The complex world of breastfeeding/nursing aversion
BREASTFEEDING/NURSING AVERSION - IDEAS ABOUT WHAT CAN HELP
As can be seen from the image above, there are a multitude of factors that may contribute to BAA/NA, and as yet we don't know what plays a primary role, whether it takes a number of the quadrants together to get BAA/NA, and why it effects some women rather than others. So, with that, I've decided to give some thought to the individual mother - and the process of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. How you start something can often dictate how you carry on, a difficult start in life can lead to challenges in adulthood. A typical case in point would be someone who was abused in childhood, there is a lot of research to show later drug addiction in life. Could a difficult start in labour and in breastfeeding mean you are more likely to experience BAA/NA? Do women who have C-sections end up having BAA/NA more than women who do not? I wish I could conduct research studies to answer some of these questions, but Im left with already published literature, the breastfeeding mothers I know who experience BAA/NA, and my own experience, for now....
Very few things can prepare you for having a baby, not in the least is the poor information on parenting that is given while pregnant, and what seems to be a conspiratorial obsession with discussions of labour, horror stories and pain. What comes after the birth is really the area that ought be prepared for. Breastfeeding is hard, for many, and there is a small matter of changing your life completely in order to accomodate and care for a little needy person who wholly and entirely relies upon you. It requires a lot of patience, and a lot of self-sacrifice. That said, it is a good idea to question if you are happy with your lot. Being a mum? In your relationship? Caring for an infant? Alone at home? Are you unfulfilled, frustrated and often unable to recognise the ghost of your former self, who now only seems to rant, shout and cry? The old socratic saying 'know thy self' could help some women, by way of identifying your inner demons, to perhaps identify the cause of BAA/NA - if it is psychological. Even if its basis in physiological, the sheer frustration of having BAA/NA while maintaining the intention to breastfeed is enough to crush even the most spirited and determined soul. Every day you renew your intention to continue breastfeeding, everyday you decide not to give in to BAA/NA, and everyday, every feed, you fail.
Torn and broken? Are you constantly in limbo, wanting to be free of breastfeeding / nursing your young while simultaneously wanting to be able to feed them the best food until they want to self wean? Or at least for just that little bit longer? What on earth is going on? It seems a cruel and insufferable joke to be in a position of pure conflict. Offering liquid gold you are producing by the day, whilst wanting with all of your will to HAVE THAT INFANT OFF YOU NOW, detesting every second they are latched, and then feeling grossly remorseful and guilty once they unlatch. This, it seems, is the crux of the experience for women who suffer with BAA/NA.
BAA/NA means that you stuggle with an activity that is often frequent, throughout the day and night, and that involves physical contact on your breast. It is a sensitive area physically, and that in itself would be enough to warrant the feeling of BAA/NA....but for most breastfeeding women, it is usually also one of unparalled importance that embodies the very essense of motherhood. Breastfeeding is your tool to use to nurture your young, providing both nutitrion and protection, soothing your babies cries, delivering them from illness. Breastfeeding is your right as a mother and lactating women to be able to feed and nourish, your weapon against long term health problems for you and your young. You want to carry on doing it. Of course you do.
With that in mind, there are some areas of thought, on close inspection, that may lend a helping hand to a mother who is trying to understand what BAA/NA is, why one may be going through it, and what to do about it.
This too shall pass
It is often said in the gentle parenting community that one should live by the mantra 'this too shall pass', referring to the adage that highlights that everything material, life, the good and bad the ugly, is transient and will pass. A typical way to understand living this is to take 'one day at a time'. Much harder to do than to say, but reminding yourself of it, keeping company with those who do the same will gently remind you, particularly on a rough day, and being gentle on yourself about BAA/NA can all help to reduce the difficult experience.
Handing over to a higher power - letting go
Who wakes a sleeping baby or toddler 50 times a night, so that they demand milk? What makes some babies sleep 5 hours straight every night, but not yours? What makes some infants not that bothered about being at the breast, but yours a crazed addict? Who decides what little soul you are given to look after and care for? Not you, and surely not them? (Leave aside theories of choice and reincarnation for the minute). There are some things out of your control, and in a way, knowing this can sometimes help to just hand the matter over to the powers that be, God, Allah, mother nature, whoever you call on for help and trust in. Sometimes your pregnancy is planned, other times it isn't, sometimes you had other plans in life, and having a baby only forces you to put them all on hold. There is nothing immediately rewarding about motherhood, and lets stop telling mums it's all worth it for that split second smile that breaks your heart once a day, it's not with BAA/NA, it's just not. Yet, beginning to realise that things are not always in your control can perhaps help with the frustration of BAA/NA, if only for a short while. Knowing the hard (dark, horrible, heart breaking, toe curling, infuriating, rageful) time will pass, as will that split second smile, should, in theory, temper the madness of BAA/NA. With your first and only child, that kind of reference point might not be easy to grasp, but if you're a veteran in BAA/NA it might. They will, eventually, unlatch, they will, eventually, fall asleep, they will, eventually, grow up. Hand it over, submit to the situation, let go....and perhaps a shift will take place in you.
Mindset is everything. Why is it you are still able to continue nursing your infant? Because you have the will and determinatin to continue on your goal of breastfeeding, and because you are not giving in to the b*tch that is BAA/NA. If it is true that BAA/NA can occur in some women as a signal to get them to wean, then your mindset is a classic example of the power over of mind over body. In the same way that power can be used to change the experience of BAA/NA, or at least to temper the feelings that may rage inside. Using Headspace, even for just 10 minutes a day can help control your mind, before it makes a monster of you. There's plenty of evidence showing that continued practice of mindfulness changes your life and who you are as a person.
Triggers and Distraction
Know your triggers, figure them out, and prevent them from happening. Much like an addict who substance abuses, triggers are EVERYTHING. Weather its by taking control of how often, how long and where you breastfeed (if your infant is a bit older), to the daily irriation of wandering hands. If you realise BAA/NA happens when you feed at night lying down, make a change and prepare to get up and feed leaning against a pillow sitting upright. If it happens when on your monthly cycle, prepare mentally for a few days of aversion, take notes on the dates so you know when it will start and, crucially, when it will end.
Distraction is probably the only action that can help most women with BAA/NA immediately, if its not gotten so severe that you are considering weaning. Your phone, a book, sweezing a stress ball, holding ice (yes some women do). Whatever works to pull your mind away from the sensation of breastfeeding, and from the agitation and anger that rises (There is some science to explain why this might work). Take back some control that way, use trial and error to figure out what is most effective, and don't be satisfied with immediate relief, as infants grow and you may change, what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow so be on guard if BAA/NA flares up when you are actively distracting yourself, and try something else.