Aversion to breastfeeding: why does it happen and how to deal with it?

Breastfeeding aversion is a more common problem than is believed. Some women have difficulty breastfeeding their babies and this does not make them bad people.

Last update: May 24, 2022

Breastfeeding aversion is a complex phenomenon that is little talked about. Is related to unpleasant emotions and sensations for the mother at the time of breastfeeding. Then there are feelings of guilt about this.

The benefits of feeding a baby with breast milk are well known. But when there is aversion, the experience is involuntarily rejected.

Women who experience it are not bad mothers, far from it. They are simply human beings who have difficulty living this situation in a natural and rewarding way. It is not a whim; there are real causes and also solutions.

Breastfeeding and its importance

The World Health Organization (WHO) and doctors recommend that the baby be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life. Ideally, complementary foods are then incorporated and lactation continued until 2 years.

By itself, it has a deep emotional meaning, both for the mother and for the baby. For the woman, it is a way that allows her to identify with her maternal role and develop a very close bond with the child. For the baby it is part of the attachment experience that she requires at the beginning of her life.

In this way, feeding the baby with breast milk not only provides great benefits for physical health, but also provides a significant psychological experience. However, some mothers fail to feel it this way.



What is breastfeeding aversion?

Breastfeeding aversion is a situation in which the mother experiences a set of negative feelings about the act of breastfeeding. This comes on suddenly and without a physical cause or concrete to explain it.

Also known as breastfeeding agitation. It occurs in mothers of different ages and conditions; even in some who have already had children and had not experienced something similar when breastfeeding them.

There are no concrete data on the prevalence of this phenomenon., but it is believed that it can be a very common situation. The point is that it generates feelings of guilt in mothers, so they don’t talk about it. Likewise, many health professionals ignore its existence.

However, it could be that up to a third of women experience it. There are few studies about it. Although in 2017 an investigation was carried out with 694 women and in 70% of them there were symptoms of this problem.

Women with this problem experience it with anguish and the guilt is prolonged in other activities they do with the baby.

Symptoms

It is important to note that at the beginning of lactation it is common for there to be some physical discomfort when breastfeeding the baby. This may cause some discomfort, but it does not affect the motivation to feed the little one.

In breastfeeding aversion the situation is different. There are no physical problems with breastfeeding, but yes a series of negative emotions when doing it. There is rejection of the act of feeding the child. There may even be resentments to physical contact.

Women describe the aversion to breastfeeding as a situation in which feelings of rage and anger appear at the time of breastfeeding. There is also irritation and agitation. Likewise, many indicate that they experience tingling or itching of the skin and that they feel pain in the nipples.

A meta-analysis published in 2021 shows that these symptoms are consistent:

  • Desire to remove the baby as soon as possible.
  • Violent thoughts towards the baby, in some cases.

It occurs mainly with children under 1 year of age.. It is more common in women who are breastfeeding during an ongoing pregnancy.

Sometimes it is constant and other times it appears only in some shots, especially the night ones. It is more common on dates that coincide with menstruation or ovulation.

There is internal conflict over the desire to breastfeed and the refusal to do so.

Other data of interest

Although the usual manifestations of breastfeeding aversion are those already described, there are also cases in which other symptoms occur. Some mothers report that breastfeeding gives them an erotic sensation that they reject. Others say that a feeling of frustration and helplessness predominates.

The most difficult thing to cope with, in any case, is ambivalence. Rejection, on the one hand, and intense guilt on the other. There are cases in which these emotions are present, but in a slight way. Other times they are very pronounced and even increase over time.

A lot of women recognize that the trigger for breastfeeding aversion is extreme fatigue. That is why it is more common for it to appear or increase during night feedings. Likewise, with babies who are very demanding.



Causes

Science has not fully pinpointed the causes of breastfeeding aversion. At the moment, it is known that there are some circumstantial triggers, such as the following:

  • Fatigue: tiredness increases the refusal to breastfeed.
  • Tandem breastfeeding: refers to cases in which the mother becomes pregnant during lactation and decides to continue with it. Up to 60% of women in this situation develop an aversion to breastfeeding.
  • Physical sensitivity: sometimes there is a lot of sensitivity in the nipple or in the breasts, perhaps due to inappropriate positions when breastfeeding.
  • Sexual abuse experiences: breastfeeding involves very intimate and close contact, which may be rejected by some women with a history of sexual abuse.
  • Previous psychological traumas: an unfortunate experience with one’s mother can be projected onto a child.
  • Menstruation and ovulation: many women report feeling rejection only during these times of the month. It is possible that there is some physiological element involved.
There are no defined causes of this problem. A psychological origin is suspected, but physiological elements cannot be ruled out.

How can breastfeeding aversion be treated?

The main difficulty in breastfeeding aversion is that many times it is not identified and less is talked about it. The first step to overcome this condition is to recognize that it exists and that this does not mean that a woman is a bad mother.

The action plan would be as follows:

  1. Exculpabilize. It is important to understand that the rejection is not deliberate, so there should be no blame.
  2. Communicate. Verbalizing in these cases is essential. A health professional is a good option to discuss the situation.
  3. Identify the situation. It is important to observe when the symptoms of breastfeeding aversion occur and what those manifestations are like.
  4. Distract and relax. It is possible to find some distraction while breastfeeding, such as listening to music or reading a book.
  5. Rest more. If it is detected that the aversion to breastfeeding is associated with fatigue, it is best to find a way to rest more and better.
  6. Check posture. If there is pain or physical discomfort, it is key to review the position adopted for breastfeeding and discuss it with the pediatrician.
  7. respectful weaning. If it is estimated that there is no way to solve the problem, it is best to carry out a respectful weaning after 6 months of breastfeeding.

Sometimes everything is solved when the cause of the rejection is found and the matter is taken action. On other occasions, it is not possible to identify the reason for the aversion to breastfeeding.

The best thing is to go to psychotherapy and perhaps advance a respectful detestation. Pacifying the situation is best for the mother and the baby.

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