Last week, I started talking about the Five Things No One Tells You about Breastfeeding. But we only got through #1 and 2! Let’s finish what we started, shall we?
3. Breastfeeding and Your Sex Drive Are in Competition with One Another, but You *Can* Get Your Libido Revving.
Ah, hormones. Or as my mom calls them, horror-mones.
While your doctor may have given you the green light for sex—and your partner may be champing at the bit to get back to it—you, breastfeeding mama, might not be wanting it. At all. And why is that? Hormones. Namely, the hormone prolactin, which is a libido-inhibiting hormone that becomes elevated as pregnancy progresses and stays
elevated throughout breastfeeding.
Once you become pregnant and give birth, you have successfully completed one cycle of our biological need, that is, to contribute to the continuation of our human species. And once you breastfeed, your body doesn’t want you to get pregnant again, at least not right away.
No, it wants you to focus on your baby’s needs. So that biological need to procreate is dampened…which means your sex drive (the thing that makes you want to procreate like a mad woman) is dampened as well. Even orgasms can be less intense or prolific during this time.
But that’s not forever.
Once menstruation restarts and hormones shift back to pre-pregnancy levels and, yes, as you begin the weaning process, your sex drive will return, the seismic orgasms will return.
But besides the sexual aspect, it can be hard to reconnect physically with your spouse for other reasons, such as being “touched out,” aka holding a baby nonstop, being covered in milk, sweat, and spit up, just wanting some time alone before someone else needs something from you. Also, it can be difficult to enjoy a sexual relationship with your husband as it can seem almost mundane compared to the spiritual and otherworldly joy of being a mother. That’s certainly how I felt for a long time. I fell in absolute love with my firstborn and I really had eyes for no one else, including my husband. This caused some unnecessary strife. At the time, we were atheists and had no rooting in anything to help us through this together, as a couple, as God intended. Looking back, and now having converted to Catholicism, my solution for this lack of libido postpartum is twofold:
- Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body
God created man into male and female, to be joined together becoming one flesh from the two. God intends us to be united with our spouse in a way that celebrates His original design. But we can’t simply be united bodily because when we unite our bodies are joining together in a way that fulfills their natural state. To create life. Which, if you’re reading it, is probably something you’ve already done.
While you bide your time until the procreative desires return, the unitive aspects of a sexual relationship can strengthen the bond you and your husband have.
Now, this means that if you’re having sex, you need to be open to new life. And while breastfeeding can offer a natural contraceptive until your baby is beginning to eat food (not just breastmilk – so around the age of six months), this could mean the blessing of Irish twins (or near-Irish twins)! With exclusive breastfeeding, nighttime nursing sessions, regular pumping sessions while away from my babies, and the introduction of solid food at six months – and not sooner – I personally have not gotten my menstruation, and thus fertility, back until my children were anywhere from 10-14 months old.
Theology of the Body fundamentally changed my knowledge and feelings about marital and postpartum sex, and about sex in general. It truly has been life-changing. Easy to read and relatively short, I highly HIGHLY recommend anyone and everyone to give it a read. I can’t do it justice in this short space. It really puts a greater beauty and meaning into the sexual act, as well as what it really means to be human.
4. You Need (the Right Kind of) Nursing Help.
The Internet is a beautiful thing – so much information is readily available. All you have to do is a quick search and literally millions of resource will come back. But that is also a really scary thing because those resources could be unreliable, fear-mongering and downright wrong.
I found out early on in my pregnancy that my placenta had formed anteriorly, that is in the front of my uterus, near the cervix. Thankfully it never covered my cervix and gradually moved further up as I progressed. In a Google search for an anterior placenta, I came across some forums of women who were in the same boat as me and who’d experienced excruciating back labor or had to get an emergency Caesarean. Forum comment after comment was filled with warnings of pain and feelings of fear. I didn’t sleep that night. And then the next day, I took a step back and decided to not look at that stuff anymore. I needed sleep more than I needed to feel scared. I also realized that if I really wanted good information about that topic, then I needed to get it from the right sources.
Websites like Baby Center or Parents.com, they’re great for fun baby progress charts or looking for the meanings of names or getting inspiration for nursery décor, but these websites and most magazines are made to entertain, not inform. So if you want information, you need to find reliable informative resources. The same goes for people who want to give you advice. I have a few friends who were moms of young kids and weren’t shy about answering any of my pregnancy questions. I valued their opinions, and I appreciated how honest—but not dour—they were about a
variety of pregnancy and new mom topics. They made me feel less crazy at the times when I felt really crazy. They listened, they cared, and they had recently gone through a lot of the same stuff. I couldn’t have asked for a better support crew.
On the other hand, I would get a lot of unwanted advice from coworkers or strangers – people I didn’t know much about, including their parenting styles. These people were always the most aggressive about giving me their opinion. Even some family members were pains about it.
So my advice to you is this: Listen to your intuition, find the resources you trust, and empower yourself. Ignore the rest. Ignore the fear. Your baby is with you, (s)he’s happy and you’ll find a way through whatever the mess is that you’re currently going through.
Here are some of the resources that I value the most. They are few, but, like friends, you don’t need lots of resources, you just need a few great ones.
- Kellymom.com – This website is an EXCELLENT website, aggregating blog posts, articles from nurses, doctors, and health organizations, and many other resources to give you an in-depth look at breastfeeding. Other aspects of motherhood and raising children are included, but that isn’t the focus. Straight forward, no nonsense, and not militant or fear-mongering. Lots of facts, lots of insights. I can’t say enough great things
about this site. (Their Facebook fan page is great, too).
- AskDrSears.com – Dr. Sears’ website is chock full of information, from conception through childhood and beyond. He, his wife, and children have been in the business of healthcare for decades, and the depth and breadth of their knowledge is astounding.
- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding – I give this book to all of my pregnant friends, but I do give it to them with a caveat – they are very adamant on a completely natural birth, which I think is certainly preferable, but they
take it a little too far at times in their insistence. Natural births aren’t an option for everyone, everyone is on their own path, and I don’t think instilling fear in a mom is a good idea. That said, the book is great for
providing the A to Z’s of breastfeeding and for supporting a mother’s choice to embrace breastfeeding.
- The Baby Book – Dr. Sears and his family have been in the “baby business” for decades and have scientific understanding paired with anecdotal evidence for their suggestions. This book covers much more than
breastfeeding and is a wonderful resource for moms.
- As I said before, a king-sized bed may very well be the best piece of baby gear you can get. The concept of the family bed is both ancient and international.
- I’ve tried A LOT of different baby carriers, and the one that has been the most comfortable for my babies and the easiest to use has been, by far, the Baby K’tan. A friend bought it for me and now I buy it for others. It’s as easy as slipping an infinity scarf over your neck; it’s secure, and it’s comfy for baby and mom. Babywearing is a necessary mom- and dad-activity so you might as well make it easy on yourself.
5. You Can’t Expect that You’ll Automatically Shed Pounds Just Because You’re Breastfeeding.
How many magazine articles I’ve read of svelte new celebrity moms who attribute breastfeeding to their return to pre-baby weight and physique! I’m sure you’ve heard the snippet that says breastfeeding burns, like, 500 extra calories per day. Well, friend, what “they” don’t tell you is that the caloric deficit doesn’t happen until you’re at your peak milk production…when baby is six months old. Before that? Yeah, no.
And don’t fall for the “You need calories for the milk!” line either. No, obviously, you shouldn’t starve yourself, but you don’t need extra snacks to support milk production. Drink plenty of water, eat as normally as possible, and watch out for trigger foods that might affect the baby (I had to say goodbye to cauliflower).
If you want to shed baby weight, the best thing to do is minimally pack it on while you’re pregnant and adhere to a good strength training program (like THIS ONE) during that time as well.
If you didn’t do those things while pregnant, that’s okay. It’s never too late to start, even if you’re in the fourth trimester now. Swing a kettlebell, go for brisk walks and eat sensibly. But just don’t wait on breastfeeding to make the extra weight disappear. It ain’t happenin’ and it’s a trap you don’t want to fall into anyways.
Is there any advice you would give expecting/new moms about the journey of breastfeeding? Share that wisdom in a comment below!