Arousal, Orgasm and Breastfeeding

The Role of Oxytocin

breastfeeding
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If you read this headline and thought to yourself "huh?!" you aren't alone.  Most people who have never breastfed and lots of people who have, even if they have experienced it, don't realize that many people who breastfeed report experiencing arousal while they are breastfeeding, and some people also report the experience of an orgasm during or following breastfeeding.

Because this is a topic that, until recently, hasn't been well-researched, many people 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 it happens can go a long way to alleviate shame and embarrassment.

The Link Between Breastfeeding, Arousal, and Orgasm

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 one study of people who were breastfeeding, 40.5% of the participants reported feeling sexually aroused at some point during infant suckling. 16.7% reported being aroused frequently during breastfeeding. In another paper that reviewed several studies between 33-50% of respondents described breastfeeding as erotic (25% of those responded that way said they felt guilty about it).

This Has Happened - What Is Wrong With Me? 

If you have had this experience you may be among those who feel guilty, or at the very least weirded out by the experience. This makes sense, but to be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this response.  

It's confusing because feeling physiologically aroused is usually something we experience in our adult sexual interactions.

Similarly, orgasm is something we connect to sexual desire and release, whether alone or with a partner.  

But our bodies don't "understand" social meaning. Our bodies respond. And experiencing this arousal doesn't mean you have sexual feelings for your infant. It doesn't mean you'll be abusive or sexual deviant. It means you're engaging in a process that is deeply physical and emotional and your body is responding.

Of course, not everyone who breastfeeds experiences pleasure or arousal. In fact, there are plenty of people who would describe the experience as the opposite of pleasure. Still, for some, 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.

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.