Pen Pal: Breastfeeding Aversion
We love it when we can bring you a voice that shouts out for many women. Zainab is dedicated to her campaign to provide support for mamas suffering with breastfeeding aversion. She is based in the UK and lives with her husband and two children, who she breastfed despite experiencing aversion. What a super trooper.
When Kate and Rosie asked me to write a post, I thought hell yeah, I'm all about being frank about feeding.
Birth, like breastfeeding, was not even on my radar of things to be considered when I was expecting my first child. I was going to give birth like in Ina May's 'Spiritual Midwifery'... and breastfeeding? Well, who on earth needs to give *that* any thought? I honestly don't think it crossed my mind more than ONCE, and that once was, well sure, I'm going to breastfeed, why wouldn't I?
Then I, like so many others, had an awful birth, which left me traumatised and in pain; and unbeknownst to me at the time, bitterly resentful. I was robbed of what I felt was my job, my experience; my body’s ability to bring new life into the world. I was told to be happy, that the C-section 'went well'. So I did what any new mother who had surgery would do, I nodded.
I was offered skin-to-skin, and whilst my son latched straight away, the next 6 weeks were excruciatingly painful. I saw many breastfeeding and healthcare professionals. In hindsight, we now know my baby boy had undiagnosed posterior tongue tie; this is a short or tight frenulum in the baby’s mouth that can, depending on severity, restrict the ability of the movement of the tongue, and thus affect breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding aversion crept in around four months with both the notorious sleep regression and the return of my postnatal menstruation. My son was waking every 45 mins throughout the night, only to be settled on the breast. And once the aversion had made an appearance, it didn't go away, until it was there at every feed.
At the time, I didn't know that breastfeeding aversion existed. I thought there was something wrong with me. Everywhere I turned, there were mothers breastfeeding and apparently 'loving it'. My googling led me to articles about the release of oxytocin (the 'love' hormone). They showed happy women, in love with their baby and with breastfeeding. So I 'powered on through', thinking I was quite mad for the feelings I was experiencing about breastfeeding.
Whether five minutes of fifty I experienced strong feelings of anger and irritation throughout the feed. I felt trapped and wanted to run away. These overwhelming emotions didn’t stop until the second my boy unlatched. It was awful, I hated it and I hated myself.
Breastfeeding aversion practically ruined motherhood for me.
After several attempts at some online research, by hitting ‘Search’ on google, I came across a phenomenon called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, or D-MER. This happens to some women during let down and includes feelings of deep despair and hopelessness. Unlike my experience, these feelings pass after the let down finishes. Whilst I took comfort from knowing I wasn’t alone in struggling with negative emotions during let down, I still felt what I was going through didn't match the description of D-MER.
I experienced breastfeeding aversion for over a year, and the feelings of being alone and isolated have led to the development of www.breastfeedingaversion.com. I currently volunteer as a breastfeeding peer support worker. I write about breastfeeding aversion (aka nursing aversion) and agitation: an unspoken phenomenon amongst breastfeeding women. The aim is to share my breastfeeding journey online, and raise awareness about the phenomenon to try to help other mothers with similar difficulties.
Image: Hunger by Kathe Kollwitz (1922)