Is breastfeeding a sexual act?

In the News: 
Children taken away because of a breastfeeding photo in Texas

Two children were taken away from their parents after a photo of a 12-month-old baby with his lips on his mother's nipple was developed at a local drug store and then reported to authorities by the shop's clerk. No experts were consulted, no evaluations were made, the children were simply whisked away and the parents charged with the second-degree felony of "sexual performance of a minor."

According to the Dallas Observer, after responding to the photo clerk's alert, Richardson police in Texas reportedly considered the pictures to contain sexuality. A Child Protective Services supervisor, without any information beyond the photos, ordered the children to be removed from their home.

children taken because of a breastfeeding photo

The police searched the one-room home for other evidence of pornography or questionable parenting as the children were taken away from their perplexed and pleading mother Jacqueline Mercado on November 13, 2002. Nothing was found. Subsequent psychological examinations of the parents revealed no signs of sexual deviancy. 

The family's attorney Steven Lafuente was very surprised to see the innocence of the pictures and to discover that there was no other evidence whatsoever. Still, a Grand Jury swiftly indicted the couple in January, basing their decision on the breastfeeding photo and no other incriminating evidence. 

The charges against the couple were dropped in late March after a reporter from the Dallas Observer asked a District Attorney to look into the case. The children remained in State Custody however. When reporter Thomas Korosec broke the story in the Observer on April 17, the paper received some 50 letters and the courthouse and attorneys were similarly flooded with mail. Members of a national attachment parenting organization flooded the offices with their own treasured breastfeeding and bath time photos. Only days after the story hit the stands, the children were returned to their mother.

The attorney described the distraught Spanish-speaking parents as never entirely understanding what they had done wrong, why they were being threatened with prison, and why their family was torn apart. They explained to him how they had worked so hard and long to move their family to this "land of the free" and that they loved their children so very much. They expressed that they would never do anything to harm their children and did not intend to break the laws of their new country.

While the family tries to heal, the real crime is going entirely ignored. It is a sad statement of our new civilization when a photo store clerk, two police detectives, a CPS supervisor, and an entire grand jury have all forgotten how babies are fed, and are unable to appreciate the treasury of capturing the tender fleeting moments of childhood on film.

Adapted from 1-Hour Arrest by Thomas Korosec, Dallas Observer, Apr 17, 2003



The above incident sadly proves how in some people's minds breastfeeding is a sexual act.  In other words, they think that the mother and/or the baby have sexual feelings while nursing is taking place.

The truth is that breastfeeding is fundamentally a FEEDING act.  It is about giving food or nourishment to the child.  Female breasts produce milk, which is the normal food for human babies.  The obvious biological function of breasts is to make milk, not to be an essential part of human reproduction, so WHY in the world is breastfeeding seen as a sexual act?

Is breastfeeding an act of sexual pleasure?

Do mother and baby feel something sexually while nursing?  To think that the baby would feel something sexually is utter nonsense.  Little babies and children don't have any such thoughts or feelings going through their mind.  For them, the breast is simply a source of food and comfort.  Of course, nursing feels good to the baby, but that feeling is not sexual, just a general "good" feeling.

The mother also generally enjoys nursing her child (unless her nipples are sore!).  This is largely due to a hormone-like substance called oxytocin, which is released as a consequence of nursing and holding the infant, the levels being based on the amount of this kind of contact.

oxytocin cuddle hormone

Oxytocin also produces uterine contractions during labor, is strongly involved in mother-child bonding after birth and during breastfeeding relationship, it is released during sexual intercourse, and its blood levels rise also in response to touch, warmth, and remembering a positive relationship.  It is released in the brain chiefly in response to social contact, but its release is especially pronounced with skin-to-skin contact.

This hormone has been called the "love hormone" or the "cuddle hormone" or the "bonding hormone".  It provides a sense of calm and well being and promotes bonding patterns and creates desire for further contact with the individuals inciting its release.  It helps the mother and child to bond together.  It is involved in those mothering feelings we experience after giving birth to a child.

Since it is present during sexual intercourse, it also helps men and women to bond together and form lasting relationships.  It makes you want to cuddle, touch, be close, be affectionate towards another human being.  Without oxytocin, animals don't recognize or remember their partner though they are able to recognize objects. Autistic children (who often have difficulty with social relationships) have lowered levels of this hormone.

Oxytocin is not the only part of the soup of chemicals produced in our bodies when we cuddle and feel close to our children.  Opioids (pleasure hormones) are natural morphine-like chemicals that reduce pain awareness and create feelings of elation. Social contacts, particularly touch - especially between parent and child – induce opioid release, creating good feelings that will enhance bonding.

It is wrong to say that breastfeeding is a sexual act just because the "cuddle hormone" oxytocin is present both during nursing and sexual intercourse.  We should instead say that both nursing and sexual intercourse are connected to LOVE, INTIMACY, CLOSENESS – one towards your child, the other towards your spouse.

Hugging, kissing, nursing your child is not a sexual act but AN ACT OF MOTHERLY LOVE.

Nursing a toddler

Sexual arousal during breastfeeding

Some women are concerned that nursing will cause them to be sexually aroused, and they do not want that. Rest assured, it does not usually happen. Nursing is usually relaxing, enjoyable, and cuddly in the sense as explained above. There can also be a feeling of "relief" if your breasts are very full pre-nursing—similar to the feeling of relief you get when voiding a very full bladder. Some women may actually confuse these good feelings with the feelings of slight sexual arousal.

Breastfeeding women actually often experience sexual problems, for many reasons: the elevated level of prolactin reduces libido, low estrogen reduces vaginal lubrication, and the lack of periods causes reduced testosterone levels, which again reduces the sexual drive. So the hormonal environment during lactation is actually not conducive to sexual arousal. Then, in the immediate postpartum period women often experience exhaustion and may have stitches in the vaginal area.

That said, feelings of sexual arousal are possible during nursing. Some women do experience it, but the majority of women the majority of the time do not. This has not been not studied in great detail so there is not much scientific data, but anecdotal evidence tells us it is FAR more common that the woman is NOT aroused by breastfeeding.

If you take herbs and supplements to help with milk production, some of them may affect your libido and feelings of arousal. For example, one woman started experiencing feelings of sexual arousal from suckling after she starting taking the herb milk thistle.



Is it WRONG to feel sexually aroused during nursing?

Suppose you feel aroused while breastfeeding from some stimulus, whatever it might be. You may wonder if you are doing something wrong or harming your baby.

Now, there is nothing wrong per se in the actual physical feeling of sexual desire. It's just a normal feeling or desire of the human body. Appetite for food is another normal desire, thirst yet another, and desire to sleep one more. Just to have that feeling is not wrong in itself, just like it's not wrong to feel hungry or thirsty.

Similarly, assuming you are able to control your desires, your baby is not harmed by you feeling that way. Just think: your baby shouldn't be harmed just because you happen to be FEEL hungry or thirsty (assuming that you don't suddenly dash to eat and leave the baby behind). Your baby shouldn't be harmed just because you feel tired—assuming you are able to stay alert enough to continue taking care of him. And your baby shouldn't be harmed just because your brain produces chemicals associated with sexual desire—assuming you don't dash off somewhere because of it and forget about the responsibilities with your baby.

The feeling per se is just a natural feeling and not evil in itself.


Another important point to consider is...

Are breasts sexual organs?

Certainly people in the US, UK, Australia, and other countries think of breasts as being a sexual organ. However, the obvious biological function of breast is to make milk for the baby.  Human reproduction can certainly be carried on without ever touching the breasts, so breasts are NOT inherently a sexual organ.

But are they somehow both a feeding machine and secondarily a sexual organ, as many think? Consider the fact that about 120 years ago woman's ankles were very sexual in men's minds. And tiny feet were a fetish for Chinese men in times past. All kinds of parts of female body have been inspiring to men during history and in various cultures, so we ask you to consider that breasts simply have been turned into a similar fetish in the US society and others influenced by it.

breast seen as sexual because of cultural influence

Breasts are a part of the "whole package of a woman", and men can easily respond sexually to seeing a woman — but the difference is that breasts in themselves do not have to be special "arousal" machines or obsession points UNLESS various influences have wired one's brain to think so. In other words, if a man grows up without this type of "BREASTS = SEX" influence from media, TV, magazines, and peers, then to him, female breasts don't have to be any more special than a woman's face, feminine hair, wide hips, narrow waist, and other feminine characteristics.

"Well, we do have a peculiar obsession with breasts in this culture. A lot of people think it's just the human nature to be fascinated with breasts but in many cultures, breasts aren't sexual at all. I interviewed a young anthropologist working with women in Mali, in a country in Africa where women go around with bare breasts. They're always feeding their babies. And when she told them that in our culture men are fascinated with breasts there was an instant of shock. The women burst out laughing. They laughed so hard, they fell on the floor. They said, "You mean, men act like babies?"

Carolyn Latteier, the author of Breasts, The Women's Perspective on an American Obsession, in a TV program "All about breasts".

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