The Physical Demand of Breastfeeding Strained My Marriage

One mother gets real about the realities of breastfeeding—and how it affects much more than just mom and baby.
breastfeeding mother

Forty months, 1,216 days, 29,200 hours—these stats represent my breastfeeding journey. Along with these numbers: two daughters, 20 months apart.

My body has kept the score of every minute and so has my marriage. I feel simultaneously touched out (by my kids) and not touched out enough (by my husband), nearly four years in.

With my first daughter, the struggle was real from all angles—physically, emotionally, mentally and maritally. She was born with a lip tie at the height of COVID (April 2020) in Manhattan. This latch issue was likely undiagnosed due to our expedient 24-hour hospital stay.

As a first-time mom, I suffered big time in her first weeks of life, trying to teach myself how to breastfeed—something that I thought was supposed to “come naturally.” 

Sure, I’d read books on nursing and could ask my mom friends questions about it, but I didn’t know the difference between normal and abnormal latch pain, what a “good latch” actually looked like in real-time or in which position my daughter fed best. 

Her pediatrician saw no issue because my daughter was gaining weight, but after two painful bouts of mastitis, a gnarly nipple infection and double-digit numbers of clogged milk ducts, I finally reached out to a virtual lactation consultant on Boober

After our initial Zoom call, things improved dramatically: the pain, her latch and both of our moods. I felt so stupid for waiting so long—about three months. I was also given the green light to have sex at my six-week postpartum appointment during this time period, but, after divulging this information with my husband, I gave him the red light on sex. 

Sex so soon after giving birth?

I was exhausted and also didn’t feel like my body (or my mind, for that matter) was ready to hop back on the saddle. Sexiness, to me, is all about confidence, not only in your body, but your brain, too. Heck, I didn’t even feel like I was in my own body for months and months after delivering my daughter, and my brain was working overtime, learning how to respond to her every need and desire. 

I was at a total loss as to how to rebuild the sexual image of myself when I felt the most unattractive I had ever felt in my life.

I didn’t feel sexy with my leaky, engorged, sore breasts; with the dark circles under my eyes; and with an empty womb, still round. I didn’t feel sexy because I didn’t have the time or energy to put into the typical postpartum “self-care” activities: showering, shaving, plucking, etc. I didn’t feel sexy because I didn’t feel like me.

This monumental shift in body, mind, soul and my entire identity resulted in me feeling like a superhero mom, but a failure as a wife. And if a medical professional is telling me my body is ready, then why don’t I feel ready? 

The six-week postpartum clearance is a joke. I wish that there was a more realistic, more holistic approach with this specific medical protocol. I felt broken and, with this brokenness, came a flood of big emotions and questions.

I found the overwhelm difficult to navigate and, unfortunately, my husband was on the receiving end of my anger, frustration, resentment, guilt and shame. 

I would often find myself in a spiral while nursing my newborn with these thoughts and questions: Why is my daughter only comforted by me? Why can’t HE comfort her? My husband’s body wasn’t wrecked–must be nice for him. He gets to just merrily roll along with his life, continue work, sleep, etc., seemingly unphased; it’s not fair. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I be a good mother AND a good wife? When will I feel back in my body again? Will I ever feel sexy again?

Cue the postpartum anxiety and depression

Amidst the complete isolation during COVID in NYC, an amplified, deteriorating mental state quickly followed. I felt so alone, so sequestered, so—unwell. 

Finally, in March 2021, we made the decision to move, or, as I look at it, the decision had made itself. Living in our 500-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in Sunnyside, Queens, was no longer sustainable so we moved to Asheville, North Carolina, back to our home state and within driving distance to both of our families.

Then, just two short months after we moved, I found out I was pregnant with our second child. 

After my daughter’s first birthday, I finally began to find my stride as a mother, which made room for me to connect with and evolve my former self. I started to feel more confident again by putting on makeup, fitting into my pre-pregnancy clothes (albeit, even for a short time), working out and going out on small outings, sans baby. These small things really started to add up and aid in the reclamation of my body again. 

I started to slowly feel sexy again.

Moreover, I began to repair and reconnect with my husband by inviting hard discussions (when my emotions weren’t all over the place) and seeking closeness physically, starting small with just sitting cozy next to one another while we admired photos on our phones of our beautiful creation or watched our favorite shows together.

I continued to breastfeed my daughter throughout pregnancy and, by the end of my second trimester, my milk changed, making weaning easy. My daughter naturally began refusing my offerings. At long last, I had been afforded a three-month intermission from breastfeeding! 

Breastfeeding (and postpartum sex) round two

A few months later, I gave birth to our second daughter on a snowy evening in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in our new hometown. Fortunately, she had no lip or tongue tie issues, so this time breastfeeding was a breeze. And, although intimacy has been scarce with a second child in a small two-bedroom home, the anger, frustration and shame were not as heavy hitting.

I’ve matured; he’s matured. We are getting better with every passing day—more efficient, more communicative, more compassionate. I have found, with this newfound perspective, that I find my partner more attractive, and vice-versa. Like my eldest, we have become better equipped to take on the world, as we—like her—are approaching our fourth “birthday” as parents.

I’ve learned to communicate my needs and desires—even if that means less sex, more affection—for the time being. I no longer feel like I’m failing as a sexual partner; I feel empowered and confident that my husband and I can overcome this challenging chapter of our lives. And, I have to give him credit: he is doing his share of “the work,” too, by allowing me the time and space to get reacquainted with myself, to build my confidence again.

Most days, it feels like we will never turn the page to the next chapter—one that allows more time and freedom to meet each other again, physically and emotionally. But, as the sun rises each morning, I wake up and see that my baby is turning into a toddler, and that my milk supply is dropping with her few and far-between requests for “mama’s milk.” And it’s in these moments that I feel staggering grief. I can hear the door closing on this unique and special time with what is likely my last child, and I’m sad. I savor every nursing session because I don’t know which one will be the last one.

And, as that wave of grief passes, my emotions shift: I am elated and relieved. I am so ready to feel connected to my husband and to feel sexy once again. I’ve missed him. I’ve missed us. We enjoyed 10 years of wedded bliss and adventure before kids, and I’m motivated to find that spark in our marriage–with kids in tow–again. 

I’m one morning-feed away from completely weaning my second daughter. One feed away from being able to move her into my oldest daughter’s room and reclaim my body and our sacred space: our bedroom. 

It feels good. The constant day-in and day-out of giving and giving and giving my body is finally coming to an end, and I’m excited to close this chapter and begin writing a new one–one that centers around a main character who is rediscovering life without the perpetual tug from a little one’s hand on her chest.

One profoundly useful truth about motherhood that I’ve learned is that two things can be true at the same time. Breastfeeding is the right choice for me and my family, AND it is extremely taxing: the on-demand pulls, the caloric-intake required, mastitis, clogs, the hormonal shifts, the parent preference, the plummet in libido–the list goes on. 

Admittedly, I’ve been unsatisfied with myself as a wife AND also unsatisfied with my partner since becoming a mother. There’s fault on both sides. But, I am hopeful. I believe that if we continue to put in the heavy lifting of doing “the work” with equal effort, both of us will be able to find harmony, rhythm, and happiness again. 

So, if you’re feeling like there’s no end in sight as a breastfeeding mom or if you’re unsure if you’ll ever feel sexy again, I’m here to encourage you to really examine the pros and cons of breastfeeding, discuss your needs and wants with your partner and give yourself grace and space to make the decision that’s right for you. Your decision is the right one.


  • Katrina Donham

    Katrina is a wife and SAHM of two, living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. In her past life, she was a middle school English teacher in Austin, Texas and NYC. When she can carve out time to herself, she enjoys writing personal essays about parenthood and mental health, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, cooking nutritious meals for her family and dreaming about a life well-lived.

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