Sexual Health Q&A

Why do some breastfeeding women experience pain during sex?

Sexual pain is common in breastfeeding women, although not all women experience it. Two of the most common reasons for pain are the following:

Vaginal dryness. Estrogen is a hormone that helps keep the vagina lubricated and flexible during sex. But when women are breastfeeding, their estrogen levels are lower than usual. As a result, they can experience vaginal dryness and this can lead to sexual pain.

Some women find that a little extra foreplay is all they need to become sufficiently lubricated. An over-the-counter lubricant might also help.

Another option is a prescription estrogen cream applied to the vulva and vaginal opening.

Lower estrogen levels may also decrease a woman’s sex drive while she is breastfeeding.

Painful breasts and nipples. There are many reasons a woman’s breasts may be tender and sore while breastfeeding. The baby might not be latching well during feeding. The woman may have too much milk building up in her breasts. Her milk ducts may become clogged. She may develop nipple blisters, blebs (a type of cyst), or thrush (a fungal infection). Mastitis, an infection of breast tissue, can also occur.

Women should discuss any breast pain with their doctor and be treated as necessary. They should also feel free to ask questions about breastfeeding to make sure they are doing it as comfortably and effectively as they can.

Some women ask their partners not to touch their breasts during sex.  Others wear a nursing bra that acts as a cushion. Couples might also try different sexual positions to keep pressure off the breasts.

To learn more about sexual issues for women after childbirth, please click here. Women are encouraged to discuss any concerns with a gynecologist as well.