Breastfeeding/Nursing Aversion and Agitation is a phenomenon whereby breastfeeding triggers negative emotions like anger or irritation, skin-crawling sensations and particular intrusive thought like feeling trapped or an urge to de-latch (Yate, Z., 2020)
My daughter and I got off to a rocky start in the early days of our breastfeeding relationship. She didn't latch for 3 days, she slept for the first 2 weeks (constantly having to wake her for feeds!) and then she *didn't* sleep for the next 6 weeks. I had milk like a firehose and could soak through a nursing pad in an hour. It was painful and my body felt so foreign to me. Eventually we discovered she had a lip and posterior tongue tie. We had them revised and her reflux and colic eased. She was still an extremely sensitive little peanut with a lot of big emotions, but breastfeeding became the source of calm instead of the source of distress.
We breastfed in carriers, at the park, on a rock looking out over Lake Huron. We breastfed through meltdowns and tears. We breastfed with giggles and grins. I was so confident in our breastfeeding relationship. My husband and I knew we wanted another baby and I dreamed of tandem feeding. We were settled into our life as a family of 3 and another baby just made sense!
When my daughter was 20 months old I got pregnant. My first symptom was nipple sensitivity. Suddenly her latch felt like razor blades! I was struck by this strange, almost primal urge to just get her mouth off of me as soon as she would go to breastfeed. I swallowed it. "What is wrong with me?! It's just the pain. That's all." I would tell myself. I didn't want to wean. I wasn't ready. She wasn't ready. But every time she would latch a strong wave of irritation would hit me, my whole body would tense and I would squeeze my eyes shut to just get through it. The worst was at night. I remember being so frustrated with my body for feeling this way and her incessant need for milk I would reach up and start punching the headboard while she was latched beside me. I decided to night wean. It actually went really well. The last time she had breastmilk during the night was on her 2nd birthday. I found ways to manage the aversion during the day, but the feeling of being touched out remained. We would do countdowns to shorten feeds, sing songs and read books. I found if I felt like I could control when the feed would come to an end, the aversion wasn't that bad. In fact, sometimes the sweetness of her eyes looking up at me and the softness of her hair would be the things that would consume my senses.
I was still feeling touched out, however. I was pregnant. And people liked to touch my belly. And I *HATED* it. I hated other people taking any sense of ownership over my pregnancy, children or birth. I had this feeling that it wasn't mine. That it was all being taken from me. (I had gone through a traumatic birth with my daughter and facing the birth of my second child was stirring up a lot of stress and feelings that had been dormant.) I didn't want anyone to know our birth plans. We kept the gender a secret until I was ready. We kept the name a secret until my son was born. I needed some things to just belong to me and husband. I needed to keep them sacred.
A common theme for me when I reflect on the seasons I have felt the most touched out is autonomy. When I feel like my body, my time, my resources aren't mine, it tends to bubble up as resentment and feelings of being touched out. It really comes down to a preservation of resources. I have nothing left to give. I am not generally conscious of it at the time, but it remains true nonetheless.
After my son was born, I tandem fed both of my children. My son never triggered the feelings of irritation, but my daughter did. Nearly every time to varying degrees. But still, we weren't ready to wean. I know it sounds so crazy, but it's true! The aversion would generally only strike when she was actually latched. I was grateful to have a toddler to help me regulate my supply, though!
My son was born nearly 2 years ago. My daughter is still breastfeeding. I tune in with my body. We set up boundaries. We shorten feeds. But we do so in a way that respects both of our needs and keeps both of us happy and comfortable. We have gone through *a lot* since then. (Covid anyone??). Breastfeeding is still the place we can come to to reconnect, even though I experience aversion. It's still the place that we meet for some tears and some giggles. It looks different now, but boundaries and prioritizing my own needs has made all the difference.
And I would like to clarify that much of the boundary work I have done has been with OTHER people. Not my children (although there have been some with them as well). It has been working on my marriage, boundaries with family, reconnecting with my body, finding joy in creative expression etc... that have actually been the most helpful in easing my feelings of being touched out and nursing aversion.
If you have experienced these feelings too, you aren't alone. You aren't crazy. You aren't broken. And although you can be empowered to make changes that can help, you didn't cause this. There is hope.
If you want some extra support from me, reach out! I'm so happy to help. <3