Aroused While Nursing?
Once you get past the swollen breasts and painful nipple stage at the outset of breastfeeding, nursing often becomes very sensual. Sometimes those middle-of-the- night feedings are almost transcendent. Claire Lawrence, writing for Today’s Parent, describes it as “a gossamer thread connecting my nipples to my uterus, my cervix, my clitoris.”(1) Breastfeeding has an “orgasmogenic cocktail” similar to genital orgasms: First comes the release of oxytocin, then the release of pain killing endorphins (similar to morphine), and finally the release of prolactin.(2) Even the baby is getting a little high! Mother’s milk contains relaxants that pass to the baby; that little parted lip drool of ecstasy as they drift off to sleep isn’t just satiation.
The oxytocin release from nipple stimulation activates the same neural pathways as clitoral or cervical stimulation. It produces a relaxation response, and a deactivation in the neocortex (the thinking and worrying part of the brain). Oxytocin starts flowing from three to ten minutes before nursing—either from the moment when the baby becomes restless or when the mother prepares for a feeding. Then, there is a second release when suckling begins. Uterine contractions, nipple erection, skin contact: all of these things drive different elements of arousal.
Nearly half of all women report pelvic arousal during breastfeeding. Even though this is common, it’s not often talked about—so it can be confusing to the mother who isn’t expecting to feel this. “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).”(3)
Even though sexual arousal during breastfeeding is normal, some mothers feel so guilty about it that they even stop breastfeeding. As recently as the 1990s, a research study pointed to the lack of understanding around this occurrence, reporting that “Should a mother decide to speak about such feelings, both lay people and health care professionals may be shocked, may ridicule her, and may even report her to child protection services.”(3)
So that’s the legacy we’re dealing with. A totally natural process— a joy producing process—that nourishes and relaxes the baby, and brings ease to the mother, is misunderstood to the point of shame.
But these feelings are normal, and you are normal. Trust your experiences, and enjoy this fleeting phase of early motherhood! And if you know a new or nursing mom, please forward this newsletter to her. We’re reinstating ancient wisdom, and coupling it with new research and the growing body of science on women’s sensual, sexual, and reproductive lives. Like many scientists, we stand in wonder at the intricate design of our biological systems.
(1) See Today's Parent
(2) See Michel Odent’s The Functions of the Orgasm
(3) Journal of Midwifery and NIH summary