Breastfeeding Evolves

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Comments

  1. Jamie Klaman says:

    Thank you so much for this! My youngest was born in April and my oldest turned three in June. On top of new baby stress we’ve also had medical issues with hubby and the resulting financial crisis. Nursing aversion hit the first time Zayne latched after his brother’s birth. Just like you,strict boundaries made everything so much worse! It’s been a long process to find our new comfort zone but we’re getting close. By using many of the techniques you’ve described, I’m managing the aversion well enough. Zayne no longer nurses all the way to sleep, thank heavens! He’s also doing really well talking about his emotions and the physical aspect of his tantrums (hitting etc) has decreased a great deal. I wish you the same progress on your journey. Tandem Nursing has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I’m not one to back away from a challenge. It’s done my oldest a world of good. And those beautiful moments when they do nurse simultaneously, holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes…those are the moments that makes life worth living.

  2. I don’t know anything about nursing advertion, I’m not pregnant and I only nurse one child. But lately I get really frustrated, resentful, and hate nursing my 26 month old. He seems to eat hardly any real food outside of fruit. He wakes every couple hours a night. He cries, throws fits and hangs from me when he wants it. I was going to start putting something yucky tasting on so that he would maybe stop liking it on his own. But then I always feel bad when I’m not so mad and regret wanting to be done. I can’t find a balance.

    • I began to feel the same way Leanne. I dabbed some vinegar on, and he sill wanted to nurse. But, I put more on afterwards….and we never looked back. I thought I would feel guilty, but I didn’t. And I still don’t regret it, it was time for us to move on.

  3. Christina says:

    Hi, Abby! I’ve been following your journey since my 2nd baby was born in November. I had no idea what nursing aversion was, but apparently it started when I was 6 months preggo and nursing my 2yo. Our nursing relationship is very similar to yours with Jack. There is nothing more special to her than her booby, probably bc we had such a struggle at birth with tongue tie, flat/inverted nipples, low supply and some seriously bad advice.
    At the beginning, tandem nursing was the hardest thing in the world for me, especially since my girls wouldn’t latch on to my right breast (that’s the inverted one). So they HAD to take turns. Now you explain that to a 2 1/2yo!!!!
    At 1 month postpartum, we moved out of my parents’ house, seriously limiting any help I could get.
    At 2 months, we started getting snowed in once a week. And my husband lost his job.
    At 3 months postpartum, my grandpa had a series of strokes (on top of his emphazima, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and gout). Two weeks later he passed away, on Valentine’s day.
    (Then my toddler decided she needed to potty train! Seriously? Ugh. Fine. She did great at it, though.)
    And, I was still struggling with nursing aversion, forceful let down, and overproduction. Needless to say I spiraled way down into some serious PPD. I cried. For days. And days. It was dark. I wondered what the hell I was gonna do. I screamed at my toddler for stupid things, like touching my arm. I wished (but didn’t, thank God) I could lock her in a closet. I don’t know how we made it through, except with the help of friends cheering me on, and the Grace of God covering up my mistakes.
    I’m writing all if this bc I want you (and any readers going through this) to know I’ve been there and done that. And now, my baby is almost 9 months, my big girl is 3, and I love that even after all of that, we are STILL tandem nursing. I have set very serious limitations on my big girl to make sure the baby still gets everything she needs, but I’m so beyond thankful I didn’t push her to wean exactly when she needed me the most. My girls have a great relationship, and I contribute most of that to tandem nursing. Bc I certainly was not of the right mind to encourage it on my own!
    God Bless you, your family, and the great work you do by sharing your story with the world!

  4. nikki harmony says:

    I know what you are going through. I had the same issue. It was so hard! I don’t have any advice, just go easy on yourself and keep on loving! You are doing such a good job and such great service to breastfeeding moms! We love you and it will all work out! My 12 year old never wants mummies anymore. :)

  5. I was where you are about nine months ago when my second born was about three months old. My then 31 month old was exactly as you describe Jack being with breast feeding. I experienced mild Nursing Aversion throughout my pregnancy and it continued afterwards. It was really hard. I felt like I couldn’t be everything my two girls needed me to be, not enough attention was given to my baby and my toddler was deeply insecure and frightened by the change in her life. We are all ok now. I stopped breast feeding my eldest when my baby was about four months old. Our breast feeding had never really returned to ‘normal’ again, but by that point what was normal? It happened so gradually and gently neither of us really noticed. But I was ready to stop, just as much as she was and I think that galvanised the cessation perhaps more speedily than had I not experienced nursing aversion. I am so proud that I managed it for those four months, and that the end came as a joint decision. Nonetheless it was tinged with some sadness. Thank you for articulating so well what I thought I was experiencing alone.

  6. I have an 8 week old and a 18 month old. I experienced nursing aversion from when I was about 8 months pregnant on. I had my daughter just nursing at night time before the baby was born. Once he came along she wanted to nurse 24/7 I tried tandem nursing thinking as a single mom it would be the best and easiest a route for me, but it was a disaster, I had such a hard time trying to feed my newborn with her latched on, and I was still experiencing aversion… It made me sad that I was hiding from her when it came time to feed the baby, but now she’ll crawl up on my lap and just cuddle with us while I nurse. Good luck with your journey, I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

  7. Ditto on most of your feelings. I think that postpartum hormones are to blame. My daughter is 3.5 yrs and my baby boy is 5 months. It wasn’t until the baby was 4 months that I felt I could relax and enjoy nursing my daughter. I sometimes tandem nurse but try not to because when I tandem nurse, I always end up caressing and smiling at the baby and not my daughter. To make sure that she gets the same loving experience, I nurse her by herself and usually only before naptime or bedtime. (Sometimes in between on the weekends.) It’s taken time and lots of patience, but I can honestly say that now, at this point, I’m happy I chose to keep nursing my sweet girl.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. I think tandem nursing often gets described as this thing that granola moms just do, when it’s way more difficult than just having two kids nursing at once. Even if breastfeeding one came really easy, tandem nursing is still a whole different story.

    I nursed my older daughter until she was 2 1/2 (my milk dried up at about 4 months pregnant), and since my youngest is only 17 months I had planned on nursing all the way through this pregnancy, too. Because, you know, I have to at least make sure he’s breastfed as long as his sister was…right? Except that my milk started drying up again, and I got that want-to-throw-him-off-me, crawling in my skin nursing aversion again around 3 months pregnant.

    I was still hanging on trying to nurse, until at my last appointment my amazing midwife gave me permission to stop. She told me in the gentlest way how tiring it is to tandem nurse and to nurse while pregnant, and that by taking good care of myself I’m also taking good care of my children. So now, we haven’t nursed for two days. I always saw myself tandem nursing with this baby, and I’ve had to let that go– but on the flip side, he’s sleeping better, I’m sleeping better, and last night my husband put him to bed in about 15 minutes by himself (my husband was practically glowing after, he was so excited!) . I’m still amazed by those of you who can tandem nurse (and I think it has a lot to do with your kids– some kids are just born nurslings!), but I’ve also accepted that at least this time around, it’s not for me.

  9. Thank you for this Abbey.

  10. Wow, this is an incredibly difficult and confusing time for you! Make sure you are giving yourself time and attention to your own feelings, too. You’re just doing the best that you can, Jack will be okay. Going from one to two children was very hard for me, and I wasn’t tandem nursing! There are so many needs- yours, his, hubby’s, theirs, everyone’s….and you feel like no one’s are getting met (especially yours!). The bad news is–they aren’t. The good news is–they aren’t. We are doing what we can to raise children who can find healthy ways to cope with the feelings and needs that aren’t met. Give yourself a break, you are a GREAT mother.

  11. I totally identify with this… It hit me a couple of months before i was pregnant and i decided it was best for both of us to wean, because i hended up recenting it sooo much… We weaned in 5 month aprox… Ended up weaning during pregnancy wich i totally am thankfull for, it just worked out that way. And i think at that pace for us it was not at all stressfull, we just tried to take it slow and respect our baby as much as we could, my husband had to help big time during night…. so good luck! Follow your instincts and im sure you’ll get trough this, one way or the other in a positive way!!!

  12. Tiffiny J. says:

    I completely understand what you are going through! My daughter was 3 and still nursing when I got pregnant with my 4th child. For a couple of months my supply really dropped but we fought like crazy to keep nursing. I could not stand the thought of my being pregnant causing her to have to stop. We got through that and I nursed her throughout my labor. My youngest daughter was in the NICU for a while so I didn’t get to nurse them together for about a month.
    Everything was going great until about 6 months ago when I started getting nursing aversion while nursing my now 4 1/2 yr old daughter. I am completely fine nursing my 19 months old, but the minute my oldest starts wanting to nurse I want to crawl out of my skin and scream. Its been really hard on her, but I try to only nurse her at night before bed. I can not stand it, but I don’t want to just cut her off while her sister gets to nurse as often as needed. It is so bad though, that I will actually wake up at night when she is nursing, but I sleep right through my youngest nursing.
    She starts Pre-K in a few weeks and Im hoping that experience adds to her independence and she weans soon because I don’t have it in me to force her. As much as I will miss it, I cant wait. I know I will cry and feel guilty once I see that she really is done, but a big part of me is excited. Nursing my oldest daughter has been my identity for so long, its going to be an adjustment for me, thankfully, I still have my youngest to help me through the process.

  13. These posts are really great. They make a big difference. Thank-you.

  14. Abby I feel your pain even though I am not quite in your shoes yet… I have just under a month to go before My second daughter is here, and my oldest will be about 2-1/2. I still think moms that tandem nurse are amazing, but I have been dealing with nursing aversion for months now… I can tolerate it (barely) until she starts twiddling the other side… or my let down feelings starts (I get a pinching sensation and thought she was pinching me for the longest time until I really paid attention). I too hope and pray it gets better and I start to enjoy nursing her again, Until that happens I just pray for patience.

  15. I have 3 boys and all have been rather attached to me physically. None more so than my now middle son. I nursed him for 4 years and 5 months ending in a conversation between us about handing them over to the new little man, now 11 weeks old, we now cuddle and apart from the occasional suckle my middle son has been very decent about it. I am so glad I didn’t decide to tandem feed and while I am sooo pro attachment parenting it was time to let go as it was for my first just before his bro came along. I wouldn’t have wanted to deal with the sense of aversion you discuss. Love to the boobie and down with powerful emotional stress x

  16. I experienced breastfeeding aversion when my daughter was 3 and my son was born too. It seems she had cut back a lot more than Jack has though, so I did end up weaning her about 2 months after her baby brother was born. It was so hard! I also couldn’t stand the sensation and only breastfed them at the same time a couple of times.

    What I LOVE about you and how you share your story is that you know what YOU want to do and why. I also had plenty of people suggesting I wean Marisol – including midwives – and I’m sure that influenced me. Jack is so fortunate to have you as a mama – working so hard to meet his needs even when it is so difficult for you. I love how you share what is going on no apologies and don’t try to make it seem better than it is either. Just – this is what is happening, this is is how we are choosing to deal with it and this is why. So awesome. I know you are going to inspire some other families and mamas out there and give them confidence in finding their own unique paths.

    I wrote about my story for Jamie over at I am not the Babysitter and it included a bit about how hard it was for me to wean Marisol before she was ready: http://www.iamnotthebabysitter.com/child-led-weaning-susan/

    Gerry just weaned on his 5th birthday. :-) I wrote about that also: http://www.iamnotthebabysitter.com/breastfeeding-5-year-old-normal-yes-will-wean/

    But I also wouldn’t choose to tandem nurse again. Hugs mama – you are amazing!

  17. This was me a year ago. I had brief moments of nursing aversion while pregnant with my second, and getting tandem nursing down was a bit of a struggle. After 8ish months of tandem nursing, including working full time and pumping, I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed an end, and after talking with my almost 3 year old daughter, we decided that she would stop nursing when she turned three. We talked about it a lot for about 6 weeks leading up to her birthday and she was prepared. She only asked for it once or twice until my third was born a few weeks ago. Now my biggest struggle is sadness and regret that my second weaned while I was pregnant. We weren’t planning a third so soon and I feel like I really cheated her out of something. But, at the same time, I am relieved to be able to focus on nursing just one. So many emotions!

  18. I was shocked when I started experiencing nursing aversion. I had nursed my first child and couldn’t wait to nurse my second. Thankfully the aversion didn’t start until my son was right around 3 & 1/2 years old. It was everything you said it feels like. I was mad when I was nursing, I wanted to have my own tantrum. It felt like my skin was crawling and I just wanted him to stop. I was lucky enough that he was down to just that one last before bed nursing session. And as soon as I said “ok, all done” he respected that and would unlatch and roll over to cuddle until he fell asleep. But it definitely didn’t make those moments any easier when he was latched on. I just wanted it to stop. I fully planned on letting him self wean. And I think to some extent he did. He stopped when he was a few months past 4 years old. I started asking if he wanted to cuddle, when we would crawl into bed. And more and more he would say yes. He still loves “nur nurs” and will come cuddle them or pat them and say he loves them. But he no longer nurses. I’m glad I provided that love and security he needed for hopefully as long as he needed. I’m grateful that he stopped right about the month before I got pregnant. I doubt I could have handled nursing aversion on top of sore nipples from pregnancy. I’m glad our nursing relationship ended as peacefully as it did…aversion and all. I did notice that the aversion ebbed and flowed. Some weeks were horrible, others only mildly annoying. In some ways it made the ending a little easier for me to deal with because I was more than ready. I had always been afraid I would be a crying mess, full of sadness at the end of that chapter or our lives. But it felt right. And I was at peace with it.

  19. Nicole Langlois says:

    Lots of sympathy for all of you going through this. I didn’t tandem nurse (while pregnant the second time my milk supply really dried up and the nursing hurt so much that I was thrilled when my toddler lost interest), but I did struggle with weaning my nearly 3-year-old daughter. She had started nursing again about 4 to 5 times per night (we were bed-sharing then) and I was losing my mind with fatigue. I was also angry, and feeling the same type of nursing aversion symptoms that others have described above. Then I read a couple of posts by Janet Lansbury (www.janetlansbury.com), and I bit the bullet and weaned my daughter–cold turkey. Yes, one day I said to her, “Tomorrow will be your last day to nurse, and then we will celebrate that you are a big girl.” There were some tough moments, but she was certainly old enough to understand what I was saying to her, and the article by Janet Lansbury helped me to stand my ground and love my daughter deeply through the change. It was incredible what a difference that made. We got through it quickly, she adapted, we all got better sleep, and we moved on. I highly recommend her approach to making big changes in a sensitive and utterly caring way that also makes it possible for you to care for yourself. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we will come to resent our children–and they will know it. Check out “I think I know why you’re yelling” and “Babies and toddlers dealing with change” on JanetLansbury.com.

  20. I had nursing aversion while pregnant with my second. And still in the postpartum phase. Although, during labor, nursing my oldest was such a nice farewell to him being the only child and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Now the only time I get that awful feeling is when they’re both latched at the same time. (4 and 1 now). For some reason that makes me super irritated and I just want them to let go! but one on one with my 4yo is fine again. There’s hope! Thanks for you honesty!

  21. Did you read the Tandem Nursing book from LLL? I love the tips in there!

  22. THANK YOU!!!!
    We are going through something similar. I could have written this myself. My son is 2y9m and my daughter is 9m. It is so hard and hard for people to understand why I don’t just wean him. thank you thank you thank you for making me feel normal.

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