From our first feed to our last Ophelia and I had an amazing, sleepless, beautiful, heartbreaking and all consuming breastfeeding journey. From the moment she latched on in the hospital minuets after entering the world she didn't want to stop feeding. Ever. Which was manageable and wonderful for the first six months but then some not so great feelings started to creep in…
My days had been spent sitting on the sofa watching the world go by nursing Ophelia but all of a sudden I started to feel trapped, annoyed, sad, even angry every time she wanted to feed. I say suddenly but maybe it was slower than that, sneakier. Eventually at around ten months old I was over it. Waking every two hours to nurse, being clawed and bit and pulled and mauled was NOT cute anymore.
Where did the tiny baby who nursed and slept and gazed into my eyes go? Where did this strong, walking toddler come from? The one who was pinning me down and demanding to be fed every hour on the hour? And why did I feel such anger when this beautiful creature that I was so in love with wanted comfort and nourishment?
I knew the feelings I was feeling weren't “normal” and when I would try to talk to people about it, cautiously at first, I would get the usual rubbish:
“Isn't she a bit too old to be breastfeeding anyway?”
“Why don't you just give her formula? I give mine formula and she sleeps for 175 hours a night and takes 12 naps a day”
“She’s just at it, she knows how to play you, she's a genius mastermind with the cognitive abilities of a 45 year old grown woman, don't let her win”
Why was I feeling this way? Me? The biggest supporter of natural term weaning, the person who so wanted to breastfeed after the failed attempt with my first, why was this happening to me?
I started to investigate, to see if anyone else shared a similar experience but honestly either people weren't feeling it or they were and no one was talking about it.
A phrase that people were using in the blogs I had been reading or the Facebook groups that I was a participating in was “all touched out”. This was exactly how I was feeling but it was so much more than that. I was touched out and there was this other thing that didn't have a name. And then one of my favourite people that I follow on Instagram Little Bird Dula said the words that I had been longing to find but didn't know how - Nursing Aversion. Just those two little words gave me hope. Now I know what it is, now I know other people out there feel it, and now I can find out what people do.
Experiencing nursing aversion will be different for everyone, no two people will have the exact same symptoms or feelings. So what did nursing aversion look like for me?
- Anxiety - I had dropped the day feeds once solid food was fully established so the first time I fed Ophelia was her bedtime feed at roughly 6pm. As soon as it turned 4pm my anxiety would kick in. I would have feelings of dread knowing that soon I would have to feed her and it would loom over me as the hours passed.
- Latching Rage - Ophelia latching was one of the worst parts of nursing aversion for me. As soon as she would latch on I would feel intense feelings of anger, my whole body would recoil and I would think ‘get off me, get off me’ while I counted down the minutes/hours that she was latched. This was the hardest part of breastfeeding aversion for me because as soon as she unlatched feelings of love and adoration waved over me. Nursing aversion, for me anyway, was always triggered by her latching on.
- Flat Affect - Nursing aversion left me feeling flat, low sex drive, well, honestly NO sex drive none at all, in fact i couldn't think of anything worse!
- Increased appetite - I know I know everyone who breastfeeds is hungrier than normal but for me I'm sure it was a combination of breastfeeding and the low mood caused by nursing aversion.
- An overwhelming feeling that started in my gut that screamed GET OFF ME NOW.
I’m a total bookworm, whenever I have a problem or want to learn about something I automatically turn to books. So I had plenty of books on breastfeeding that I had collected over the last three years. Five different books to be precise and not one of them, NOT ONE, mentioned aversion. The lack of information was seriously disappointing and this lead to feelings of alienation - Am I the only one? Is there really no one else who feels like this? It’s confusing! However there is hope. Social media contains a wealth of information and personal experience. I found comfort, information and support in Facebook groups and Instagram accounts set up to specifically help women nurse through aversion or to offer them support and guidance in their choice to wean.
Breastfeeding is the ultimate selfless act. We make our bodies available to our babies day and night, we do it out of love and we do it because we want the best for them but we matter too. Self care is not selfish and whether you want support to help you continue to breastfeed through aversion or whether you want advice on how to stop, it starts with acknowledging how you feel and reaching out.
When it comes to breastfeeding the main advice is “never give up on a bad day.”. And this is so true, especially for those first few hectic months. As time goes on it does get so much easier, but this rule of thumb doesn't work for everyone in every situation. There were no more good days for me, they were all bad days and so I decided to wean Ophelia off the boob at 13 months. And that was the end of our breastfeeding journey.
Stopping breastfeeding is up there with one of the most challenging, emotionally draining things i’ve ever had to do but it was also my first proper act of self care. I knew my breastfeeding aversion wasn't going to go away and I knew that my mental wellbeing would deteriorate if I didn't listen to my body… so I did! I put myself first in what felt like forever. As soon as I stopped breastfeeding all those feeling I had been experiencing disappeared and it was wonderful! Sure she still wakes 100 times a night (ok, ok thats an exaggeration its more like 3) and she still uses my body as a comforter, as her home base, but all those feelings are now gone and I can just enjoy her, comfort her and adore her without her hanging off my boob!