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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