Yesterday, I set up a survey on the subject of sex and breastfeeding.
I’m speaking at the Association of Breastfeeding Mother’s conference in June on the subject and although surveys have been done before, I wanted a chance to gather some raw data of my own from women currently breastfeeding.
Inevitably it’s a sensitive subject. Men and women are out there now carving new roles for themselves as parents and working out how to meet the needs of everyone in the family at the same time. And they are tired. And sometimes sore.
And we don’t live in a world that has really got its head around breastfeeding and sexuality.
We encourage women to breastfeed but we blush at the idea that a breastfeeding woman can simultaneously be a sexual woman.
There are mothers feeling isolated and uncomfortable because they continue to feel their breasts are sexual while they are feeding. They worry something might be wrong with them.
There are mothers feeling isolated and uncomfortable because they can’t comfortably see themselves as sexual women while they are feeding. They worry something might be wrong with them.
Perhaps by talking about this a little bit more, we can realise what a huge range of ‘normal’ there is and maybe no one need feel alone.
We ask fathers to support breastfeeding unequivocally and we ask them to put their own needs and desires to one side for a while. Are they even allowed to express them? The views of fathers in a breastfeeding family are the subject of another survey.
For now, I’m focusing on breastfeeding mothers and in less than 24 hours, I’ve had 132 responses to the survey.
It was just over a year ago when I took a call from one particular breastfeeding mother. She was still feeding her 18 month old and they were co-sleeping. She wanted to talk about sex. My immediate assumption was that her partner was uncomfortable with the situation, sex was infrequent and she was looking for ways to try and resurrect their sex life for his benefit. Perhaps she was struggling with her libido. I made all these assumptions in a micro-second.
But in fact, SHE was desperately unhappy with the amount of sex her and her husband were managing to have. And she wanted support with night weaning so she was less tired in the evenings.
Because at the moment, they were only managing to have sex about once a week and they were both completely miserable.
There’s a big range of normal.
Of the 132 women who have so far responded: woman aged 31-35 make up 34.8% of the respondents.
26% are 25-30.
25% are 36-40.
I first asked how long they had been breastfeeding and I’m only focusing on those currently breastfeeding as I’m not sure our memories can be entirely reliable if we’re looking back after our breastfeeding experience has finished.
A lot of my followers on Twitter are breastfeeding beyond 12 months which may not represent the average experience of the general population but I think provides some interesting insight into how breastfeeding might affect sex in the longer term. A lot of the initial response probably came through Twitter.
14% are still feeding at 3 yrs+.
Overall 47% were still feeding beyond 12 months and the rest were scattered in the age groups below 12 months.
5 women had been breastfeeding less than a month.
I asked how long after the birth of their most recent baby they had resumed having sex. It was completely up to the individual woman how she chose to define sex.
30% had had sex before their 6 week check-up.
67% had started having sex again by the time their baby was 3 months old.
89% had restarted by the time their baby was 6 months old. And of course, a chunk of respondents had babies younger than this and had yet to restart.
How did the women feel breastfeeding had affected their libido? Predictably the majority, 63%, said their libido was lower but felt this was about new parenthood and not necessarily about breastfeeding. Tiredness was a theme that came up again and again in the comments.
20% felt their libido was the same as before they were breastfeeding.
And 15% felt their libido was lower because of breastfeeding.
How often are breastfeeding mothers having sex?
1% every day.
14% more than twice a week.
23% about once a week.
20% more than once a month.
29% less than once a month.
And how often do breastfeeding mothers initiate sex? 35% never initiate it. 65% do.
How do breastfeeding women feel about their breasts being touched during sex?
29.8% prefer not. 24% aren’t sure about nipples being touched. 22% say ‘any breast contact is popular’.
I then asked women how they felt their partners’ views about sex had changed now that they were breastfeeding. The vast majority felt there was no change. A small group felt their partner was more enthusiastic (sometimes due to increased breast size). A small group felt their partner was wary of touching their breasts and concerned about triggering a letdown ( a milk ejection reflex).
Some women were unhappy their breasts were being touched less and wished their partners were less reticent. Some women preferred their breasts not to be touched and were also wary about milk appearing.
Are breastfeeding women happy with their sex life?
9% say ‘Yes, very’.
39% say ‘Yes, pretty much’.
39% say ‘No, I wish I had sex more often’.
2% say ‘No, I wish I had sex less often’.
12% are unhappy for other reasons.
And how has being a breastfeeding mother affected their feelings about their self-image and their body? Some typical quotes:
I love it more than ever, I respect the magic of being a woman much more and I know I'm a goddess
I don't think BFing has changed it. But pregnancy did. I was happy with it during pregnancy, but now weight 20 pounds more than before, and my tummy looks deflated and lumpy.
It's actually made me feel more sensual
Breastfeeding has been a positive factor. My libido has crashed due to PND [Post-Natal depression].
I feel more powerful & strong, and this confidence makes me feel sexier.
I feel flabby, droopy and unattractive despite my partners reassurances. I'm sure I'd feel more like having sex if my baby slept for more than 2hrs together!
I love my breasts and that they are feeding my baby. I don't like my post baby body. I don't know how much of my aversion to sex is from birth trauma and how much is due to breastfeeding.
I feel more comfortable about not being perfect.
Feel pleased with myself that I’ve managed it for so long but often get 'touched out'. Body shape is ok, much like pre birth. Be nice if attractive nursing bras didn’t require a second mortgage.
I love it my breasts are very slightly bigger than before and I feel very womanly.
I see myself as a mother before anything else, and my leaking breasts reaffirm this. I do not feel at all sexy or sexual.
I'm overweight, with big saggy old boobs. Breast feeding makes me feel that my body is doing great things, even if it doesn't look it's best. It's the best thing about my body at the moment
103 women responded to the question about self-image. 66 either said breastfeeding had not affected their self-image or expressed positive feelings about their breastfeeding body – pride, self-confidence, a sense of womanliness. 37 felt more negatively about their body and their self-image.
I hope more women will respond to the survey. It’s completely anonymous and I have no way of tracing the respondents. At the conference, I will be speaking to a lot of breastfeeding counsellors, breastfeeding supporters and healthcare professionals. We all benefit from knowing more about how breastfeeding mothers are really feeling.
And as breastfeeding mothers, we benefit from not feeling alone and from knowing that there is almost certainly someone out there somewhere who feels the same as we do.
You can find the survey here: