Breastfeeding can be difficult, especially in the early days as you and your baby work together to figure out breastfeeding positions and getting the best latch. Another challenge you might encounter—particularly if you choose extended breastfeeding for your family—is breastfeeding agitation, sometimes also called breastfeeding aversion. Here, we will discuss what this issue is and how to cope if it happens to you.
What is breastfeeding agitation and aversion?
Breastfeeding agitation and aversion (often abbreviated BAA) is when a baby is latched on and feeding and the nursing person experiences negative emotions that can include:
- Anger or rage
- Disgust (with baby or self)
- Skin crawling feelings
- Shame or guilt
The breastfeeding person may also experience intrusive thoughts while breastfeeding, such as:
- Feeling imprisoned or trapped by breastfeeding
- Desire to escape or run away
- Imagining pinching the child to stop him or her from feeding
- Feeling touched out or an aversion to physical contact
Understanding and coping with breastfeeding aversion
Breastfeeding aversion and agitation can happen at any time during your breastfeeding relationship. If breastfeeding is difficult initially, which it is for many families, breastfeeding aversion is more likely to arise. If you have a hard time breastfeeding your newborn—especially if your difficulties have led to pain, cracked nipples, or bleeding for you and lots of crying or disrupted weight gain for your baby—seek help from your care provider and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, who can help you if you wish to continue to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding aversion can be common while you are nursing an older child, too. It might be triggered by hormonal changes—such as ovulation, the return of your period, or by becoming pregnant again—or may not have an obvious trigger. Women who experience aversion may also express a desire to continue nursing.
There is relatively little research on BAA, so most of the strategies that are suggested for coping have worked for people who have experienced aversion. If you are struggling with breastfeeding agitation, here are some things to try:
- Work hard at the beginning of baby’s life to learn to breastfeed painlessly. Seek help early and often because having less pain may help decrease breastfeeding aversion.
- Distract yourself during nursing. It is okay to read, watch TV, visit with friends or family, and look at your phone.
- Do your best to sleep as much as possible. Well-rested people generally experience fewer episodes of BAA. Work with your partner or a trusted friend so that you get breaks from your baby and can rest as needed.
- Drink plenty of water and make sure that you are well nourished. Keep easy-to-eat protein- and fiber-rich snacks on hand for every nursing session.
- If you notice a relationship between your breastfeeding agitation and aversion and your period or ovulation, speak to your care provider, who might have suggestions of ways to better balance your hormones.
- Enforce reasonable boundaries if you experience BAA while nursing an older child. Many people who have nursing aversions while nursing a toddler are also feeding on demand, meaning whenever the child wants to nurse. If your nursing child is older, especially if they are eating plenty of solid food, it is okay to let your child know that nursing will only be an option upon waking in the morning and before nap and bedtimes (or whenever works for your family). Your toddler may feel frustrated, but you can acknowledge their feelings and lovingly sympathize without giving in to their requests to nurse. Sometimes knowing that you do not have to breastfeed at the whims of your child can help decrease breastfeeding agitation.
Finally, many mothers who have breastfeeding agitation and aversion feel guilt and shame after the feelings of BAA arise. It is particularly common for moms with intense feelings of anger or rage to feel guilty after the fact. Confusion often accompanies feelings of guilt and shame, as it seems counterintuitive that something as necessary and loving as breastfeeding your baby can cause such negative emotions. The important thing to remember if you feel shame or guilt for your breastfeeding aversion is that it is not your fault and can be temporary. If you wish to continue breastfeeding, you can try some of the strategies mentioned here. It also might be a good idea speak to your provider and a mental health professional about getting the support you need.