The image of breastfeeding is often one of serene connection and love between an infant and their mother. But what if it isn’t like that? What if it changes at some point? What if all of a sudden and without warning your skin crawls at your child’s latch and you are confronted with horrifying urges to throw your toddler across the room? How do you reconcile yourself? How do you deal with the guilt?
Like so many ‘women’s issues’ there is very little research into breastfeeding agitation and aversion (BAA) available and much of what is known is based on anecdotal evidence. But one thing that is certainly true is that if you are experiencing aversion you are not alone and it is not your fault. For me aversion to feeding my older child started whilst I was pregnant with his sister and has continued ever since. This past week my son has been ill, gone off his food and upped his feeds exponentially, people have told me I look great (as this increase in nursing has made me lose weight) but if I’m honest this is the worst I have felt in a long time. I feel drained and depleted and I need to revisit my strategies for coping with nursing aversion to avoid feeling deep resentment towards my beautiful boy.
So with that in mind here are my 8 top tips for managing breastfeeding aversion :
1. You cannot pour from an empty boob!
Never in my life has this been more true, with a clingy nearly 3 year old and a 4 month old baby nursing around the clock I need to put myself first occasionally. That means prioritising my basic needs, leaning on my support network and taking time for myself. The simple act of taking a shower on my own really can wash away the day and help me to reset. Even the promise of planned time to myself in a week’s time can get me through a tough feed. Don’t be afraid to reach out – your emotional and physical health are paramount to your mothering capabilities.
2. Hydration and diet
When you’re sustaining one or more children they receive the good stuff before you do. That means that if you are not drinking enough water and eating a balanced diet then you are going to start lacking in energy quickly and that can affect your nursing relationships. A good tip is to keep a sports bottle filled with water and aim to get through 3 per day.
3. Join a support group
It’s easy to feel alone but actually nursing aversion is fairly common. A quick search of Facebook can instantly put you in touch with thousands of women who are going through the same thing. You can share how you feel in a judgement-free zone where you don’t have to explain. We know you love your children, we know aversion doesn’t necessarily mean you want to wean (but that it might and that’s okay too). Above all we know it’s bloody hard.
4. Try taking a magnesium supplement
I haven’t tried this yet myself but my next port of call is Holland and Barrett. There is lots of anecdotal evidence that taking magnesium can help to reduce and even eliminate nursing aversion.
Simple but surprisingly effective; social media, online shopping, watching TV, calling a friend, mentally planning your next holiday… all of these can help. Sometimes it’s not about enjoying bonding time, it’s about getting through the next feed. Do what you have to do.
Admittedly this is something that works more for older children but setting limits can be a really good tool to stop you from losing your mind (and your temper). For me and my oldest nursling this comes in the form of counting to 10, when I get to 10 the feed is over. Setting up this limit helps me to feel a little more in control and also gives my son a realistic expectation of what I am willing to give at that moment. I was sceptical that my milk loving child would go for it but against the odds he got the hang of it very quickly and now even sometimes requests “count to 10 bubba”. Winner.
8. Drop the guilt
If you are reading this then you have probably berated yourself for hating nursing your child at one point or another. Aversion is normal, it is seen in all mammals and is often part of the weaning process. If you are nursing a child despite your own feelings of self loathing and dread then you are a bloody hero. You are the epitome of motherly sacrifice, you rock. And guess what? Your child has no idea what is going through your head. All they know is that you keep showing up day after day, feed after feed. You are amazing. So do yourself a favour and don’t forget it.
Photo used with permission from Hemant Kumar.