On the real tip, I don’t like breastfeeding Jack anymore. It’s hard to say it. That’s my precious first born. The one who made me a mother. The one who showed me the beauty in breastfeeding. First, breastfeeding was the thing I wanted most in life. Then when I got it I was the happiest I had ever been. And 3 years later it’s now the most frustrating and emotionally overwhelming thing I have ever experienced. Breastfeeding evolves, like everything else.
It all comes down to this Nursing Aversion. For Jack, breastfeeding is everything. It’s how he eats, drinks, gets comfort, heals from a fall, finds security, falls asleep. I can go on and on. For Jack breatsfeeding has always been the answer to everything. He is 3 years old and for 3 years it’s been almost all he knows. That is what I loved the most about it. It gave Jack everything that he could ever need or want.
Since late in pregnancy I began to experience Nursing Aversion. I am resisting the urge to explain what it is again because I already did that here. But it is an extremely intense emotional, physical and psychological reaction to breastfeeding. It’s annoyance, creepy-crawly, anger, anxiety, toe-curling, shiver-inducing, wall-punching, hair-pulling, want-to-run-through-a-brick-wall all wrapped into one. It is not pain. I crave pain. This is something else. It starts the second he latches on and goes away as soon as he lets go. It’s like nothing I could ever really explain in words. It didn’t happen regularly at first. I was hopeful it was a one-time thing. But it has become regular. And it has not dissipated since the birth of Exley 2 months ago as I hoped. (However, there is a theory that Nursing Aversion is related to hormonal changes during pregnancy and postpartum so maybe it will get better with time. Fingers crossed.)
I love breastfeeding Exley. I don’t feel that with him. Maybe a little of the nipple sensitivity, but none of the crazy emotional stuff. With such a crazy household these days it’s a great way for me to find the time to connect with Exley. Jack has adjusted to the tandem feedings, but Exley doesn’t seem to like it. He tends to get really fussy when Jack is latched on. Maybe he can sense I become uneasy; who knows. But I try not to feed them at the same time much anyway. I only do it when I have no other option.
I hear from people “maybe it’s time to wean him.” My first reaction to that is this. My second is “seriously? You don’t think I thought of that?!” I don’t get it. For me weaning is not just waking up one day and telling him “hey kid, the tap is dry.” I have to think of it from his perspective and work with him. If breastfeeding is truly everything to Jack then I can’t take that from him without giving him something to replace it with. There has to be a balance between his needs and my own. Shortly after Exley’s birth I decided I would put up limits and boundaries around breastfeeding Jack. I tried to knock it down to 3 times per day (Jack amped up his nursing late in pregnancy and has not changed since-honestly the kid will nurse all day if I let him). But with the recent arrival of a new sibling and his world turning upside down this was too much of a shock. He had an extreme emotional reaction to this. Temper tantrums, hitting me, losing sleep, etc. Now I see that I need to go a bit slower considering everything he has gone through.
I still limit the frequency a bit by using distraction or simply saying “no” and helping him through his reaction to it. What I do more is allow him to nurse and tell him that he can nurse for 1 minute. When the minute is almost up I count to ten and he has to let go. Usually he complies. If he refuses to let go I do it for him. I explain this is my body and I am deciding it is time to let go. (I figure this helps him to learn about protecting his own body as well). Sometimes he lets go before the minute is up. Maybe he is just making sure I won’t say “no” and that is comfort enough. I also have tried to introduce him to new foods, have his favorite foods around and even some treats. I always make sure to have plenty of water for him. I validate his feelings that it is hard to see a new baby having boobie all the time. I also explain that he is a growing boy who needs food that the baby can’t have. I make sure we get out of the house as much as we can. We go to playgrounds and parks every day to meet up with our neighborhood friends. Here is more about making weaning positive.
During the nursing sessions I try to use distraction for myself such as playing on my phone. I put counter-pressure on my boob, pushing it into Jack’s mouth to dull some of the sensation. I have gone so far as to pinch myself. I try to get plenty of rest (LOL), drink tons of water, not nurse them both at the same time, deep breathing and techniques learned when preparing for labor. Here is more about dealing with Nursing Aversion.
Having said all of this it remains the most stressful time ever in this house. Putting up boundaries for me only leads to dealing with the emotional backlash from Jack. I get it. It’s the most stressful time in his life too. He still has the occasional temper tantrum when I say “no.” He still hits me on occasion. Becoming so frustrated and confused at how to deal with his feelings. I try not to take it personally. I try to stay calm. I try to help him express his feelings. I try.
We have also been working with Jack to learn new ways to cope with emotions. We have been working on identifying feelings. Encouraging crying, talking and yelling. Encouraging him to get more involved with things like puzzles, dancing, rough-housing, play-doh, truck parties, drawing, reading, painting, playing with oats, learning jokes, etc. All the things that we normally do, but making a point to initiate these things everyday so that there is less time to get bored and turn to nursing. It’s all developmentally normal stuff. These changes in our home have just made us look at them with more thoughtfulness.
I remember all of the comments from you ladies like “my babe self-weaned at 2 ½!” Ugh! I envy you! I honestly think Jack will nurse until he is 7 years old. I mean right now I hope not, but if it gets better I am happy to do it. Or maybe he will follow my current lead and go down the path of weaning now. I try to just take it day by day because thinking of the long-term is too stressful. Plus, I have gone through so many changes during my breastfeeding relationship with Jack there is no reason to believe it might not change again. I would love to love it again.
I truly believe that weaning will take months if not longer to do gently. Jack has turned to nursing to deal with the recent changes in his world, he is an extremely sensitive guy and I feel I must be thoughtful and gentle with this at the same time as putting up boundaries for myself. We don’t plan to have more kids, but if we do I won’t choose tandem nursing again. It’s funny to me now to look back at how much I wanted this. I wanted it so bad.
I try to keep it in perspective. This is a small snippet of our life. Most of the time we have a great time. And this too shall pass. I am also learning that everything changes. Everything.
Abby Theuring, MSW
If you are experiencing Nursing Aversion consider joining this Facebook support group.