For 13 months, my breasts served one purpose: nursing my daughter. I did my best to follow breastfeeding guidelines to the letter, and once I got the hang of it, everything about nursing was enjoyable. I found it a relaxing and soothing way to bond with my baby. Even weaning her was easy.
So I didn’t expect the problem I’m having now, and neither did my husband, Brian.
“Brian,” I said to him, as we lay in bed watching TV. “I still don’t think I’m ready for my boobs to part of sex yet.”
“Oh,” he replied dully and sighed. “That’s all right.”
But is it all right? My breasts were off-limits sexually for 13 months, and now that I’ve stopped breastfeeding, they’re still on lockdown. I always looked to the end of nursing as not only the point when on-the-rocks-with-salt margaritas would reenter my life, but also the moment when I would reclaim my breasts as mine alone, to use however I pleased. The trouble is, I don’t know how to do that.
I sent a message to some of my Facebook buddies (names changed to protect the boob-sex-phobic) to find out how they managed to reintroduce their breasts into sex. I found out that my own three-month, post-nursing moratorium was nothing.
“Honest to God…I have yet to complete the reintroduction,” said Elizabeth, who stopped nursing her son more than a year and a half ago. “I have never really talked to anyone else about it because I thought maybe I was just feel weird:but yeah…still feels too icky, even when he goes to touch them.”
I got a similar answer from Kim, who stopped nursing her daughter a year ago. “It’s been rather difficult,” she said. “Most of the time they’re locked up safely in my bra. Still.”
So what gives? We modern gals live in MILF culture, and the common mom-magazine declaration that “moms can be sexy too!” sounds boneheaded in its obviousness. But it’s not always so obvious, according to sex therapist P. Michele Sugg, MSW, LCSW.
“Mothering is often seen as sort of an unsexy thing,” she says. “So breastfeeding breasts somehow move from being erotic objects – as they can be for many – to similar to cow udders.”
But for me, the problem amounts to more than just putting the “fun” back into functional. For 13 months, my breasts belonged to my daughter. I’d look down at her sweet, innocent face while I was nursing and feel calm and whole and happy. Now when my husband tries to visit that region, all I can think about it is my baby. And it just feels: weird.
“You’ve developed those very normal associations,” Sugg says when I tell her this, adding that I’ve also probably compartmentalized that part of my life a bit. “And it’s kind of like unlearning that and learning back to what you had before. I’m sure initially it might have been weird to see a little baby at the end of your nipple instead of your husband.”
Yes, yes it was weird, but not as weird as this. Maybe it would have helped a little if I’d never initiated the breast ban to begin with. My friend Becky has had an easier time with the sexy-breast/functional-breast thing because her husband was hands-on the whole time.
“I had a hard time breastfeeding, and for the first several weeks, he literally had to help the baby and I get everything lined up correctly so she would latch,” Becky said. And that, according to Sugg, probably made a difference. She says women should allow their partners into the breastfeeding experience, whether that means helping to put your nipple into the baby’s mouth or just letting him have fun with the “new you.”
“While nursing, I thoroughly enjoyed for the first time having a full chest,” Becky says.
But my other friends and I were at the other end of the problem. And while I flat-out told my husband that my boobs were off-limits (a conversation I’m sure he enjoyed having), Elizabeth was a bit more shy about it.
“At first, when he would go in for the boob, it would totally turn me off, and I would have trouble getting back into the mood,” Elizabeth said, until she finally discovered ways to distract him without losing her libido. “For the most part he caught on after that and doesn’t try very much anymore.”
But distraction techniques aren’t the way to go, according to Sugg. She recommends – get this – telling your partner how you feel: your hang ups, your worries, the works. Then slowly begin reintroducing your breasts into your physical exchanges, maybe starting with a massage or letting your partner touch and stroke near the breasts or around them before working up to the breasts themselves. In other words, try not to make it all about the boobs.
She also suggests wearing nice bras or lingerie that makes you feel sexy. At first this seemed like a shallow idea to me, but then I took a good hard look at my collection of scary utilitarian nursing bras and realized she has a point. It had been a very long time since I’d worn a bra that made me feel anything but locked and loaded. And since nursing can permanently change your breasts, which left me, for one, feeling less sexy, a little lace and lift couldn’t hurt.
When Becky said good-bye to nursing, she used the new-bra technique to cope with what she describes as her small, saggy, stretch-mark-covered breasts.
“One thing that helped was buying a whole new bra wardrobe that flattered my new shape,” she says. “I spent double what I had in my previous life, but it was well worth it – actually something I wish I’d invested more in previously!”
Sugg also says visualization can be a very helpful tool – imagining your partner treating your breasts sexually and having that be a nice thing. I can see it now: Brian moving in to initiate sex and me holding up a halting hand, eyes closed, and saying to him,
“Actually, tonight I think I’m just going to visualize this. I’ll let you know how it goes.”
Oh well, it’s a start.
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