In some African countries, lactating moms and their partners fear having sex. Is it true that sex while breastfeeding destroys the milk and harms the baby? Why would that be?
Common fears relate to having sex at all while breastfeeding, having sex with more than one partner, or having unprotected sex, and that such activities could, for example, reduce milk supply or affect the baby’s health or development.
Is there any truth in all this, or is it pure myth? We sort it out here!
My question is if it is true or not that sex while breastfeeding destroys the milk. I don’t think so, but I want to know..?
In Sierra Leone, lactating mothers fear having sex. The general thought is that when one has sex during lactation, the suckling child’s health deteriorates, even to fatality. It is a common belief that sex while breastfeeding destroys the milk and causes the child to have diarrhea, which becomes fatal.
Most of the time, these things happen as it is said. As soon as the suckling mother starts having sex, the child starts having frequent stools and sometimes dies shortly after. The cause (I think) is that once these mothers have got this notion, as soon as they have sex, they stop breastfeeding the child and start giving it foods (like rice, etc.) that its system cannot tolerate.
In this direction, there is a need for wide publicity of the fact that one can have sex whilst breastfeeding without harming the child. This will go a long way in saving many children in Africa.
My question is if it is true or not that sex while breastfeeding destroys breast milk? I don’t think so, but I want to know..?
Saidu Sebbeh Bangura (Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa)
Easy Baby Life:
The Myth that Sex While Breastfeeding Destroys the Milk
How interesting to read about this widespread folk myth in Sierra Leone and also sad. I’ve heard about this myth before and the fact that many moms, therefore, believe in and follow “banfa” – the tradition to abstain from sex while breastfeeding due to the belief that lovemaking while breastfeeding will harm the child.
But when this fear of harming the child by having sex means that the baby is weaned early just to be able to have sex, then we have a problem! And the problem, of course, is even more severe if the child is then fed foods that are not age-appropriate. Babies need either breast milk or properly prepared formula to be their main source of nutrition during their first year.
During babies’ first six months of living, breast milk or correctly prepared formula should be their only food. Furthermore, the WHO recommends breast milk be part of a baby’s diet until they are around 2 years old. (WHO recommendation)
How Breast Milk is Affected by Sex
I have never encountered any studies showing that breast milk would deteriorate from lovemaking. My view is similar to yours – the worse diet after weaning causes the children to get sick.
Sex has no connection with breast milk more than possibly through hormones released due to orgasm. The sperms remain at the vagina and the uterus level and never come anywhere near the bloodstream or the milk.
What does happen during orgasm is that the woman’s body releases oxytocin, which is the same hormone that helps the letdown reflex while breastfeeding. So some women start leaking breast milk during their orgasm. This is perfectly normal and has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the milk.
The myth that sex while breastfeeding destroys the milk exists not only in Sierra Leone but in other countries too, such as for example Liberia, Ghana, and Tanzania, as well as in other African countries.
Conclusions on Sexual Intercourse and Breastfeeding
So, to be clear:
It is perfectly safe for your child that you have sex while breastfeeding, as long as the person you have sex with is healthy. What I mean is that sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV, can, of course, harm your child (and you!), but the sperm will not in any way destroy the breast milk or harm your child.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months for very good reasons – you can read about the benefits of breastmilk for both baby and mom here.
Thanks a lot for sharing! I hope you will be able to explain to some of your fellow moms that this myth that sex while breastfeeding destroys the milk simply isn’t true.
And I hope you can stay strong and continue to breastfeed your baby even if and when you decide to start having sex again. It is tough to go against common beliefs. Kudos to you!
- Prolonged sexual abstinence after childbirth: gendered norms and perceived family health risks
- Breaking breastfeeding myths
Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing are based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians who assist in reviewing and writing articles.