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When Nursing Your Child Gives You the Heebie Jeebies and A Tandem Breastfeeding Anniversary

arm rolls extraordinaire

Arm Rolls Extraordinaire

Can I make my own definition here?

Nursing Aversion:  The toe-curling, blood-boiling, rip-your-hair-out, bite-the-back-of-your-hand and want-to-go-running-down-the-street-screaming feeling that you may get when your toddler asks for the boobies (again).

My older daughter was about 20 months old when I found out I was pregnant with my second child.  We were happily breastfeeding and I saw no reason to stop.  I mean, this girl’s life line was actually MY BOOBS.  She loved them more than anything.  When I picked her up from daycare, instead of yelling “MOMMY“, she would run at me yelling “BOOBIES!!!”

I breastfed through pregnancy and her little sister’s birth period with only minor annoyances.  Around two months post partum, out of the blue, I was hit with some of the most unimaginable breastfeeding aversion, towards my 2 1/2 year old.  Like worst ever, in the history of man-kind.  Like, I would growl and bite my pillow and have steam coming out of my ears and literally scare the crap out of my poor kid who was just innocently sucking away.  I suddenly hated breastfeeding my older daughter.  I didn’t know what to do.

So, I joined on-line support groups and re-read all the literature out there supporting extended brestfeeding.  I said to my husband at least three times a day that I was over it and was going to wean her.  Of course, I said it… but I didn’t.  I went over, again, the emotional and psychological benefits of tandem feeding…. I wondered if my feelings of blood boiling were as nature intended… I researched to see if any other animals tandem feed (kangaroos, I found, do it and have a complex tandem feeding/pregnancy system).

I was a bit overwhelmed with the pros and cons of weaning, so I decided to give it some time before making a final decision if I should pull the plug.  I took it day by day for the next SIX MONTHS.  To my surprise, the nursing aversion towards my older daughter went away almost as fast as it came on.  We’re now 14 months into tandem feeding and it’s looking all a-ok. It’s not all lovey, dovey, airy, fairy (although, for some woman who tandem feed, it most certainly is).  Sometimes it’s a pain and I have to tell my older daughter to bugger off.  But, overall, it’s been a really positive experience and I’m happy I stuck with it.

Whatta ya say... I'll have the right one, you have the left?

Whatta ya say… I’ll have the right one, you have the left?

Here are some things I learned along the way if you’re looking to save your breastfeeding relationship with a child whom you’re feeling nursing aversion towards.

1.  Keep Yourself Fed, Hydrated and Rested.  Nursing aversion most often rears it’s ugly head when you’re exhausted.  Rest when your baby rests.  Go to bed when they do, or very shorty after.  Save facebook for next year, it will still be there.  The dishes and the laundry… they will also be there tomorrow. But, seriously, get to bed if you can.  If you have more than one child, see if you can get them to both rest at the same time.  We do big family naps and it’s a life saver.  If you know how to meditate or do yoga, do that too!  De-stress ‘yo self!

Drink a lot of water throughout the day and REMEMBER TO FEED YOURSELF.  Not only will you be grumpy if you don’t eat and are not rested, but your supply will suffer too.  If your supply is low, you’re on a downward spiral.  If your big headed toddler with a mouth full of teeth is sucking away for five minutes before let down happens, because your supply is low, you are bound to get that blood curdling feeling.  Keep those boobies full and for the older child, try to feed when you know those boobies are most full, usually, in the morning.

2. Blame it on Hormones.  For real.  Hormones play a gigantic role in nursing aversion.  Pregnancy hormones can lead to pretty wicked nursing aversion, but my WORST recorded aversion to breastfeeding occurs just before and at the start of my period.  I also found that even when I was ovulating my aversion was quite strong!  Mostly, my nipples were sensitive, so sucking (especially from a squirmy kid) was enough to drive me bonkers.  At times when you suspect that it’s hormonal aversion, again, stay well rested, fed and watered.  The extra rest and food will give you an edge when that aversion is in full swing!

Interesting note:  Sometimes let down would not even happen when I was experiencing strong aversion towards my toddler, but the second the baby got on there, let down happened instantly!  Boobs are very intelligent! Also, just a minute before let down occurs, nursing aversion can be at it’s worst! 

3. Use Your Let Down as a Tool.  If you’re tandem feeding, try feeding the kids in the same session.  This generally worked best for avoiding nursing aversion towards my older child.  Let down happened quickly when they were both on there.  If you’re not feeding them simultaneously, see if you can feed one straight after the other.  This saves you from all the extra ‘suck’ time that is needed to get let down going.  Also, it’s less time that you’re being touched and groped (if you’re having a day where it feels like that).

If you’re feeding one child, another thing I’ve done plenty of times is literally GRAB my older child and stuck her on the boob if I felt let down happening randomly.  She has been so delighted and surprised when I’ve done this and this satisfies their craving for in-mama’s-lap-time, on top of getting the milk.  Again, it’s to save the ‘suck’ time needed to get let down happening, and being ready when your boobs are ready, if you’re having one of those days.

4. Set Limits.  I’m all about feeding on demand, don’t get me wrong.  BUT, if you’re feeding an older toddler or preschooler and you feel like you’re about to wean because you’re going nuts, try setting limits first.  Setting limits is what saved my breastfeeding relationship with my older daughter.  I first cut her down to three a day and then down to two, which is where we are now.  You can offer something else instead.  My daughter actually asked for a bottle of rice milk for fun (she had never drank from a bottle before, it was one that came with the breast pump).  So, I happily gave it to her sometimes.  I also would warn her that sometimes it would be a short session because mommy’s boobies were sore, or that I might get grumpy if she stayed on for too long.  When nursing aversion strikes, you may be feeling some very intense resentment towards an older child.  These feelings are very normal, but don’t believe that these feelings are a true indication of your love towards your child.  If you can get them into a routine where they’re not on the boob all day, you might feel a bit more inclined to continue the breastfeeding relationship.

5. Expect Emotional Releases.  There will be tears.  Could be many of them.  The good news is… toddlers cry a lot anyway!  The crying that happens because you say ‘no’ to boob, might have been a cry that needed to come out anyway.  It is certainly a very emotional process.  Limiting mama time.  Saying ‘no’ to their very first food source.  Yes, yes!  It’s very emotional.  I’ve never tried to stop the crying or tried to distract.  I just let the emotions come out.  Of course, I might offer water or something else to drink instead of boobies.  But, when the emotions are running raw, I let them be.  I found that if I had to say ‘no’ to boob, she would have a good cry and then be over with it in a few minutes.  I also practice a very gentle technique called ‘cry in arms’, which is just a fancy way of saying that you allow a child to cry, in the loving presence of a carer (never alone in another room).

This Too Shall Pass and Whatever You Decide is Best for You and Your Child.  So, you’ve tried all of the above (and then some) and you’re still not coping with the nursing aversion… Well, you need to trust your intuition!  Many woman report that when they finally weaned, their relationship with their child improved, as it wasn’t focused on the boob anymore.  Other woman desperately want to preserve the breastfeeding relationship at all costs and through perseverance they overcome the aversion.  You really can’t go wrong.  So long as you’re providing your child with a loving space and with emotional support, it’s all that you can do.  It’s the BEST that you can do.  So, don’t feel bad.  The feelings of resentment that you might feel towards nursing an older child nursing is very normal and instinctual.  There’s nothing that you can do other than see it for what it is.   As long as you are informed and making the decision on you and your child’s behalf, and nobody else’s, then you can rest assure that everything is as it should be.

*Read the comments below for some excellent information supplied by other readers!  You mamas are not alone!

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49 Responses »

  1. You always put into words what I seem to have no energy for, but feels like I could have written it. 🙂

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  2. Your #2 thing to keep in mind was spot on for me with Samuel, this past year. I just weaned him last week, at 25 months old. I never really had a nursing aversion (probably because I wasn’t pregnant or tandem nursing) but I had times I was so READY to be done. They almost always were around ovulation or my period starting too.
    Glad to hear things are going well. 🙂

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    • Hi Valerie! Great to hear from you! I was wondering how it was going with your little one. Well done for making it so long! It is crazy how it gets so bad around your cycle!

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  3. Fabulous post- thanks for normalizing these crazy feelings!!

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  4. The intense negative feelings before letdown are called d-mer. I took Rhodiola. That solved it! http://www.d-mer.org

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  5. I have been too embarrassed to admit it but I went through this a couple months ago with my 1.5 year old daughter. She is the only child I am currently nursing, and I’m not pregnant. It was just that she went through a little rough patch emotionally and for about 3 weeks I felt like she was CONSTANTLY comfort nursing. I wanted my space, I was resentful, I was tired, I was sore- I told my husband multiple times a day that I was going to wean her but I never did. Then one weekend my husband woke up early with the kids and let me sleep in. He gave her a cup of cow’s milk to hold her over until I woke up. Shockingly, when I woke up she didn’t immediately run over and demand the boob, she was actually content to play for a little while while I ate breakfast. By that afternoon, it seemed like all our problems just disappeared. Suddenly she was ok with just a hug for comfort, she didn’t need me to nurse her everytime she was upset. And suddenly I was happy to nurse her again, no more feelings of resentment.
    I think a nursing relationship is just like any other, there are going to be rough patches. I wish that people could feel comfortable talking about the bad times so we could normalize it. I felt like such a bad mom for my nursing aversion, it is comforting to know other women have gone through it.

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    • You are not alone! Many many woman feel that way! Interesting comment that I just read posted below about how the nursing aversion before let down is has name, d-mer… will have to look into that!

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      • I don’t think d-mer is it.. From reading the definition buts anyhow. I am totally there on your description of aversion. I’m feeding my 7month old and my 2.5 yr old and still find I have bouts of very intense skin crawling.. Especially if they are both on at the same time. I can’t stand it which is a shame as like you say it would reduce the feeding time significantly! This aversion is like nothing I’ve felt before in my whole breastfeeding time. I hate it and wish I didn’t as my kids love feeding together. I don’t have my periods yet but definitely think it’s worse at certain times of the month. 🙁 I am trying limits but my toddler is soo intense with his demands.. And I am so tired.

      • Oh, so sorry to hear that you’re so tired… do you have a support network where you live of other like-minded mamas? They might be able to help? I had to stop feeding my girls together after about 5 or 6 months, I should have mentioned that in the post. The little one had severe grabby hands and would poke at her older sister. Don’t be so hard on yourself, you do what you feel is right and what you can tolerate. It’s so hard when not many people are around to support you and your decisions,,, especially if you’re having issues, then everyone just says to wean the older one when maybe it’s not what you want to really do.

  6. Dealing with this now, still nursing 2.5 yr old and 9 weeks pregnant. Thanks for the advice and sharing your experience. It’s good to know I’m not alone with the aversion and the complicated emotions that brings. Limiting and setting boundaries has worked for us too, after years of nursing on demand that was hard to do. I’m going to work on #1- keeping rested, hydrated and feed. I think there are times that might be bringing on my frustrations. Thanks again!

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    • Glad you enjoyed. Yes, the biggest trick is making sure that we are feeling as close to 100% as we can get. Feeding on demand is awesome and ideal, but I think even in nature, when the baby gets older, the mother tends to kick them off a bit.

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  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this post – I really needed it! I’m not tandem nursing, but have started experiencing aversion to breastfeeding my 2yo. Your tips are great. Thanks especially for the reminder about the hormonal link – it’s made me realise that I think there’s a connection between my PMS and when my aversion is at its worst.

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    • So glad it was useful to you! Some other things you can try if you’re feeling strong aversions is to distract yourself right before let down happens. I know it’s not very ideal, but getting on the phone or the ipad, or reading a book. It’s helped me before.

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  8. Evening primrose oil really helped with pms tenderness. Wish it would help with my aversion too…glad to know I’m not alone!

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    • Thanks Megan! I will have to use the evening primrose oil! Can you mention how you’re supposed to use it? Topically?

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      • You ingest it (pill form). You can take anywhere from 1-6 or so a day. I take 2 or 3.. A friend takes 6. Has multiple purpose. Google it! Hers helps with bursting cysts. I take mine to curb of postpartum sadness and help regulate hormones.

      • That is so awesome! Thank you! I really need to do something about my skin too! My hormones could use some regulating, because I always get a headache when I’m about to get my period and when I’m ovulating! Can’t wait to try it out!

      • I take one tablet everyday. I get one that’s a blend of omegas (3-6-9). I found doing that helped significantly more than just taking one during my cycle.

  9. I had this after my daughter was born. I had already stopped nursing my 4-year-old. She stopped on her own, very gradually, right around her 4th birthday. When she asked to nurse again after the baby was born, the textbook thing to do would be to let her. It includes her, stems feelings of jealousy, she would probably drop it again rather quickly at that age, etc. But, I just could not do it. It was not happening. Nails on a chalkboard. Screaming from the inside. NO. Where does that come from? I was super uncomfortable nursing in the beginning of my pregnancy and pretty happy when she stopped, but I never had that level of no. I think it might be the body’s way of conserving resources? Had she been younger, like your toddler, I might have pushed harder. Closed my eyes or something and tried. As it was, I said yes once and then stopped her as she leaned in. I could not bear it. Even though she had been nursing just months before, it felt really strange and I couldn’t handle it. Plus, I was dealing with cracked and bleeding nipples and nursing the baby was hard enough. Cest la vie for not handling the transition perfectly.

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    • Oh, I totally understand how that must have felt. Since my girls were much closer together, I still felt like the older one was a baby… but there’s not telling how I would be feeling if she was 4. For me, the size difference in the head was what got me. You’ve got a tiny little newborn head and a giant toddler wrecking ball… I found that once their heads got to be a similar size, the aversion sent away a lot.

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    • I had weaned my dd at 2.5 during pregnancy and when her duster was born she asked if she could taste it too. I laughed it off bc inside I was screaming NOOO too. I also just couldn’t do it!

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  10. Great post! Have just discovered your blog and love it. Can relate to so much you write!!

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  11. I read this with interest even though I’m only breastfeeding one child – my two year old. He demands it very often and sometimes I feel that aversion and I don’t know what to do!

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    • It doesn’t just happen to woman who are pregnant or tandem feeding! I think it’s normal to have these aversions towards toddlers. Breathe deep mama! It may pass 🙂

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  12. Also right there with you! This is my second time tandem nursing. Right now I am nursing my almost 3 year old and a 2 week old. I am struggling with my big kid! Glad to know I am not alone!

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  13. Wow, I had no idea this was a common problem, thank you so much for normalizing these feelings! I am currently nursing my almost 3 year-old and my 3 month old daughter, and my poor toddler has been turned away a few times recently when I just couldn’t take any more feeding. It happened on and off throughout my pregnancy, and I even had it on occasion before. In fact I questioned whether I should wean her before I had the second baby, because I just couldn’t face the thought of feeding 2 of them together. Now I do tandem feed but only in bed at night and in the morning. I do need a break quite often, but I try hard not to take it out on the children. What I really need is a night off, some me-time away from the children… It all depends on if I can express enough milk for the grandparents to feed them with!

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    • So glad you found this useful! As you can read from the amounts of comments, you are not alone! You just have to find what works and know that what you’re feeling is normal and that it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible mother! Everyone is just doing the best we can! Best of luck working through it!

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  16. I had really serious nursing aversion during my 3rd pregnancy. I was breastfeeding my 2 year old and just couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want to wean her so I distracted her from some feeds and the ones I couldn’t distract (hurt and before bed) I would count out loud and cut off after a certain number – we started at 10 and slowly worked down to 3. I had oversupply with my first 2 pregnancies and really wanted to have the toddler able to help with that after this one. Besides, before the pregnancy I was really enjoying feeding her and wanted to keep that. She had also put dibs on “her” boob, declaring bub could have the right side. I persevered feeding her, eventually only before bed though I’m sure I had no milk left, by the end of my pregnancy she would sometimes miss a night. She missed the last couple of nights before bub was born and never asked again. When DS was about 3 days old her older sister asked if she still had mummy’s milk to which she answered “No! Yucky!”. She was 6 weeks shy of her 3rd birthday.

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    • My older one put ‘dibs’ on her favorite boob too! She actually ‘gave’ the new baby her favorite boob, which I thought was pretty nice of her 😉 I had oversupply with my second, not too bad, but bad enough that she would gag if I tried to nurse her to sleep. I was really grateful to have the toddler to top my off, but yeah, it wasn’t all peaches and roses, like I wrote about. So funny about what she said when she weaned! We’re down to one feed a day and sometimes miss a feed. At 4, she can understand really well if I need her to stop!

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  17. I have been shooing away my nearly four year old with incredulous cries of ‘milk? no, you don’t really want milk do you? how about a magical cactus lollipop? there’s a red one left… mmm yummy, i saw a unicorn with one of these once’ and other totally mad ideas and awful parenting tactics. i feel bad that ‘the baby’ gets milk whenever she wants but ‘the girl’ can only have her favourite ever thing (boob) when i can handle it (once every few days.) So she resents ‘the baby’ and I get more and more grumpy.
    Super glad to hear that eating more food is going to help. I’ll try that right now, there’s some halva in the lollipop cupboard… More seriously, thank you for writing an article about how I feel, I feel so much better already.

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    • Oh, you are most welcome! My daughter is four years old now and we only do boobs once a day! It’s all I can handle!

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  19. You’re totally right! a few days in now, and it totally works. If I eat loads and drink masses of water I feel completely fine about feeding my toddler alongside my baby, as much and as often as she wishes (about twice a day). The heebie jeebies have gone and peace reigns again. Thank you!

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  20. So relieved to read this! Nursing right now and so uptight…driving myself nuts, feel like ripping him off and wracked with guilt at the same time, blurgh!!!

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    • It’s ok Kitty! It’s really normal to feel that way, take some deep breathes, give yourself some space. There are online help groups for nursing aversion if you’re on facebook!

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  21. So glad I found this article, I had bad nursing aversion during my second pregnancy (I actually cracked my phone screen biting down on it for one particularly bad session) but then, after the birth, tandem nursing was a breeze. Lately I’ve been experiencing REALLY strong aversion to my 29 month old DS. My DD is a few weeks shy of her 1st birthday. I’ve been really exhausted, with no let up from either of them, and I am returning to work soon. I love my son and have always cherished our bf relationship, but boy, do those feelings make me feel hateful and churlish. It’s bloody awful. I’ll start keeping an eye on my cycle, my period only returned a few months ago, which is when this intensified. I take solace in knowing I’m not alone. Thank you ladies. X

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