Skinship, Breastfeeding & Aversion
Updated: Sep 6
Skinship is a mix of two words or a ‘portmanteau’ of the English words ‘skin’ and ‘friendship’ and it is predominantly used in Japanese to describes interaction through skin contact that
builds love or closeness. I look deeper at the conceptual understanding of this in my book When Breastfeeding Sucks in order to really understand aversion - when breastfeeding triggers particular negative emotions and intrusive thoughts.
When Skinship was first used, it referred to touch and closeness between a mother and child. Skinship is a widespread, deeply rooted concept in traditional Japan and even continues in modern day Japanese culture. Although now normatively used to refer to intimate touch in romantic relationships, we can clearly see it still applies when we consider the daily activities of a mother. How it describes a sort of ephemeral, invisible relationship between her and her child - that needs no words between them to grow.
Touch and touchability is part of being a human - we feel things through it. We touch and need to be touched. Touch and touchability are also a necessary part of both breastfeeding, and a mother's role as caregiver, with intimate contact day and night. And with this touch comes oxytocin, a hormone that has long been attributed to binding sexual partners into lifetime partners, siblings in families and even individuals in a work team. A powerful hormone responsible for the loving, bonding effects breastfeeding can, and should have.
Skinship can help us understand the importance of touch for mothers, but also how this relates to aversion, because to be human is also to be emotional. And touch almost always arouses emotions - both positive and negative - so there is a deep connection between emotion and the sense of touch. Breastfeeding necessarily requires touch due to the skin-to-skin contact and because of spatial proximity. From the lips, mouth and cheek as a minimum, there is reciprocal skin contact for the nursling and the mother. The close body contact needed for good positioning and attachment mean the boundaries between the mother and nursling are blurred, as you cannot really tell where the mother’s body ends and the nursling’s begins. This happening, in a nurturing and comfortable way, builds Skinship, and therefore the relationship and bonds between a mother and nursling.
But what about when touch is a trigger? When mothers have challenges, or sensory or skin sensitivity? We all have our own individual levels of comfort and preference when it comes to touch, and some cohorts of mothers sometimes struggle more than others when breastfeeding. Mothers who are on the autism spectrum, mothers who are pregnant and breastfeeding with sensitive nipples, mothers who are survivors of previous sexual abuse, or simply mothers who cannot sleep while being touched or touching someone else. I show that the bonds of Skinship can be compromised, that aversion can strike, and knowing this can help mothers understand what is happening to them, and what to do about it.
"When breastfeeding is working, and is easy for a mother, it can be relaxing in a deep way, which can promote Skinship and anshin (a state of contentment). But when breastfeeding is painful, or uncomfortable, or becomes difficult for a mother to sustain, it will not promote this contented state. And many mothers do not realise there are challenging parts to creating anshin through Skinship – with personal, physical and emotional obstacles to overcome when breastfeeding responsively during the day, and co-sleeping or bed-sharing at night as so many breastfeeding mothers do." p20
Joining our free peer-to-peer aversion support group, or taking our free structured support course online can help mothers to understand their aversion, their own personal triggers and causes, and how to alleviate it.
When Breastfeeding Sucks by Zainab Yate is published by Pinter & Martin, £12.99.