Question: I have a two year old son and a seven month old baby girl who is still breastfeeding. She started solids last month, but still nurses a lot day and night.
Here’s my problem: I have practically no sex drive anymore, and it’s causing problems in my marriage. I love my husband, but we keep getting in arguments over this because I am never in the mood.
I asked my OB-Gyn about it, and he says it’s normal for a mom with two kids under three to lose interest in sex.
Easy for him to say, but my husband just doesn’t understand. He says that I should try harder to get in the mood, and he resents the fact that I’m tired and touched out all the time. Sometimes I think he’s a little bit jealous of the time I spend nursing her.
He said that if I stopped breastfeeding, maybe my interest in making love would come back. I love nursing and don’t want to wean my little girl so early, but I’m at my rope’s end.
Answer: Based on decades of work with nursing mothers as well as my personal experience with nursing six babies, I don’t think that the problems that women experience with sexual responsiveness after giving birth have as much to with physical changes that occur due to lactation but with a combination of many other factors.
Having a baby changes everything, including the sexual relationship. Many mothers report a decrease in libido after childbirth, due to a combination of factors including fatigue, physical changes (episiotomies, altered body image due to weight gain and stretch marks, breast tenderness, leaking), in addition to the abrupt change in roles from that of sexual partner to sexual partner and mother.
Breastfeeding does impact sexuality in certain ways that formula feeding does not. Decreased production of estrogen during lactation may decrease vaginal lubrication and make intercourse uncomfortable (using a water based vaginal lubricant like KY Jelly can help solve this problem).
More frequent night feedings may that the baby is in the parent’s room or in their bed, and may inhibit sexual expression, especially during the early weeks of nursing.
Nursing mothers who are emotionally as well as physically attached to their babies for hours every day may feel “touched out” by the time dad comes home after work. They may be less interested in sex during this time of intense physical closeness with their nursing baby.
On the other hand, some nursing mothers actually experience an enhanced libido while they are nursing. Their breasts are full and rounded, they are happier and more fulfilled than they have ever been in their lives, they are protected against pregnancy (during the early months of exclusive breastfeeding) and are freed from worry about using birth control.
For many mothers, successfully using their breasts to nurture their new baby is a very positive and liberating experience, and opens them up to enhanced sensuality and sexual responsiveness. Some men are stimulated by the rounder, fuller breast and enjoy the taste of the milk as a natural part of foreplay. Others are very uncomfortable with the idea that the breasts that used to “belong” to him now “belong” to the baby and are off-limits. This may cause resentment and jealousy.
There is absolutely no evidence that weaning your baby will increase your interest in sex, and if you wean before you and your baby are ready (remember, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least the first year of life), then you may feel guilty and resentful about being pressured into making a decision that you aren’t comfortable with – especially if it doesn’t help.
You and your husband need to openly discuss this issue. Men really don’t have any understanding of what it is like to have a job where you are on call 24/7 for extended periods of time without any real breaks. Of course you are tired, and are focusing on just making it through the day without losing your mind, and he may not really ‘get’ that.
It’s perfectly normal for your libido to be low during this period of intensive child rearing, especially when you have two babies to take care of. When the first baby arrives, you have the luxury of napping when the baby naps, and working your schedule around the baby. When the second comes along, all that is out the window. You’re spread very thin, and no matter what you or how hard you try, you feel that you are shortchanging someone: the baby, the toddler, your partner, and yourself. You are only human, and you are doing one of the toughest jobs in the world: parenting.
You (and your husband) need to realize that this time of intense need will not last forever, even though when you are in the middle of it, it feels that way, and that you will have more alone time and more energy for and interest in sex when your children are a little older and less dependent on you.
In the meantime, try to find ways to be alone with him. Some couples set aside one night a week for a date night and leave the kids with a sitter or trade off with a friend with young children. For others, a date night might mean chilling out on the sofa and watching a grown up movie on Netflix when the kids go to sleep (if you can stay awake that long).
Talk to him about what turns you on. Be creative. You can’t expect it to just suddenly happen spontaneously. Try candles, music, back rubs, him brushing your hair, taking showers together, lots and lots of foreplay, watching porn movies, or whatever trips your trigger. You may have to force yourself at first, but if he is sensitive to your needs and willing to take it slowly, you may be surprised at how you respond.
Maintaining an active sex life after children is always a challenge, regardless of whether you are nursing or not. Most mothers do go through stages like this, and the key is open communication and both of you being willing to work at it.
You might also want to consider counselling if this is becoming a huge, stressful issue for you, but in my experience, most men would rather be castrated than talk to a therapist about their sex lives.
I wish I had an easy answer for you, but there just isn’t one. I have had six children, and have been exactly where you are, so I do understand how upsetting this is for both of you.
I do wish you all the best, and remember, this stage won’t last forever – I promise.
Anne Smith, IBCLC