Saturday, 5 October 2013

Overcoming nursing aversion

Nursing is all about warmth, contentment, being at one with your child. And if you're into your second year of breastfeeding, you would imagine you would be well past any major problems. So I was shocked and horrified when my previously very easy breastfeeding journey suddenly became irritating and horrid.

Nursing aversion or breastfeeding agitation can range from a general unease or unhappiness about nursing through a skin-crawling feeling to a very extreme, almost overpowering, wish to get the nursling off you. It can strike anyone nursing an older child, and is particularly common if you are breastfeeding and pregnant or tandem feeding.

I was lucky enough to sail through pregnancy with my third with barely any aversion to nursing my second. However, once my youngest was born and my daughter increased her nursing with a vengeance to take advantage of the rich, creamy, new milk, I began to occasionally resent her constant demands - particularly when she was waking in the night more frequently than the new baby. We overcame this particular issue, by night weaning. And it seemed the issue was solved. I began to enjoy nursing her again. Setting a limitation at night had sorted us out in the day. And I was less exhausted.

It was with some surprise that I recently began to experience agitation again! Thankfully, not all the time, but enough to upset me. It can be particularly painful when a three year relationship begins to sour. I have always wanted her to self-wean, so stopping her from nursing at all has never been an option. So I set about figuring out what was triggering this new onset of aversion. And I came up with a couple of flashpoints:

1. Tiredness. I enjoy nursing her when I am not exhausted. Being knackered means the requests for 'mummy's milk' suddenly feel like demands. And the hands down my t-shirt become an invasion.
2. Mood. If my daughter has been testing boundaries with challenging behaviour and tantrums, I can't feed her. Which puts paid to the boast by some that sustained breastfeeding is great for soothing tantrums. Not so in my house where mummy's milk becomes a bargaining tool and a battle for power and control. So, I have now learnt to delay so nursing is not associated with tantrums and so I have the time to take a few deep breaths, calm down, de-stress and relax. Introducing a few boundaries - simple rules about when we can and can't nurse has also helped my daughter because she understands there is consistency in when I say yes and when I say no.
3. Hormones. Much as nursing aversion can strike during pregnancy, probably due to changes in hormones, I suspect my body is gearing up to become fertile again. This means I may be coping with more hormones floating around re-starting my ovaries and waking up my uterus from the breastfeeding induced hibernation it has been enjoying since my youngest was born.

Even though I can't do anything to overcome some of the trigger points, just knowing what they are has helped me overcome the nursing aversion.

One suggestion has been to implement a clear and consistent 'time-table' of when nursing can take place, for example, set times such as after our morning snack, after lunch and before teeth at bedtime. The idea is that through both of us knowing that these are 'nursing times' aversion caused by constant demands will be diminished. However, I have been reluctant to implement such a rigid structure, partly because I want her self-weaning journey to be truly 'self-led' and partly because my own aversion is not bad enough at the moment to warrant such drastic action. Plus, it's helpful to always know that I still have the option of nursing if she hurts herself or needs something more than a quick cuddle.

Today we nursed several times and we both enjoyed it. I'm under no illusions that there won't be times when I don't want her to touch me as she nurses, but I feel better prepared. And I'm happy that I can support her as she continues to nurse - whether that journey lasts only a few more months or a couple of years.

For further information about nursing aversion visit La Leche League:
The book, Adventures in Tandem Nursing by Hillary Flowers is also an amazing resource.

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