Understanding Breastfeeding Aversion

Yesterday I came across this post about breastfeeding on the alivingfamily blog.  In it, the author describes her feelings of breastfeeding aversion while feeding her toddler, which surfaced while pregnant with her second baby.  As I read the way she described the feelings, I felt this massive surge of relief wash over me.  And then I turned to google and started researching breastfeeding aversion, which I had never heard of until now.

The reason I felt these feelings of relief and almost excitement, is because the feelings of aversion while breastfeeding that she describes in that post are exactly how I have always felt about breastfeeding, right from the beginning.  I have written on here once before about my love/hate (and to be honest, it was more of the latter than the former) relationship with breastfeeding.  At that point, I was in the middle of my breastfeeing experience and trying to come to terms with how I was feeling, trying to maintain a positive outlook on it, as I knew I had to continue until at least 6 months (we were moving interstate when bubba was 6 months old and I felt that breastfeeding would be a lot more convenient for the move!).

For this reason, I don’t think I was entirely truthful about my feelings, even in that raw and honest post.  After reading Sheila’s post on alivingfamily, I started googling like mad and hungrily reading up the limited information I found.  While there seems to be little official information, the web is filled with desperate and confused women describing all the feelings I had while breastfeeding.

“when my son wanted to feed I dreaded having to do it, felt almost repulsed the whole time, it made my skin crawl, I felt ‘wrong’ and it lasted during the whole feed, sometimes getting worse during the feed.” (source)

“Some people go as far to say that feeding feels like they are being ‘molested’. Another mother says ‘After the feed I’m angry at myself, but during the feed I’m just sitting there resenting **** and wanting to hit him’ whilst another responds ‘ it’s hard to admit that sometimes you really do want to hurt your baby. Except that, at the same time, you really don’t.'” (source)

“I felt an overpowering urge to stop nursing, immediately. It was a visceral, gut reaction like an itch, making me tense, anxious, cranky, and agitated.” (source)

“…it was so instinctive to recoil from nursing that I really almost couldn’t help myself. I had a strong urge to pick her up and throw her off of me and run away from her. I was in no way prepared for it and I felt like the worst mother on the planet” (source)

“For months I’ve been dealing with more than feeling touched-out, more than just being a bit antsy. I’ve had a genuine dread of breastfeeds, a feeling like breastfeeding is like being touched by a creepy uncle, that it’s wrong and it’s weird and it must stop now.” (source)

I wish I could accurately portray to you the feeling of relief I get reading these words coming from other people’s mouths.  It makes me feel validated, it makes me feel understood, it makes my whole breastfeeding experience finally, finally make some kind of strange awful sense.  Apparently this is more common in women who continue breastfeeding through pregnancy or are nursing an older child – but I certainly experienced this right from the very beginning of breastfeeding and surely there must be others out there like me.

I never even questioned, while I was pregnant, that I would breastfeed my baby.  It wasn’t a decision, it was an assumption.  I expected to enjoy it, for it to be the magical bonding experience so many women seem to love.

I wasn’t prepared for the pain in the beginning, but pain can be overcome.  What was worse was what came after the pain.  Other people’s words above have described it perfectly – the feeling of wrongness, of skin crawling antsy-ness, of wanting to fling your baby away from you and scream GET THE HELL OFF MY BREAST!!  My favourite is the last quote above – where she describes dreading breastfeeding and a feeling like you’re being touched up by a creepy uncle.  That’s exactly it.  Molested is a harsh word but there you go, I said it anyway – it feels like being violated, like doing something physically that every visceral piece of you doesn’t want to do.

As one of the mothers quoted above said, “I felt like the worst mother on the planet”.  All these other women seemed to love breastfeeding, to find it a special bonding experience, to do it past infancy, to not want to stop.  I have been looking back lately, wondering to myself – do those women just have a very different experience of breastfeeding than I did, or are they just better at coping with it?  Are they just better women – better mothers?

Having stumbled across this information about breastfeeding aversion, discovering that other women have felt what I felt about breastfeeding, makes me feel like yelling from the rooftops: I AM NOT A BAD MOTHER AFTER ALL!  It’s a genuine experience that some women have, it does not mean you don’t love your baby or that you don’t have the right maternal instincts or that you lack some kind of essential mothering ability.

Experiencing breastfeeding aversion does not make you a bad mother.

I just want to say it over and over again, for myself and for any other woman who has ever had this confusing, gut wrenching experience.
Hating breastfeeding does not make you a bad mother.

One of the hardest things about writing about this, is that describing feelings of wanting to fling your baby off you or hating having them at the breast may make it sound like you don’t care for your baby or you lack some attachment to them.  This is so far from the truth.  In fact, that’s what makes this experience so difficult, so confusing.  You love your baby, you want the absolute best for you baby – that’s why you put yourself through these feelings over and over again, multiple times a day.  I remember how much I couldn’t stand feeding and yet when she looked up at me with those eyes…

… oh god, she NEEDED me, she needed me and how could I fail her?  How could I have those feelings about doing something so beautiful for someone so incredibly beautiful?
Even now, looking at that photo makes me well up with tears.  She needed me so much – oh my little one, I did the best I could for you.

In the early days I contemplated weaning but found I still had an instinctive need to keep breastfeeding – and the feelings were at a manageable level.  But it got worse as time went on.  Once she got to about 5 months old, the long nighttime feeding sessions were like an incredibly unusual form of torture.

I held on to 6 months and as soon as we arrived in our new city, I began the switch to bottlefeeding, which thankfully went quickly and easily.  My boobs shrunk quickly and my bubba was happy on bottles.  I was happy with her on bottles.  Oh the relief.  Oh the immense relief to leave my breasts inside my bra all day and not have anyone suckle on them.  Oh the relief to hold my baby and feed her without my breasts being involved, to feel nothing but love.  Oh I can’t even describe to you the relief.

If I ever have another baby, I will spend the whole pregnancy freaking out about breastfeeding.  Because I really do believe in the importance of breastmilk in the early months.  But the thought of having to do it again makes me feel like putting on a steel bra with a lock and throwing away the key.  It makes me feel like crossing my arms tightly across my chest and curling into a corner.

I felt I needed to write this post because I feel like I want people to be aware of this issue, to know it exists, to understand.  I want the staunch breastfeeding activists to read this.  I want people who judge those who bottlefeed to read this.  I want anyone who has ever had or who is currently having this experience to read this.  I want them all to understand that this is a real phenomenon, and that it can be unbearable.

I want to tell them –

– I want to tell myself –

– hating breastfeeding does not make you a bad mother.

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13 thoughts on “Understanding Breastfeeding Aversion

  1. What a brave post! I hope that other mums/moms can find this via Google, and that it will help others.Having seen you in action, I know what a great mum you are — you have nothing to worry about on that account!

  2. Bless you lovely 🙂 I do my best, that's for sure… I really hope this can help someone else too, so many aspects of this mum thing can be so confusing when you've never heard of or experienced them before.

  3. Sorry to drag up an older post; I just wanted to say that you did an absolutely amazing thing breastfeeding your baby in spite of your feelings. To make that sacrifice is deserving of a thousand pats on the back. I always admire women who feed in unfortunate circumstances, it gives me inspiration!

    For what it’s worth, having recently had my second baby I will say that breastfeeding a second time has been completely different. Totally different range of problems(!) and experiences. No point worrying about it until you’re there. 🙂

    • Thanks so much Jem 🙂 I’m always happy for this post to be read, it’s something I wish I had known about earlier. Thanks so much for your lovely words, I definitely did the best I could.
      And yeah, you’re so right about the future, every baby is a different experience I guess. I have actually been thinking about it recently – I think the more distance I get from it, the more I feel I will be ready to give it a damn good shot again. Kinda like labour 😛

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  5. I came across this post yesterday via your post about extended bottle feeding and I have been thinking about it ever since. I really sympathise with your struggle with breastfeeding. I struggled with breastfeeding also, I HAD inverted nipples so it was very painful so much so that when I saw my midwife for my second pregnancy she was very surprised that I continued to breastfeed Toby till he was 14 months.
    But some of the quotes that you included in your post really troubled me how those women implied that their breast were a sexual organ, which they aren’t. Sure they can/are used during sex to make it more enjoyable, but there main purpose is to feed our babies. I feel that in the overtly sexual society that we live has caused women to look at their bodies in an unnatural way. When you look at the more natural groups of people that are in the world they have no problems with getting their breast out on show nor breastfeeding.
    I really don’t want to upset you and It’s not my desire to push my opinion on you but I was kept awake last night thinking about this and it made me upset that women would view breastfeeding as something sexually , like I said before they aren’t sexually organs……….

    • I understand what you’re saying, and if I hadn’t had the experience I did, I probably would be saying the same thing. But the plain fact of the matter is that I have always experienced my breasts to be particularly sexually sensitive, and that contributed to the discomfort I felt with breastfeeding. I have thought about the issue too, often… I know in more earth-based societies, this probably isn’t an issue, but the fact of the matter is that I live and was brought up in THIS society, one in which breasts ARE sexual. And anyway, regardless of what I THINK breasts are for (obviously their main purpose is to feed babies), my unwilling and undesired physical response to them being suckled is sexual in nature, which is why I hated it so much.
      Please don’t get me wrong, I do NOT think breastfeeding is sexual and I certainly encourage women to breastfeed as far as is possible – but I was surprised and ashamed of my experience with it and I wanted this out there in case any other woman ever felt the way I did.

  6. Hello, thank you for your writing about this experience. I felt similar feelings when I was tandem feeding so I can understand how this feels and that sometimes it is really challenging for those that have not experienced such feeling to truly understand. I also loved your blog piece on extended bottle feeding. I created a face book page for mums for whom bf has not worked out:- http://www.facebook.com/supportive.community.breastfeeding.loss I have posted both there because they are so valuable for mums. For many mums when bf does not work out there are many losses to grieve. Giving mums options of bottle feeding in a way that they may have done if they were bf is a great way to at least lessen some of the losses and gives more options. I also wanted to say it is great to see a fellow Kiwi out there doing amazing things. I am in Christchurch and I was excited to see you were originally from NZ. I look forward to see future blogs from you. ❤ them.

    • Thank you SO much Karen, as much as I would never wish the experience on anyone, it’s also kind of nice to know I’m not alone in having experienced it, if you know what I mean?

      I’m also so glad you shared my posts, the main reason I wanted to write them was to reach out to those who may identify or who my experience may help.

      Bravo for the Facebook page, I have become quite passionate about supporting mums who feed their children with love, regardless of the method. I definitely believe you can incorporate breastfeeding principles into bottlefeeding to create that loving feeding ritual.

      Thanks so much again for your lovely comment 😀

      • Oh and also – yay for a fellow Kiwi! 😀 I grew up in a small forrestry town in the Bay of Plenty but consider Wellington my “home away from home” (home now being Perth 🙂 ), as my family is there and I spent my young adulthood there. You guys have been through so much in Christchurch!

        Thanks so much again, your comment made my day 🙂

  7. Pingback: Homemade Goat’s Milk Infant Formula | Life After Two Blue Lines

  8. Thank you so much for posting this! This problem recently started for me since I’m pregnant with our second child. I feel so torn and guilty and had never heard of breastfeeding aversion. Thank you so much for posting this.

    • Thanks for commenting April, I’m so glad my post helped. That’s exactly why I needed to write this raw post – because this topic is so little spoken and written about and I want other women who experience it to know they’re not alone xx

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