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Arousal, Orgasm and Breastfeeding

The Role of Oxytocin

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Updated July 27, 2011

You may not have heard of this, since it's an experience that is usually relegated to sidebars or footnotes in baby books, but many women report the experience of feeling aroused while they are breastfeeding. Some women also report the experience of an orgasm during or following breastfeeding.

Because this is a topic that, until recently, hasn't been well-researched, and because anything that exposes the always blurred lines between sexual pleasure and other kinds of physical or sensual pleasure, many women have the experience of arousal or orgasm during breastfeeding, and then feel shame or guilt, as if there is something wrong with them. This is especially unfortunate since there is a well understood reason for the experience, and understanding why will, for many women, alleviate the shame and embarrassment.

Oxytocin is a hormone that stimulates ejection of milk from the nipples, and its release is triggered by breast stimulation. Oxytocin is also involved in other physiological processes, notably it is involved in contractions of the uterus during childbirth and during orgasm, and it is thought to be responsible for feelings of relaxation and satiation following orgasm.

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).

Of course not all women who do breastfeed experience pleasure or arousal. In fact there are plenty of women who would describe the experience as the opposite of pleasure. Still, for some women, feeling something that seems like being turned on, and experiencing contractions that are just like the kind they have when they orgasm, is both a predictable and perfectly healthy response to what they are doing with their bodies.

It's understandable that some people may be confused by this. Does it mean that a woman is turned on by her own baby? Does it suggest something abusive or problematic? The answer to these questions is no. On it's own, feeling good, even really good, when connecting with ones child is not a sign of deviance. If you are having this experience and are distressed by it, it's recommended that you talk with a trusted friend or health care provider.

Sources:

Avery, M.D., Duckett, L., Frantzich, C.R. “The Experience of Sexuality During Breastfeeding Among Primiparous Women.” Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health Vol. 45, No. 3 (2000): 227-236.

Convery, K.M. & Spatz, D.L. "Sexuality & Breastfeeding: What Do You Know?" American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing Vol. 34, No. 4 (2009): 218-223.

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