You and Your Partner: How to Maintain Intimacy While Breastfeeding
It's totally normal - and even expected - for relationship dynamics between you and your partner to change once your little one arrives! Here are some ways to maintain intimacy - and keep the romance alive - even with a baby at home.
Maintaining a Healthy Relationship with Your Partner While Breastfeeding
Once your new baby is brought home and you begin breastfeeding, it’s completely normal – and even expected – for intimacy to take a temporary nosedive. After all, you’re recovering from birth (and per doctor’s orders, you can’t be intimate for at least 6 weeks after), nobody is getting much sleep, and your newborn has a lot of needs – like diapering and nursing – that need to be attended to often throughout the day and night. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that sex is the last thing on anyone’s mind!
While some women see a gradual uptick in intimacy with their partners after they’re cleared from their doctor for certain activities or as they begin to wean, what happens if your breastfeeding relationship extends beyond your baby’s first birthday and as they near 2 or 3 years old? The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for your baby’s first six months of life, continuing to breastfeed alongside complementary foods until he or she is two years old or beyond. Don’t worry, mama – Balancing a breastfeeding relationship with your little one and an intimate relationship with your partner is entirely possible and you can maintain intimacy while breastfeeding! Though this may look a little different than it did during your “before baby” life, knowing the ways that breastfeeding can affect this aspect of your relationship is important to successfully resolving any challenges and ensuring the healthiest partnership possible.
Remember, your little one can often sense when there is strain between his or her parents. So, don’t feel guilty about dedicating some occasional time for just you and your partner – babies and kids thrive with happy parents!
- Hormone fluctuations while breastfeeding can cause decreased sex drive. Prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production, is greatly increased while breastfeeding. In turn, that lowers your estrogen and testosterone (which is also found in women) levels – both of which play a large role in intimate desire and overall libido. Though hormonal changes are mostly out of your control and this can make it extra-difficult to maintain intimacy while breastfeeding, know that your hormones will start shifting closer to “pre-pregnancy” levels as your little one eats more solid foods and eventually transitions to getting most of their nourishment and calories from solids – rather than nursing. During this time, you may notice your libido gradually returning.
- You might be feeling “over” being touched all the time. Breastfeeding is both mentally and physically demanding. Some women love providing nourishment produced just for their little one, others grapple with the fact that their body no longer feels like their own, and some have conflicting emotions where they may feel a certain way one day and totally different the next! This frequent skin-to-skin time can leave moms feeling depleted at the end of the day and craving quiet alone time – definitely without someone else touching them or wanting something from them.
Instead of looking at intimacy from the lens of “just another task” – albeit one to keep your partner happy – try looking at it as special time for the just the two of you that makes you both happy and comforted, while maintaining a healthy relationship and fostering a close bond. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask to be touched in a different way – after all, your body is different now so finding new ways to become intimate can be both helpful and exciting.
- Feeling self-conscious about your post-baby body or accidental leakage is totally normal. Give yourself time and patience, mama – though for some women it can be hard to feel attractive while breastfeeding a baby or toddler, your body did (and is doing!) an amazing thing. Chances are, you’ve noticed your body changing almost as much during the first couple of postpartum years as you did during your prenatal journey! By reframing your thinking to instead view your body as a wonderful, magical thing that sheltered, grew, delivered, and is now feeding and nourishing your little one, you can start to feel confident and in love with your body again.
Accidental breast milk leakage is also common, no matter where you may be in your breastfeeding journey. This is mainly because the same hormone – oxytocin – is responsible for both milk letdown and feelings during sexual intimacy. As your little one transitions to a diet of mostly solid foods, your body will naturally adjust to this change by producing less breast milk. This can minimize incidents of leakage during intimacy, but remember – life is not a romance novel. Part of what makes sex with your partner so special is being able to embrace, and even laugh about, its imperfections. So, throw out the nerves! Breastfeeding and sex are two of the most natural things in the world, and these situations can be simply chalked up to biology – no big deal!
If you are still producing significant volumes of breast milk for your older baby or toddler or just don’t want to risk leaking, try pumping beforehand to fully empty your breasts prior to intimacy, request that nipple stimulation – which can trigger letdown – is not part of any intimacy for now, and/or wear a comfortable bra outfitted with disposable nursing pads during sex.
- Having a little one is honestly just really tiring too – and they don’t always have the best timing! As your baby gets older and becomes a toddler, that often means lots of activities, running around (literally), and keeping an eye on him or her constantly to ensure they don’t get into something they shouldn’t. As much fun as it can be to watch them grow and spend a lot of time playing and discovering things together, it can also be exhausting! By the time your little one goes down for the evening, you and your partner are probably just as equally tired out – and sleep is usually prioritized over any intimate time together. Whether you’re still waking overnight for a nighttime nursing session or are up to feed your little one as soon as he or she is awake, less energy almost always equals less desire for intimacy.
Instead of trying to do it all – like cleaning while your little one is napping or meal-prepping after he or she goes down for the night – give yourself some slack and use that time to catch up on those precious ZZZ’s or spend some one-on-one time with your partner. Thinking of intimacy as another form of self-care – just like that bubble bath or sneaking out for a mani/pedi – may help you prioritize it differently.
Finally, it’s no secret that kids don’t always have the best timing or sense of boundaries – in fact, right as things are starting to heat up, he or she may wake up for comfort or an unexpected feeding, they may arise an hour earlier than usual and make a beeline straight for your bedroom door, or they might have a fussier-than-usual day that exhausts both you and your partner and effectively eliminates any plans for intimate time later. Through it all, try to maintain a sense of humor about these things! Work consistently with your toddler on learning and understanding boundaries and, if nothing else, make plans one weekend evening to have him or her stay with a relative or babysitter so you and your partner can have the cozy date night you’ve been needing!
Getting used to your new normal with a growing little one often means adjustment in all aspects of life, including intimacy. With a little dedication and balance, you and your partner can find new ways to maintain intimacy while breastfeeding – Ensuring that you two are growing together through these new phases of life will ultimately bring you both closer together than ever before. Finding ways to reconnect that don’t have to include intimacy – whether it’s cooking your favorite recipe together, making a pact to put the phones and tablets away after your little one goes to bed, or simply remembering to occasionally touch each other by hugging or holding hands – can go a long way towards reestablishing an intimate relationship, even with a little one to breastfeed and chase after throughout the day! Life with a baby or toddler (or both!) definitely requires balance, but you and your partner are resilient. You’ve got this!