Oh, it feels like such a taboo subject, I’m almost scared to write about it. Actually, I’m really scared because the thought of an angry mob coming after me accusing me of child abuse — you know, because I’m an extended breastfeeder — is rather off putting.
I remember as a first time mom with a baby a few months old sitting in a circle with a group of mothers when one confessed that she sometimes feels sexual arousal from breastfeeding. And I remember thinking there was something a little weird about that. I didn’t have problems breastfeeding, but I certainly didn’t find it orgasmic!
In almost three years of breastfeeding, working with breastfeeding women, and becoming something of a lactivist, I never heard of this phenomenon again.
Then my second child was born and with her came toe-curling, breath-catching, painful thrush — and a sickeningly sexually stimulating feeling when my toddler breastfed. I felt so horrible about it, like there was something wrong with me, and I couldn’t understand what was going on. I certainly couldn’t talk to anyone about it!
Fortunately, Google is relatively anonymous and when I started researching it, I found that it is a fairly common thing, but there has been only one study I could find, and there’s very little formal information on it.
However, if you consider how breastmilk is made, and you realise that oxytocin is a hormone that stimulates ejection of milk, that release is triggered by breast stimulation, and that oxytocin does other things in the body too — like contractions of the uterus during childbirth and during orgasm — it actually makes a lot of sense.
“In a 2000 study of breastfeeding women, 40.5% of the participants reported feeling sexually aroused at some point during infant suckling. 16.7% reported being aroused frequently during breastfeeding. In a more recent paper that reviewed several studies between 33-50% of women described breastfeeding as erotic (and 25% of those women said they felt guilty about it).”1
Now, you might think this plays into the argument of people who say that mothers breastfeed toddlers for their own gratification, but the problem is that while it may be a sexual feeling, it is not a pleasant one. Not by a long shot. (It may be for some, but for many it is extremely uncomfortable!)
I found it heartbreaking, to see how my relationship with my older child was changing because I so dreaded nursing her, and while we were nursing sometimes, I’d have to physically yank my breast away from her because I couldn’t handle the sensation. I hated nursing her and hated that the change happened overnight.
Incidentally, nursing my baby wasn’t a problem at all — it was just the toddler!
If you’ve experienced or are experiencing this sexual stimulation during nursing, and you’re finding it hard or uncomfortable, and can’t or don’t want to force wean your older child, I have good news for you: It ends. I don’t know when or how it did, but a few days ago I was nursing when I realised I wasn’t entirely grossed out by it. I was so incredibly relieved!
Also, you’re not alone. You’re not unusual, you’re not a freak, and you’re not at risk of abusing your child.
It’s been five long months, and I actually look forward to restoring some of the joy to our nursing relationship now, and again intend to continue breastfeeding as long as my beautiful daughter wishes to do so.
I do think it’s worth talking about though, because as a “common” phenomenon, it’s very underrepresented in conversations and education about breastfeeding, and I think being prepared for the possibility, the first months of tandem breastfeeding would have been a lot less conflicting and I could have settled into it much more easily.
Have you experienced feelings of arousal or distress during breastfeeding? How have you coped?