Breastfeeding is often portrayed as a beautiful bonding experience between a mother and her baby, providing nourishment and fostering a deep connection. However, for some mothers, this idyllic image clashes with their reality, leading to a complex set of emotions that can be difficult to understand and manage. While breastfeeding is a natural body process, it doesn’t mean it comes naturally to all mothers. This phenomenon of negative breastfeeding feelings is known as nursing aversion, a topic that deserves attention as it is not talked about enough!
If you find yourself asking, “Why do I hate breastfeeding?” you are not alone. According to this study, one in five mothers struggle with feelings of aversion during breastfeeding. Some mothers choose to push through the aversion and breastfeed their children as long as possible but that doesn’t have to be the only option. We will discuss a few tips to manage the aversion but if those don’t help alleviate the negative feelings, we will help you figure out an alternative way to feed your baby!
- What is nursing aversion?
- What does nursing aversion feel like?
- How can I feed my baby if I experience nursing aversion?
- Do I have to continue breastfeeding?
Table of Contents
What is Nursing Aversion?
Nursing aversion refers to the intense negative feelings, overwhelm, or agitation that some breastfeeding mothers experience during nursing sessions. It can manifest as feelings of irritability, anger, sadness, anxiety, or even disgust while breastfeeding. For some, nursing aversion is accompanied by physical discomfort such as skin crawling or uneasiness. (Source)
One extreme aspect of nursing aversion is Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER), a condition where a breastfeeding let-down triggers feelings of intense unhappiness or a sudden, significant drop in mood that can last for 30 seconds to two minutes and go away once the milk starts flowing. D-MER is thought to be caused by hormonal fluctuations during milk letdown, leading to temporary emotional distress. It is estimated that between 5% and 9% of lactating mothers experience D-MER. While D-MER is a separate phenomenon from general nursing aversion, both can contribute to a mother’s complex feelings about breastfeeding. (Source)
How Does Nursing Aversion Feel?
Nursing aversion can vary greatly from person to person, but some common feelings and sensations include:
- Irritability: A sense of annoyance or discomfort during breastfeeding sessions.
- Anger: Unexplained frustration or even rage that emerges during nursing.
- Sadness: Feeling inexplicably low or tearful while breastfeeding.
- Anxiety: Overwhelming worry or unease in anticipation of nursing.
- Disgust: A visceral reaction that makes breastfeeding emotionally difficult.
These feelings might be directed at the baby, oneself, or even the act of breastfeeding itself. It’s important to acknowledge that these emotions are not indicative of a lack of love for the child, but rather a complex interplay of hormones, mental health, and personal experiences. If you are experiencing any of these feelings while breastfeeding, try to remind yourself that you are not doing anything wrong.
What Causes Nursing Aversion?
The causes of nursing aversion are multifaceted and can vary between individuals. Some potential factors include:
- Hormonal Shifts: Fluctuations in hormones, especially oxytocin and prolactin, which are crucial for milk production and the letdown reflex, can contribute to emotional turbulence.
- Overstimulation: The sensory overload of constant physical contact and nursing demands can lead to emotional exhaustion.
- Weaning Hormones: As a mother’s body transitions toward weaning, hormonal changes can trigger aversive feelings.
- Psychological Factors: Past trauma, anxiety, or depression can intensify negative emotions associated with breastfeeding.
How Can I Manage Nursing Aversion if I Want to Continue Breastfeeding?
If you’re committed to breastfeeding but struggling with nursing aversion, there are several strategies you can try:
Prioritize self-care to boost your mental and emotional well-being. Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation to encourage a better emotional state when you begin a feeding session.
Limit Feeding Sessions
Gradually reduce the frequency of nursing sessions to give yourself emotional breaks.
Engage in conversations, read a book, watch a show, or listen to music while nursing to divert your attention from the feelings of discomfort.
Connect with other mothers who’ve experienced nursing aversion for empathy and advice. You can also ask your partner to sit with you during a feeding session to offer support if possible, You don’t have to experience this alone.
Consult with a Professional
If needed, don’t hesitate to discuss your feelings and symptoms with a healthcare professional or lactation consultant. They may be able to provide you with more individualized strategies or tips.
In this article, Melissa Morns from the University of Technology Sydney states, “The experience of breastfeeding aversion is unexpected and difficult for mothers. If support is not available, it can have detrimental effects on maternal identity, mother-child bonds, and intimate family relationships… My hope is that general practitioners, midwives, and lactation consultants can gain a deeper understanding of the scale and nature of this phenomenon so that when they see someone in their clinic who is experiencing it, they can offer timely and tailored support.”
What Other Options Are Available If I Don’t Want to Continue Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is a personal choice, and nursing aversion might lead some mothers to consider alternatives. These can include:
Pumping and Bottle-Feeding
Transitioning to pumping and bottle-feeding breast milk can provide a sense of control and flexibility. Read here about the pros and cons of exclusively pumping!
Formula provides a nutritionally balanced alternative to breast milk, ensuring your baby’s needs are met. There are many types of formula which can seem overwhelming but you can ask your lactation consultant or child’s pediatrician for formula recommendations. Bobbie Organic Infant Formula is a great option. You can read the expert guide here!
Mixing breastfeeding with formula or pumped milk allows you to balance your baby’s needs and your own comfort. You can start decreasing the number of nursing or pumping sessions and supplement with formula to see if that helps alleviate some of the nursing aversion symptoms. Read this blog to learn how to supplement with formula!
Donor milk is breastmilk produced by another mother and shared with babies who need it. This is a great option to still provide your baby with the nutritional benefits of breastmilk without having to produce it yourself. You can find donor milk through local milk banks, Facebook groups such as Human Milk 4 Human Babies or Eats on Feets, or ask moms in your community if they have extra breast milk to share. I personally donated many ounces of milk to friends who needed extra breast milk for their babies, and I donated milk to a local mom from a milk share Facebook group! It was a special experience and I was more than happy to share what I had with other families.
Can I Just Stop Breastfeeding All Together?
If nursing aversion becomes unbearable and outweighs the benefits of breastfeeding for you, it’s absolutely valid to consider stopping breastfeeding. Your mental health should be a priority, and making the choice that aligns with your needs and feelings will help you be the best mom you can be.
While breastfeeding is celebrated for its many benefits, we have to acknowledge that not all breastfeeding experiences are positive. If you are one of those mothers asking, “why do I hate breastfeeding,” understand it’s not your fault. Nursing aversion is a real and complex emotional phenomenon that some mothers experience, often triggering an intense emotional struggle. We can work together to normalize the different options for feeding babies and recognize the importance of a mother’s mental and emotional health. Remember that your feelings are valid, and seeking support, whether from friends, family, or professionals, can provide guidance as you navigate your breastfeeding journey. Trust your mama gut and do what’s best for you and your baby!
Kayla is a mother of two young children. She is married to her high school sweetheart who is a firefighter, paramedic, and nurse. Her professional background is in social work, advocacy, and non-profits. She is passionate about empowering and encouraging mothers to make informed decisions about their pregnancy, birth, and motherhood journey.