Breastfeeding, Skinship and Nursing Aversion

By Zainab Yate

Most people think that breastfeeding is always a calming, loving experience that draws a mother closer to her nursling. And when breastfeeding is going well, this is exactly what happens. However, when breastfeeding is challenging, many mothers experience breastfeeding as triggering particular negative emotions like anger and irritation, even a skin-crawling sensation and often an overwhelming urge to de-latch. This is known as the phenomenon of nursing aversion and agitation and it can happen at any point in a breastfeeding journey, but there are some known causes as to why it occurs and I cover these in my book When Breastfeeding Sucks.

The concepts of nurture and skinship help us understand why aversion may arise in women who mother through breastfeeding, but there are also some clear physiological reasons why it may arise.

Hormonal changes that occur when postnatal menses return can mean nipple sensitivity increases when breastfeeding, or when a mother is ovulating a spike in testosterone – which is a known oxytocin antagonist – and can make you feel more agitated and more aggressive and inhibit the loving feelings feeding usually creates.

There are also many societal factors that play a role in aversion, particularly if a mother is feeling stressed by the return to work, or an educational deadline and has less time and energy to breastfeeding.

Although there is a good argument that aversion is a strong biological trigger to start the weaning process to stop breastfeeding for older nurslings, attachment parents who want to practise gentle weaning methods may find aversion particularly upsetting as they are not able to fully follow their child-led principles. There are a number of things that can help when mothers try to lessen their aversion, and these can include:

Cognitive distraction – where you distract your brain from the negative emotions by engaging your mind in another activity like playing a game on your phone or using a sensory or stress device to concentrate on. This works because your brain cannot focus on two cognitive activities at once. Aversion will abate when you are actively distracting yourself.

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