When Nursing Aversion Strikes – and you can’t stand breastfeeding.

When we talk about the challenges of Breastfeeding, we seldom ever talk about ‘Breastfeeding Aversion’.  Perhaps it’s because no-body really understands ‘why’ it happens, even those of us who experience it just press on trying to work through it the best we can without ever really feeling equipped with the knowledge as to ‘why’ it’s happening to us.

When my son Jair was two and a half I developed a Breastfeeding Aversion half way through my pregnancy with Noah. One day I was mothering through breastfeeding, enjoying settling my toddler for his sleeps and soothing any upsets with the breast; the next I couldn’t stand my child sucking at my breast, the very thought, feeling, and sight disgusted me.  Difficult to perceive, right? Especially for a lover of all things breastfeeding like myself. It’s even more difficult to understand when you’re the one experiencing the mental turmoil that begins to wreak havoc on your psych with every feed. It’s cruel. And it can strike at any time depending on hormones or life circumstances.

My toddler would settle into the nook in my elbow expecting to feed to sleep at the breast as he’d always done since the day he was born. When he would begin to suck it felt like a large child was sucking, like somebody other than my child was at my breast. The sound would send shivers up my neck, if he pulled off it felt almost impossible to re-attach him as the disgust would send anxiety through my entire being.
I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for him to understand why his mummy couldn’t look at him, couldn’t enjoy the feeling, or relax at all in his presence.
It wasn’t fair.
It wasn’t what I wanted.
I didn’t ask for it nor was I ready for it…just as I wasn’t prepared for it to happen a second time – during this pregnancy – with my nursling (Noah) who is six months younger than his brother was when I had to wean him because of the intensity of my breastfeeding aversion.

I can empathise with women who for whatever reason could not breastfeed, or who did not have adequate support to begin to continue to breastfeed their babies.
When a mother can’t nurture or nourish her young in a way that her heart truly desires, it’s as though she has been robbed, stripped somehow of her divine right – and she must find resolve in herself to carry on – in spite of the challenge encountered.
Sometimes the ideal just doesn’t happen. Sometimes we have to shift our goal posts and accept the things we cannot change. It is during these challenging times that we learn how resilient and very capable we are. We are Mothers. It comes with the calling.

Breastfeeding Aversion isn’t widely understood. To my knowledge there is little research or investigation into ‘why’ a mother can suddenly feel opposed to her child nursing – other than perhaps the indication Pinky gives in her eBook ‘Weaning with Love’ where she suggests that as the hormones ‘prolactin’ and ‘oxytocin’ (the feel good hormones) responsible for let-down and inducing lactation are suppressed or lowered through circumstances such as pregnancy or depression (depressive thoughts even); the mother’s mental state or capacity to cope with normal things can be affected. This makes sense to me. As my milk reduced through both pregnancies the aversion increased – perhaps there is a direct link between a mother’s hormones to her state of mental being (hello sufferers of PMS!)

One thing is for sure…once you suffer from breastfeeding aversion, you can fight it and find ways to cope as I have done for over three months now, but it is one of the most challenging mental gigs I’ve ever had to endure – right up there with labour – yes, labour.

Pinky says this in her eBook ‘Weaning with Love’:

“The best way to wean and avoid sudden hormonal withdrawal is to consider the mantra ‘gradually, with love’, dropping breastfeeds slowly over several weeks or longer. A good rule of thumb is to drop no more than one feed a week. And, to help you stay chemically balanced, try implementing other activities that will release oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’ – cuddling and intimacy with your partner, massages, sharing fun and food with friends, as well as eating healthy foods and exercising to boost your endorphins (happy hormones).”

Three months ago when the aversion struck, I began to find coping strategies such as reading articles on my phone, wearing headphones to block out the noise, and would try to dis-associate my mind from my nursling as much as possible for the duration of the feed. This worked, but only until the aversion ramped up a notch as my pregnancy progressed. I then began adopting the ‘pull off method’ where I could only tolerate Noah feeding for 20 seconds and then I’d pull him off, hug him and rock on the rocking chair until he fell asleep.

This worked for another month, until the aversion increased again.

At this point, and un-willingly, Noah is down to only a few sucks at night before I pull him off and we cuddle until he falls asleep.It’s not my choice, but it’s how things have progressed. I simply can’t sit through a feed anymore without feeling overwhelmed by the need to remove my child from the breast. It will never make sense to me, but I need to make peace with ‘it’. Because my boy needs me to. He needs a happy mummy, and that means we feed less now and cuddle more.

If you haven’t had to deal with breastfeeding aversion, fear not, perhaps you never will! It was only when I fell pregnant that the aversion developed, but there are lots of women who are able to continue feeding their toddler through pregnancy and tandem feed with a newborn (Pinky was one of them!). For those of us who have experienced or are trying to work through a breastfeeding aversion please know you aren’t alone, nor should you feel that you have to walk the path alone.

Parenthood brings with it a myriad of challenges, some we may anticipate, and others are completely out of our control.These things, I have found, can help carry us through difficult seasons more easily:

Patience – trusting that everything will work out, and walking out the challenge a day at a time.

Gentleness – for ourselves and for our loved ones during the ‘up-hill’ times.

Support network – in the form of like-minded mamas or a trusted friend to have a cuppa with when it all gets too hard

Positive mindset – The mantra ‘this too shall pass’ really is the truest piece of advice a part from ‘trust your instincts’ that I’ve ever heard.

Staying positive and focussing on the positives in life can be so helpful. We are incredibly strong and brilliantly resilient when we need to be. The challenges only propel us further forward and into new confidences and awakenings unto ourselves.

I’m not done on my breastfeeding journey with Noah just yet. I’m pressing on and trying hard to get through this aversion until the new baby is born. I want to test my theory that I can tandem feed both children, and that the aversion may just leave – like a bad dream or an old memory. In the meantime, I’ll continue to grieve a little for what has been lost, but will earnestly try to focus on all that we still have.

We can’t control it all, but we can face it all with strength, kindness, and courage, each day. That is parenting, after all.

There are some great references to aversion in Pinky’s eBook ‘Weaning with Love’ (click here) 
And also here in a blog by the ‘Baddass Breastfeeder’ (Click Here)

Dani Avery lives in Queensland, Australia. Her toddler Noah has now weaned and easily snuggles next to her for a story at bedtime before he falls asleep. Her third child is due this month. You can connect with Dani on her instagram page (here).

  1. Violet says

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Dani. It helps me understand and accept what I am feeling. Much appreciated!

  2. Lily Everett says

    I experienced the excruciating nursing aversion you describe starting when I was 16 weeks pregnant with my daughter, and as you state, it just got worse as my pregnancy went on. However, my son was a complete boob addict and there was no way to get him to fall asleep without nursing. I did the same things you describe in order to push myself through it: distractions on my phone, listening to music on headphones, dissociating from my nursling, repeating mantras in my head which I planned on using during birth (and did! – “this pain is temporary” “The pain cannot beat me, it IS me” “just hold on a little longer”). Thankfully, by the time this was really hitting me hard, my son was at an age (about 22 months) where he was beginning to understand that mommy was hurting. I was able to teach him to let go when I needed him to stop, and at that point we would cuddle and he would drift off to sleep. My milk was completely gone by about 24 weeks, but we continued to dry nurse to sleep throughout my pregnancy. In fact, when I was in labor, it was him nursing to sleep that kick-started things in to high gear – I actually audibly heard my water bag pop! And contractions ramped up from then on.

    I agree that it was THE most difficult thing I have endured mentally, absolutely up there with labor and birth. I was so proud of myself for making it through, and then getting the opportunity to tandem nurse my toddler and newborn. They are now 3.5 years and 17 months. When his sister was born, he went back to nursing during the day along with her, although not as often. Actually – there have been times where she was not as interested in nursing as he was, but at this point she now nurses MUCH more often than he. I think he is beginning to slowly wean on his own.

    It is important for me to mention – the aversion has never fully gone away. It has gotten considerably easier to handle – I don’t feel absolutely disgusted every time – but there are still moments where I do. Thankfully at this point he is so good about stopping when I need him to. Plus, most of the time, it’s just an annoying irritation, not a full on “get off me!” sensation. At the same time, it makes me so sad that our breastfeeding relationship has become this – me just gritting my teeth through irritation to a sensitive part of my body, rather than the loving and gentle mothering way I can connect with my daughter while she nurses, and how it used to be with my son.

  3. Sophie says

    Thank you, this is a relief. I thought I was the only one. My little boy is 2.5 and I’m 15 weeks pregnant. I’m done, it makes me feel physically and emotionally ill and reading this gives me motivation to stop, that it’s OK and I’m not a freak.

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