Why is sex painful when you're breastfeeding?
By Emma McGowan
Giving birth is one of the most transformative things that can happen to a human’s body. You go through nine months of an entire human growing inside of you, followed by at least a year of disrupted sleep and hormones and, you know, an entire new role that you’re now playing. Your body parts are doing things they’ve never done before; your shape is different; even your hair has changed!
So, yeah — it makes complete sense that sex will change, too. There’s the obvious issues with healing, whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or a C-section. But many people also experience painful sex while they’re breastfeeding (chestfeeding/bodyfeeding).
What’s that about? Obviously your boobs/chest aren’t directly involved with your genitals, so why would breastfeeding (chestfeeding/bodyfeeding) make it harder to get it on? Let’s take a look.
It’s all about the hormones, baby
The number one reason sex is often painful during breastfeeding (chestfeeding/bodyfeeding) is… drumroll please… hormones! Your hormones are doing wild, wild things right after you have a baby.
First: Immediately after giving birth, your estrogen drops harder than a Beyonce solo album. Estrogen is responsible for vaginal elasticity, lubrication, and even thickness. That means when you don’t have enough of it, you’re likely to experience less lubrication, increased risk of vaginal tearing, and itchiness.
None of which sound like a great setup for a sexy night, right?
And estrogen isn’t the only hormone at play! Your body is also releasing higher levels of oxytocin and prolactin. Oxytocin is sometimes called the “love hormone” because it encourages bonding between humans. Prolactin is the hormone that stimulates the production of milk, although it can also increase with other types of nipple stimulation, and it helps lower your stress response.
With both of those hormones coursing through your post-pregnancy body, you might feel like all of your intimacy needs are being met by breastfeeding (chestfeeding/bodyfeeding). That can lead to a decrease in sexual desire, because your brain isn’t seeking out those hormones the way it normally would.
However, for some people, the increase in those hormones actually leads to a greater desire for intimacy with their partner. Like so many things related to sex, your mileage may vary.
And also: new boobs
The other big factor that might cause painful sex during breastfeeding (chestfeeding/bodyfeeding) is more about the boobs/chest themselves. More specifically: They’re definitely bigger than they used to be. While some people find the increased chest size makes them feel more attractive, others are like “Ugh, can we get these off of me, please?”
And unless you and your partner were into 24/7 nipple play, your chest is also likely getting a lot more physical touch than you’re used to. They might be chapped, sore, and swollen, which greatly decreases the likelihood that you’re going to want them touched outside of breastfeeding (chestfeeding/bodyfeeding).
That’s totally fine! If you’re not feeling up to sexual boob/chest play — or even having your partner press against them or letting them bounce during sex — then you absolutely do not have to engage in it. Let your partner know that it’s a look-but-don’t-touch situation for a while and know that it’s likely your interest in your boobs/chest as an erogenous zone will return once there isn’t a baby hanging off them all day (unless chest/nipple play isn’t your thing in general).
You don’t have to have intercourse
Finally, if you’re finding that sex hurts while you’re breastfeeding (chestfeeding/bodyfeeding), you might want to consider broadening your definition of “sex.” So many people think that sex is defined as penetration, but penetrative sex is not the only kind of sex out there. As sex advice columnist and Dan Savage loves to say: “Sex” is literally the last name of “oral sex.”
If painful penetrative sex is a problem, use this time to uncover other forms of intimacy with your partner. You can masturbate together. You can have oral sex. You can do stuff to their body, even if you’re not feeling up to them doing stuff to your body. (But only if that kind of giving gives you pleasure!) There are so, so many ways to stay physically intimate without anything entering your body. So if sexual intimacy is important to you, you can absolutely still keep it going while you’re breastfeeding.
You also don’t have to be sexually intimate at all! If you’re just not feeling it, that’s totally okay. Remember: your body has been through a lot. Communicate with your partner about how you’re feeling and know that it’s very likely your libido will come back once you’re out of this stage of new parenthood.