I felt like doing a post on nursing aversion as it seems like no-one really warns you about it, although it’s been four-and-a-half months since I last breastfed, so I have to try to remember the emotions (not that it’s too hard – they were pretty awful). Like antenatal depression, it seems something no-one really warns you about and that can sneak up on a woman. It also seems like something appropriate to write about as I drink my raspberry leaf tea to try to prepare myself for the oncoming labour of the being who brought on my nursing aversion in the first place. (Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Peanut.)
I fell pregnant again accidentally, but a lot of women plan to conceive again whilst still breastfeeding their first, with no idea that nursing aversion (NA) is a thing. It’s funny, but in the breastfeeding wars (or Mummy Guilt stuff), you often hear women speaking of how guilty they’re made to feel for formula feeding, and women speaking of how guilty they’ve been made to feel for not switching to formula. (Go figure – society is weird.) It’s left women a bit all-over-the-place. There are proud breastfeeders who are told to cover up in public, and conversely, shier women who are made to feel guilty for not whipping their boob out in crowded food courts etc.
So talk about NA seems to have kinda slipped through the cracks – instead, women who want another baby hear endless tales of tandem feeding, with gorgeous photos of a toddler and a newborn feeding contentedly side-by-side at the same snack bar, with no clue that that may not be the case at all for them. (But it can be for some, so I wouldn’t want to deter people from trying.)
Like I said, I didn’t plan to fall pregnant, but I’d never heard of NA and assumed I would just continue feeding, and end up doing this tandem feeding thing myself.
And then the vasospasms started. (Sorry for the T.M.I., but if you’ve already read this far, you’ll have figured NA has to do with boobs and nipples and stuff anyway.) Blood vessels suddenly constrict in the nipples, leaving them white and screamingly painful. It’s kind-of like a relentless nipple cripple. I’d suffered this later in my first pregnancy (not helped by winter cold), but now got it early in the second one, as breastfeeding seemed to trigger it. I did the “good mummy” thing and kept feeding, gritting my teeth, and afterwards would put heat packs down my bra.
Luckily the vasospasms disappeared one day as suddenly as they’d started. I didn’t question why – I was just relieved. But I didn’t realise that that wasn’t nursing aversion – nursing aversion was a whole different thing which also came on suddenly.
I ended up joining a support group online and reading stories from other sufferers of NA. I almost cried with relief to see my emotions mirrored. They had felt so dramatic, I didn’t think anyone would possibly understand. It sounds crazy and weird for women who had been pro-breastfeeding to suddenly be using words like “gross”, “icky”, “chills up my spine”, “want to rip the baby off my breast and start running down the street and never stop” – even, “feels like being sexually molested by my baby”. Who on earth would use that last sentence in particular if they weren’t completely insane?! And yet – it feels that way.
And the women in the support groups all had one thing in common – we tried to be martyrs. We wanted to do the “best” for our babies and keep feeding. We tried hard to find strategies (that didn’t work much) to get us through.
I fell pregnant when Little Miss was six months old, and although I can’t remember when the NA started and how long it lasted, I know I ended up being forced to drop feeds and resort to mix feeding (we chose goat milk as being the closest thing to breastmilk). That in itself was sad for me.
Little Miss seemed to take to the goat’s milk pretty well, though. I think she probably knew on some level that things were a-changin’. From what I’d read, for most women their milk had dried up halfway through pregnancy, about the four-to-five-month mark, as their body reverted to making colostrum. The milk starts to taste less nice. So even an avid boob guzzler starts to wrinkle their nose at you after a while and think, “What is this shite? Maybe a bottle’s not so bad after all.”
At first, though, it was hard. Little Miss seemed to want boob more often. She was getting less milk and becoming fretful and demanding. She would suddenly start tugging at my top and crying in public places when she’d only had a feed not long before. I was feeling guilty. That’s probably about when I realised I needed to introduce mixed feeding – she just simply wasn’t getting enough. Along with that came the feeling of failure that women are so good at.
The failure thing is hard. With society’s increasing pressure of “breast is best”, women with NA were struggling. We agreed breast was best – it just clearly wasn’t best for us at the time. We were only keeping on for the sake of our babies. I saw one lactation consultant and was told dismissively that of course women can keep feeding during pregnancy with no issues at all. (Thousands of women would disagree.) This is nothing against lactation consultants, by-the-way – another one was wonderful and assured me there was no shame in switching to mixed feeding.
I ended up cutting out more feeds until finally I was down to one a day. But even for that one, I’d sit there gritting my teeth, feeling an overwhelming urge to pull her off while an internal scream built up in my head. Sometimes it got so bad I couldn’t bear it anymore and had to take her off – whereupon she’d cry, and I’d feel horrible and pop her back on, fighting back tears as it felt like I couldn’t win. I took Blessed Thistle to try to keep up my supply (I’ve heard wonderful things about Fenugreek, but apparently that’s not recommended in pregnancy, so Blessed Thistle it was) and ate lots of oats. It worked for a time.
I began to run out of Blessed Thistle capsules. I was coming up to around four months pregnant. I bleakly considered not getting any more capsules.
I thought about instinct, and how we tend to fight it all the time, when animals don’t. Mother dogs get sick of their puppies and wean them, growling and snapping at them when they try to feed. (Not that I’m saying you should growl or snap at your baby, but you do get those urges with NA, okay?) Also, if breastfeeding whilst pregnant felt so goddamn wrong, was there a reason for it that we shouldn’t be ignoring? Like, does it take nutrients from the growing baby? Nipple stimulation can cause uterine contractions – could it be your body’s way of saying, “Hey, ease up – contractions in early pregnancy are not a good idea”? There didn’t seem to be any research I could find on this.
NA definitely needs to be talked about more.
In any case, Little Miss took her last breastfeed at ten months. One morning I put her on the boob as usual. She instantly bit me, pulled off, looked at me, and cried. And that was that. She never asked for boob since.
I have mixed feelings. I’m pro-breastfeeding, pro women being able to do it in public, pro extended feeding into toddlerhood, whatever works for woman and child. Yet sometimes I wonder if that creates a guilt complex for those of us who “fail”. What’s the balance? I don’t know. But I know that I’d seen talk about “medals” (not literal ones) – you get your “bronze boobies” (three months), “silver boobies” (six months), “gold boobies” (one year), and “platinum boobies” (two years). I’d been aiming for platinum boobies, and yet I didn’t even make gold. That made me feel like a failure – until I realised what a relief it was to not be feeding through the nursing aversion anymore. I felt guilty about the relief, too. Until I got sick of guilt altogether and just enjoyed having my boobs back for the next few months.
I always feel that I need to qualify statements like, “I stopped breastfeeding at ten months,” with, “But I would have gone for longer if my milk hadn’t run out.” I guess that’s kinda sad that I can’t just be proud of how long I went.
On another note, I had a lot of people tell me how proud I should be. Even when I first started with the NA, I had people urge me to quit, telling me how well I’d done so-far. I know I would have said the same thing to someone else, but somehow, when you’re the one in the position, it falls flat. It can sort-of feel a bit dismissive of your actual feelings on the issue. Yes, you’ve done well so-far, but … you wanted to go further. What’s wrong with that?
In any case, getting closer to No. 2’s birth, I’m starting to see Little Miss eyeing off my boobs again. I don’t know if she can smell what’s in them or see them getting larger, or both. She’s taken to pulling my top down and poking at them curiously. Not asking for them – just poking them. And now this opens up a whole other question about whether she will want to take up tandem feeding, or even if I actually want her to. Maybe I should just buy a goat.