According to a recent study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, breastfeeding aversion is a phenomenon that occurs in some women − especially those who are pregnant while breastfeeding their older child, or who breastfeed in tandem (a newborn and older child at the same time).
It’s characterised by feelings of anger, resentment or rage while breastfeeding, with some moms admitting that they don’t like the feeling of their little one’s latching − even if there are no problems with breastfeeding or milk supply.
“These feelings can vary in form, severity and duration,” says study author, Zainab Yate, who also discovered that some moms experience skin-crawling sensations and an instant urge to stop breastfeeding the minute it starts.
Some common symptoms of breastfeeding aversion include:
- Guilt (about not enjoying the process)
Negative thoughts can also be triggered by breastfeeding, with some moms feeling trapped, wanting to run away or desperate to stop feeding immediately. These thoughts and emotions usually subside as soon as the feeding session ends, but they arise once again with the next feed, and sometimes it’s worse than other times.
How to cope
Although the reason women experience breastfeeding aversion isn’t clearly known, there are still some things you can do to minimise those intense feelings of anger or irritability while breastfeeding.
Drop the guilt
According to Zainab’s findings, many mothers who experience breastfeeding aversion continue to breastfeed, but have feelings of guilt and shame while also experiencing confusion around those feelings.
If you or a loved one are experiencing breastfeeding aversion, the first thing to do is acknowledge your feelings and stop feeling guilty. “Although breast milk is the ideal, balanced meal for your growing baby, the truth is, not everyone enjoys the process of breastfeeding,” explains registered midwife and clinic nurse, Cavim Knight. “These days, formulas are so advanced that they also provide a great balance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals for babies. I always say to the moms who don’t enjoy breastfeeding that the most important thing is that their child is healthy, well-fed and continues to grow and reach all their developmental milestones,” says Cavim. She believes that everyone’s experience with breastfeeding is different and moms shouldn’t feel uncomfortable or inferior if they have breastfeeding aversion.
“Being a mom is challenging enough. You’re dealing with a lack of sleep and drastic changes to your lifestyle and close relationships, so the last thing you need is additional pressure to breastfeed if you’re feeling intense anger or frustration with the process,” adds Cavim. The trick is to trust your instincts as a mom, avoid comparing yourself to others and do what’s best for you and your family.
Have your hormones checked
It’s a well-known fact that pregnancy and birth can throw a mother’s hormones out of whack and a hormonal imbalance could be a major contributing factor to breastfeeding aversion − especially if the mom has high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. An imbalance of other hormones can also contribute to anxiety and depression, which can worsen breastfeeding aversion so it’s important to have yours checked as soon as you can after birth.
Take care of yourself
This includes getting as much rest as you can (sleep deprivation causes many moms to feel increasingly tired and irritable), eating a healthy, nourishing diet and drinking plenty of fluids. Avoid sugar as it can trigger insulin spikes, which also throws your hormones (and mood) out.
If you’re still feeding on demand and breastfeeding your older child, you might be up multiple times a night and this could cause you to feel emotionally drained and exhausted. Speak to your healthcare provider for tips on how to maintain breastfeeding while getting the support you need. This could mean expressing milk for your partner to take over some feeds if need be.
Whether you speak to friends and family, or turn to a lactation consultant, it’s important to share your feelings without shame and see if you can come to a solution, says Cavim. “Professionals like midwives, clinic nurses and lactation consultants are there to support you in your parenting journey, without passing any harsh judgements,” she adds. Therefore, it’s necessary to talk about your feelings around breastfeeding and see how you can work around it.
For more information on breastfeeding support, visit these organisations:
- Mother Instinct
- Breastfeeding support at Genesis Clinic in JHB
- For lactation consultants, see the Expectant Mother’s Guide