The other night I taught my regular breastfeeding class (“Breastfeeding Basics” at Blossom Birth in Palo Alto). One of the prospective parents–a mom–stayed after class to ask a question about a topic she wished I had brought up in class: the emotional aspects of breastfeeding and their effect on intimacy. This topic was on her mind since she had recently read “And Baby Makes Three” by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman.
This was a great reminder that we sometimes focus too much attention on what might be called the “mechanics” of breastfeeding: how to get a good latch, the finding comfortable nursing position, ensuring you have a good milk supply, and dealing with challenges like sore nipples and thrush. All these things are certainly important. But my experience helping new moms with breastfeeding issues tells me that the emotional aspects of parenting are all tangled up with the practical aspects. Sleep deprivation–which is a practical matter–has an enormous effect on your ability to cope with new situations and challenges. Even a rock-solid relationship can quake under the effects of too little sleep and the 24-hour demands of a new little being.
Yes, breastfeeding has implications for intimacy. In the early weeks, the sheer amount of time devoted to infant feeding leaves little time to do anything else. Even as babies grown and feedings shorten and space out, many moms report that the physicality of breastfeeding leaves them “touched out” and unable to respond to what might feel like another “demand” for physical intimacy from a partner.
Maintaining intimacy while breastfeeding a baby or toddler takes dedication and ingenuity, but no more, really, than maintaining any intimate relationship under challenging circumstances. Find a way to keep the lines of communication open and be gentle with each other. Find non-sexual ways to be intimate, and share your expectations with one another. Seek out a supportive community like a new parent group or a breastfeeding support group (PBC offers one at our office the first Friday of every month) where you can share your concerns with others who are walking the same road as you.
And know that, as my grandmother used to say, “This too shall pass.”