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What To Do If You Feel “Touched Out” While Breastfeeding

By Wendy Wisner, IBCLC

When my nurslings were older babies—and especially when they were toddlers—I remember feeling at times like the physical closeness of breastfeeding was just about the last thing I could tolerate. After a long day of mothering, breastfeeding even made me want to jump out of my skin at times. I felt restless, irritated, and like if my babe stayed latched on for one more second, I was going to lose it.

I later learned that these feelings are common—extremely common. Almost all of us have felt “touched out” by breastfeeding, especially because being a mom to young kids is already such a physical task, and it can often feel like one more minute of a child pressed up against you is just too damn much. Sometimes, this can even turn into a case of “nursing aversion,” where you feel fidgety, suffocated, and even like your skin is crawling during nursing.

Wendy Wisner, IBCLC breastfeeding and touched out.

This is not something all moms experience all the time during breastfeeding, but it’s going to happen at least a few times to all of us. And there are some of us for whom this happens a lot, and it starts to become a big enough problem that we might feel like giving up breastfeeding altogether.

Don’t worry: There is nothing wrong with you, or your child. This is a normal part of nursing sometimes, and there are things you can go to ease the discomfort.

  1. Remember that it’s a common feeling and that you have every right to feel this way sometimes.

I’ve worked with hundreds of moms (as a breastfeeding counselor and IBCLC) and I can’t tell you how common this is. So many moms have felt like you have. You are not alone. And there is nothing defective about you. No guilt, ok?

  1. Talk about it with a trusted friend, breastfeeding support specialist, or your partner.

Sometimes just getting it all out helps a ton. We women tend to hold our discomforts inside, where they usually just end up festering and blowing up out of proportion. Find someone you trust—preferably someone who is familiar with this breastfeeding scenario—and share all the dirty details with them. Don’t hold back. Give yourself permission to get it all off your chest (pun intended!).

  1. If your child is older, see if you can cut back on sessions, shorten them, or set other limits.

Once your nursling is getting nutrition from other sources, it’s perfectly ok to start limiting breastfeeding to your comfort level—keeping in mind your child’s needs as much as possible. I always advise mothers to start with one session (maybe the one where the “touched out” feeling manifests the most) and work on that. Maybe you can tell your child that you will stop nursing after you sing the “ABC song” two times. Maybe you can distract your child with a book or a special activity. Work on decreasing that session in some way and then reevaluate how you feel.

  1. Check your hormones, and notice if the feeling is worse at certain times of the month. Take a pregoo test too!

It is very common for these feelings to be worse at certain times of the month. I always had a tough time during PMS, but ovulation wasn’t always a cakewalk either. Sometimes just knowing that your hormones are influencing things helps, and you can keep in mind that things will get better when the hormone rush subsides. Also make sure to take a pregnancy test if the symptoms linger and you haven’t gotten your period. Extreme nursing aversion is sometimes one of the first signs of pregnancy!

Wendy Wisner, IBCLC breastfeeding and touched out.

  1. Address your stress levels: this can have a huge impact on what is going on.

Besides hormones, the second biggest trigger is stress. Stress in and of itself can actually release hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) which can change how you react to physical closeness and touch. These hormones can definitely play a part in the feeling like you don’t want to be touched! Sometimes feeling “touched out” is a sign that you need more support in your life, or that something is triggering stress in you that needs attention. Maybe you can take this as an opportunity to seek more wellness in your life, and ask for help if you need it.

  1. Be careful of listening to advice from people who aren’t supportive of breastfeeding.

As you probably know by now, not everyone “gets” what it’s like to be a nursing mom, especially beyond the newborn stage. So if you are going to open up to people about this struggle, you’ve got to find people who understand, and who fully support breastfeeding. Someone whose answer to every problem is “Oh, just wean already,” is not someone who fully supports breastfeeding (even if weaning may be the answer for you). Like I said, feeling “touched out” or experiencing nursing aversion is quite common, and so you want to speak to people who understand that, who have been there, and will listen to your feelings without imposing their own views about what should and shouldn’t happen in the nursing relationship.

  1. For some women, weaning is the best answer. Here’s how to know, and how to do it gently.

In extreme cases of nursing aversion—after you’ve tried it all, and waited patiently for things to get better—you might decide that it is time to wean. That is your decision, and yours alone. As with all weanings (unless there is a medical emergency) it is important to do it gradually, because weaning too quickly can cause abrupt hormone shifts that can be just as devastating (or more) than what you are already experiencing. Another advantage of taking it slow is that you can evaluate how both you and your nursling are feeling as you eliminate sessions. You may even find that dropping down to nursing just once or twice a day is tolerable in terms of your aversion.

Here’s the most important thing to keep in mind throughout all of this: You are an amazing mom. No matter how you are feeling, nothing can change that. While these feelings are normal and really do pass in most cases, that doesn’t mean that your feelings are invalid. You have the right to feel heard and to feel better, even if that means making difficult choices along the way. You are so worth it.

Wendy is the mom of two awesome boys, a freelance writer and editor, and a lactation consultant (IBCLC). Find her on the web at www.wendywisner.com.