Breastfeeding Aversion and Agitation
Breastfeeding aversion and agitation (Aversion) while breastfeeding is a phenomenon experienced by some women who are breastfeeding. It is also known as nursing aversion (NA), especially in the United States of America. This is not a website resource about why some women are averse to breastfeeding in general and who do not breastfeed due to social stigma, previous sexual abuse, or simply because they want to formula feed. It is a site for breastfeeding women who experience aversion, to raise awareness, provide a resource and support.
Currently, there is no known reason for its cause as there are only few studies are published on aversion, however, mine is one study describing the phenomenon and exploring causes. There are also a couple of books (Flower, 2003; Kursi, 2015), and one article (Watkinson et, al., 2016) that make reference to it as part of 'negative embodied emotions'. There are also many, many blogs, and a mass of anecdotal data that sufferers have posted that offers some insight into how to lessen the aversions and agitations for women who want to continue breastfeeding.
What is it and when does it happen?
My research shows that breastfeeding women can have aversion at any point in their breastfeeding journey, from feeding a newborn solely, to feeding when pregnant to tandem feeding (two or more children). Aversion has varying durations and severities which are different for each mother. Some women experience aversion once, while others constantly and at every feed. Feelings of anger and irritability, coupled with skin itching sensations while the infant is latched, and the urgent need to remove the feeding infant are the commonly experienced feelings. Shame and guilt about these feelings of anger and wanting to unlatch the child are also common.
As aversion is little discussed in the academic literature, and only unofficially recognised amongst mothers, it is a very difficult and lonely experience for mothers who go through it. Partners, other family members, friends and even health care professionals will often revert to telling the mother who complains of negative emotions when breastfeeding to wean/introduce formula. However, most mothers who experience aversion want to continue breastfeeding and should be supported in every way possible to do so.
Mother-to-mother peer support is very important for mothers experiencing aversion, especially from other women experiencing aversion. This is because knowing other mothers who are going through it, normalising it in some way and to trying to identify what triggers it/what can help offers solidarity and support.
There are, listed to the right, a number of reasons that could contribute to a mother experiencing aversion. Also, check out my possible 'theories of causation'. It is likely that there is a combination of them that triggers aversion, and that it varies for each mother. Identifying that aversion occurs around a menstrual cycle could help a mother to know the times it will happen to her, that it is likely hormonal, and that it will pass. Or if she is not eating or sleeping well, that she ought to hydrate and improve her diet to lessen the symptoms. At the moment it is trial and error that will help identify the cause or triggers for a mother.
What to do
If you are a mother that experiences aversion talk about it with those you trust, explain to them what is happening, ask for help. Join a peer to peer support group today. If you want to continue breastfeeding, and your child is slightly older or a toddler, then consider having a 'breastfeeding only chair', or a 'breastfeeding only top' to help your child understand they only have milk when you are sitting in that chair or wearing that top. Not offering but not refusing the breast also helps, as does limiting the feeds or duration of time at the breast. For aversion specifically, there are lots of things to try, from anecdotal evidence that can lessen the aversion. Check out the 'what can help' section.
POLLS - source: online poll from viewers
HAVE NEVER HEARD OF BREASTFEEDING AVERSION
HAVEN'T TOLD ANYONE
WEANED BECAUSE OF BREASTFEEDING AVERSION
Reasons given in anecdotal data for the feelings of breastfeeding aversion/agitation:
Post-natal onset of menstruation and subsequent menstruations
Cessation of intimacy (orgasms) with partner
Sleep deprivation - Tiredness and fatigue
Lack of minerals – B12, Magnesium and Vit D are oft mentioned to help
Not having a break from being a primary caregiver
Tandem feeding (a newborn and a toddler)
Being pregnant and continuing to breastfeed a child
Previous history of sexual abuse
Diagnosed or undiagnosed post-natal depression(or mood disorders)
Descriptions given of the aversion/agitation:
Feeling touched out / too much physical contact
Feeling an itchy of 'crawling' sensation
Feeling discomfort/pain while the child is suckling
Having anger when infant is latched
Having rage when infant is latched
Feeling desperate and wanting to leave
Wanting to wean but simultaneously not wanting to wean
Feeling guilty about feelings of BAA
Feeling shame about feelings of BAA