that the child allows us to share moments of intimacy with our partners…).
Although much of the above changes can be extrapolated to women who opt for bottle feeding, scores on female sexual function indices assessing the object of desire are generally lower in breastfeeding women.
Breastfeeding women may experience changes in their image; for example, larger breasts and larger areolas, with continuous milk secretion or increased pigmentation. Breasts go from being an erotic object to our little one’s energy source. Also, for many women they are very sensitive which makes them uncomfortable when touched.
During breastfeeding many women gain weight and body fat is distributed in a very particular way, with predominance in the hips, so they may not recognize themselves in the mirror. These changes, which are sustained during breastfeeding, can make women feel unsexy and thus affect female sexuality.
Due to the multiple awakenings that the mother has to meet the baby’s feeding demand, it seems so nursing mothers are more at risk of sleep deprivation than non-breastfeeding mothers, which according to a study could directly affect sexual relationships. Many women need to rest before having intimate encounters with their partners; Obviously, lack of sleep affects sexual relations.
A study published in 2018 concludes that the number of night awakenings to breastfeed the baby would have a direct and negative influence on a woman’s sexual function; while no differences emerged in those whose babies woke up little and nursed preferentially during the day compared to those who opted for artificial feeding.
Female sexuality is cyclical and very complex, being influenced by multiple factors. Knowing them and knowing how they can influence us can help anticipate and respect the changes that can modify the female sexual response in the different phases of life, one of which is the breastfeeding period.
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