Navigating Nursing Aversion

I stumbled across this image the other day, which 'spoke to me', shall we say:

Lately, my breastfeeding journey has hit a few bumps.  Physically, we're doing well.  One year in and I've fought away mastitis just once, as opposed to the four times with my daughter.  My supply is good, my nipples are in tact and my baby is growing like a healthy and bountiful weed.


I've been feeling...agitated.  Not at  every nursing session, but every now and then, I feel utterly touched out and even panicky during feeds.  I'm no stranger to what's going on here, though with my daughter it didn't strike until she was significantly older than twelve months.

The beast I'm confronting is nursing aversion.

As with many things related to women's health, there isn't a whole lot of research or information about nursing aversion.  There is no hard and fast rule as to why it occurs or how best to remedy it, so mums are often left to navigate our way through these unknown waters with minimal support.

Through my own research, I've stumbled across one very significant contributing factor, which is not only apparent in anecdotal tales of nursing aversion, but is also specifically called out in the one and only published study about the phenomenon.

The culprit?  Sleep deprivation.

Well, now that makes a little more sense!

"Sleep deprivation or not having any time for self-care are commonly reported as ‘triggers’ for breastfeeding aversion and agitation, including the sensations of an infant’s latch, ‘wandering hands’ and ‘nipple twiddling/tweaking’. Many mothers report the pre-cursor to experiencing aversion is that they are ‘touched out’. This term refers to women feeling overwhelmed by the amount of physical contact with their infants, and not being able to have any time apart/alone/for themselves without being touched. This was especially true for mothers who tandem fed, or were breastfeeding very demanding toddlers."  (Zainab Yate)

So many of us can relate to feeling 'touched out', yet what is especially shocking is that there are no published research studies documenting what can help alleviate this common aversion.  None.  Let's just sit with that fact for a minute...there is literally no research being funded to address a widespread breastfeeding complaint, which has been shown to increase the rates of weaning prematurely, oftentimes against the mother's wishes and intentions.  It's almost as if maternal healthcare isn't valued by our governing bodies...go figure...

And so, without evidence-based peer supported data, we turn instead to one another.  We look to our mothers, sisters and friends.  We ask, often over tea and cake, if not via online support groups and resources, "what helped you through?  What can I do??"

And the answers are so often the same:

  • Go back to basics with baby's latch. 
  • Distract yourself during feeds.
  • Catch up on sleep and rest whenever you can.
  • Hydrate!
  • Eat nutrient rich foods, often. 
  • Spend a little time doing something just for you every day.

I can personally attest to the fact that my aversion is intermittent.  If I'm better-rested, hydrated and fed, our feeds are wonderful once again (aside from the discomfort of gymnurstics, but that's a whole other blog post...)

So breastfeeding mums, when aversion strikes, feel free to refer to the checklist above.  Try to trust that feelings of aversion are your body's way of saying (or screaming...): "I need some TLC!"

Listen to your body, reach out for support and have a cup of tea.

You've got this.

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