When you finally start having sex again after you give birth, it feels like it should be a relief. After all, you've been denied the experience for months by that point. So when you find sex uncomfortable, you're justifiably upset, and probably confused. But does breastfeeding make sex painful? Let's look at the facts.
Resuming your sex life after having a baby is difficult even in the best of circumstances. After all, your body has changed in fundamental ways, and whether you delivered vaginally or via C- section, things just aren't the same. "There are hormonal shifts during pregnancy and lactation that may contribute to some vaginal dryness, but this is not always the case," lactation consultant Leigh Anne O'Connor tells Romper. As Dr. Jessica MacLeod of Renaissance Women’s Group told the Women's Health Texas blog, "Breastfeeding causes lower estrogen in a way that is similar to what postmenopausal women experience even though they’re not menopausal. It also causes vaginal tissue to become thinner and can also cause discomfort."
The decrease in estrogen production required for adequate breast milk production means that the body isn't going to produce the same amount of lubrication that it would during your pregnancy or when you're not pregnant or breastfeeding, noted the International Society for Sexual Medicine. But O'Connor notes that with the addition of proper lubrication (like Astroglide), you can ameliorate the problems created by vaginal dryness.
On top of all the hormonally-induced challenges to contend with, there is the added mental and physical stress of having a new baby to care for. It makes sense that things wouldn't immediately return to the way they were before you had a baby — if indeed they ever do — which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
I breastfed my children for over 19 months each, and while things improved as my children required me less and less for their sustenance, my body didn't respond in the same way as before I began breastfeeding until quite a while after they weaned. To be honest, I really wasn't prepared for just how much breastfeeding would impact my sex life. It isn't something that was discussed at the baby classes, or brought up by my doctor.
Instead, it was something I learned from my friends. Whispers about how sex was different when they were breastfeeding, frank discussions about vaginas going from Old Faithful to The Sahara overnight. Moms talking to each other about casual disinterest in sex postpartum is how I learned. I didn't know that breastfeeding makes sex painful for some women, even though logically, it makes sense. Everything comes back to hormones when it comes to childbirth and breastfeeding, so why wouldn't the two be related?
If you're experiencing serious discomfort, talk to your provider, they might have more interventions they can try and tips they can give. And don't despair: Remember that this problem is temporary, and can be treated.
Leigh Anne O'Connor, lactation consultant