Breastfeeding is great when it comes to feeding and bonding with your baby, but it can take a negative toll on other areas of your life. For example, sex. What used to be an enjoyable activity for you and your partner might be feel uncomfortable or just downright awful if you're breastfeeding. Before you give up on sex forever (or until your kid isn't breastfeeding anymore), know that it's completely normal and, in most cases, it can be fixed. So why does breastfeeding make sex hurt? Blame your lovely hormones.
"Breastfeeding makes your estrogen levels plummet within the first 48 hours after giving birth," Dr. Sherry A. Ross, author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period tells Romper in an interview. She says it's a lot like menopause, complete with hot flashes and drench-your-pajamas-sweat. "Hormonal chaos has begun that lowers your estrogen levels while elevating your prolactin levels, (prolactin being the hormone that stimulates milk production) which prepare your body for breastfeeding." This sharp dive in estrogen following birth immediately causes your vagina to be thinner, less elastic, inflamed, and more prone to injury, according to Healthline. Additionally, "there's less blood flow to the vagina, resulting in a decrease in vaginal lubrication," Ross explains. "Dryness, irritation, burning, itching, painful urination and painful intercourse are common symptoms." Again this may sound like an awful side effect of breastfeeding, but it's definitely not uncommon (nor hopeless).
Many women experience pain during sex while breastfeeding, but because of cultural taboos it hasn't been talked about as much until now. Thankfully more women are speaking up and talking to their doctors about it. At six weeks postpartum "it’s reported that 50 to 60 percent of women suffer from painful sex, and a third of women will continue to have symptoms three months after delivery," Ross says. To repeat, that is roughly half of postpartum women experiencing pain during sex. Ross says painful intercourse, clinically known as dyspareunia, can happen to breastfeeding women and women who choose not to breastfeed (although on a lesser level). It's all part of the postpartum package.
Many breastfeeding women may find that they are mostly at the mercy of haywire hormones, however, that doesn't mean there's nothing they can do. A little lube can go a long way. "With time, patience and a little KY jelly, the physical and emotional challenges of breastfeeding and low estrogen will definitely improve," Ross says.
Additionally, you and your partner may think about taking a break from sex and trying again when you're feeling better. Your partner should understand if you communicate to them how you're feeling. Or, you may find pleasure in non-penetrative sex and new positions. It can't hurt to explore (but by all means if it hurts, stop what you're doing and make modifications).
Just because sex hurts now doesn't mean it will forever. As you can see, painful sex while breastfeeding is very normal and nothing to be ashamed of. Eventually, this season of your life will pass and you will be able to experience pleasure with your partner again. Listening to your body and being gentle with yourself will go a long way towards your physical and emotional recovery following child birth.