How breastfeeding can affect your libido

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 Photo: Getty Images

When you've just had a baby, having sex isn't usually top priority. In fact, for a lot of women it rates about as appealing as changing another dirty nappy.

But it's not just the adjustment to motherhood and the subsequent tiredness that lowers our desire for sex: for some women, it can also be linked to breastfeeding.

"Before I became pregnant, my husband and I had sex all the time," says Katrina North*. "During my pregnancy, it slowed down to about once a week, but once I had my baby and was breastfeeding, we never had sex."

North says that she wasn't even remotely interested, and found it really hard to think of herself as sexy in any way. She also says that having her daughter in the room and feeding her in the night was a mood killer.

"I was providing 24/7 for this new baby and sex was the furthest thing from my mind," she explains. "I also experienced vaginal dryness which meant that on the odd occasion we did try to have sex, it hurt anyway."

It wasn't until she had weaned her daughter off the night feed that North's period returned – and with it came the return of her sex drive.

"It was a relief for me and my husband – although he had been understanding about it, as we'd spoken openly and acknowledged that it was just a phase," she says.

It's been a similar situation for Kristy Thorn*, who is still breastfeeding her 7-month-old.

"I noticed that my sex drive completely died when I started breastfeeding as it took all of my energy," she says. "Any spare time I had I wanted to sleep, and wearing nursing bras, breast pads and clothes that allowed me to feed didn't make me feel sexy."

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Thorn says that initially the excitement of having a baby overshadowed any concerns about their sex life, but she admits to feeling sad after about six weeks.

"I felt even less like my old self because we were having sex so infrequently, whereas, before we had our daughter, we had sex at least three times a week."

Like North, Thorn says that her husband has been very supportive and respects that things have changed. Despite this, she's keen to get her sex drive back on track – but acknowledges it may not be the case until her daughter is weaned.

According to sex therapist Desiree Spierings, it's very common for libido to diminish during breastfeeding, for a number of factors.

"A woman's skin hunger has been more than satisfied by having a newborn hanging off her all day long," explains Spierings. "So the last thing she might feel like is having her partner touch her at night."

"Then there are the hormonal changes; there's an increase in prolactin, which is needed for lactation and suppresses ovulation. It also tells your sex drive to turn away because it's about preventing pregnancy during this time, gearing your body towards survival of the new baby with providing the best nutrition."

Spierings adds that oestrogen is also lowered during this time, causing vaginal dryness which can make sex uncomfortable or painful.

A reduction in libido can last until your body is starting to produce the hormones needed for a regular menstrual cycle again.

"This varies from woman to woman and depends on several factors, mostly related to frequency of breast feeding," says Spierings.

So is there anything we can do in the meantime to keep the spark alive?

"It's very important to explain these changes to your partner, and tell them that it's normal that your sex drive diminishes when breastfeeding," advises Spierings. "Additionally, you could try and plan 'bridges', which are non-threatening intimate moments which could serve as a bridge to more – but even on their own are lovely to enjoy."

These 'bridges' can include snuggling on the couch together, giving each other a sensual massage, or having a bath or shower together.

"It's important to remember that with desire 'when you don't use it, you'll lose it' – and the opposite is also true," Spierings says. "Once we start being physical with one another it can kick start our response desire. After some touching, caressing or kissing, we may feel like more after all."

Spierings says that communication at this time is very important. She suggests asking your partner how they feel and how they are coping with the changes, and sharing how you feel too.

"Have regular check-ins about how you both feel with any changes that a new baby might bring. Having an open dialogue can prevent further relationship issues." 

As an alternative to sex, Spierings suggests the following to keep the spark alive during this time:

  • use words - tell them you love them, find them attractive
  • surprise them - cook a lovely meal
  • arrange quality time - go to the movies or for a romantic dinner/picnic together
  • give small tokens or gifts - buy your partner their favourite chocolate or ice cream and enjoy it together.