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All About Aversion

All About Aversion
It’s the one lactation problem your clients might not even want to tell you about.
But it can be physically and emotionally distressing, and a parent experiencing it can definitely benefit from expert help.
Breastfeeding/chestfeeding aversion (also sometimes called agitation) happens when a lactating parent experiences negative physical and emotional sensations, often coupled with intrusive thoughts, as their nursling is latched on and feeding. When the feeding ends, so do the uncomfortable feelings.
It’s important to distinguish aversion from Dysmorphic Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER). D-MER is an abrupt drop in mood that occurs just before letdown and is confined to the time around letdown. It passes as the baby continues to feed, whereas aversion doesn’t.
Who Experiences It?
Breastfeeding aversion is not well understood and it definitely needs more research. But one thing is clear–many, many lactating parents encounter it at some time during their journey.
Breastfeeding aversion seems to happen more often with older nurslings than with small infants.
Pregnancy is a common time for it to strike–studies have found a quarter to a third of parents continuing to nurse an older baby during a new pregnancy report feeling it.
During tandem nursing is another high-risk time for breastfeeding aversion to occur, either when the older nursling is feeding or when both the older nursling and the baby are feeding at the same time.
What Does It Feel Like?
Experiences vary, but parents often use similar terms to explain the sensation.
Physically, they describe a skin-crawling sensation, repulsion, or the feeling of nails on a chalkboard when their child nurses. Other descriptions include an itching or smothering feeling. It’s common to experience an intense desire to remove the child from the breast/chest and to get away.
Emotionally, parents experiencing aversion often say they feel flashes of irritation, anger, or rage during breast/chestfeeding.
Secondary emotions can be just as painful–many parents describe feeling guilt, shame, and sadness about having the breastfeeding aversion. Cognitively, they want to continue to breastfeed their child, and the fact that these feelings arise during breastfeeding is confusing, painful, and worrying.
How Can You Help?
If a client shares with you that they are experiencing breast/chestfeeding aversion, it’s critical to meet their disclosure with empathy and openness.
Here are some options you can offer.
Suggest ways to set limits with their nursling. An older nursling can begin to accept that breast/chestfeeding will only happen at certain times of day or in certain locations. Your client can shorten the duration of feeds by telling their child they will nurse for the length of a favorite song. Toddlers can be asked not to squirm and fidget while latched, and offered a toy to hold to limit extra touching. If your client is tandem nursing and the older child wants to nurse whenever the baby nurses, suggest a special box of toys that only comes out when the baby nurses.
Help them distract themselves. When nursing, a parent with an aversion can try focusing on other things–reading or listening to a great book, looking at their phone, or watching TV. Offer reassurance that it is okay to take care of themselves this way.
Make sure they’re eating enough.  Anecdotally, pregnant or tandem nursing parents experience aversion more often when they are lacking adequate calories.
Try supplements. For some parents, daily zinc and magnesium are helpful.
Suggest herbal remedies. Nervine tonics (such as chamomile, oats, and milky oats, in nonalcohol forms) can be helpful.
Suggest peer support. Talking with other parents who have been through breast/chestfeeding aversion can be the best medicine for someone who is in the throes of it. Being able to express their experience and hear that they are not alone, and that it does get better, can be the thing they need the most.
Interested in learning more about breast/chestfeeding aversion as well as many other topics related to tandem nursing? Enroll in our new course, Grand Rounds: Tandem Nursing.
We’re excited about Community Breastfeeding Grand Rounds, a new type of course offering at LER!
Each Grand Rounds involves a recording of a live event. Hosted by Birthmark Doula Collective and New Orleans Breastfeeding Center and cosponsored by LER, Touro LCMC Health, and the Bureau of Family Health, the courses offer roundtable discussions of accessible, informative case studies on a variety of topics.
Look for our next Grand Rounds featuring a case study on galactosemia, coming soon!
All About Aversion
It’s the one lactation problem your clients might not even want to tell you about.
But it can be physically and emotionally distressing, and a parent experiencing it can definitely benefit from expert help.
Breastfeeding/chestfeeding aversion (also sometimes called agitation) happens when a lactating parent experiences negative physical and emotional sensations, often coupled with intrusive thoughts, as their nursling is latched on and feeding. When the feeding ends, so do the uncomfortable feelings.
It’s important to distinguish aversion from Dysmorphic Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER). D-MER is an abrupt drop in mood that occurs just before letdown and is confined to the time around letdown. It passes as the baby continues to feed, whereas aversion doesn’t.
Who Experiences It?
Breastfeeding aversion is not well understood and it definitely needs more research. But one thing is clear–many, many lactating parents encounter it at some time during their journey.
Breastfeeding aversion seems to happen more often with older nurslings than with small infants.
Pregnancy is a common time for it to strike–studies have found a quarter to a third of parents continuing to nurse an older baby during a new pregnancy report feeling it.
During tandem nursing is another high-risk time for breastfeeding aversion to occur, either when the older nursling is feeding or when both the older nursling and the baby are feeding at the same time.
What Does It Feel Like?
Experiences vary, but parents often use similar terms to explain the sensation.
Physically, they describe a skin-crawling sensation, repulsion, or the feeling of nails on a chalkboard when their child nurses. Other descriptions include an itching or smothering feeling. It’s common to experience an intense desire to remove the child from the breast/chest and to get away.
Emotionally, parents experiencing aversion often say they feel flashes of irritation, anger, or rage during breast/chestfeeding.
Secondary emotions can be just as painful–many parents describe feeling guilt, shame, and sadness about having the breastfeeding aversion. Cognitively, they want to continue to breastfeed their child, and the fact that these feelings arise during breastfeeding is confusing, painful, and worrying.
How Can You Help?
If a client shares with you that they are experiencing breast/chestfeeding aversion, it’s critical to meet their disclosure with empathy and openness.
Here are some options you can offer.
Suggest ways to set limits with their nursling. An older nursling can begin to accept that breast/chestfeeding will only happen at certain times of day or in certain locations. Your client can shorten the duration of feeds by telling their child they will nurse for the length of a favorite song. Toddlers can be asked not to squirm and fidget while latched, and offered a toy to hold to limit extra touching. If your client is tandem nursing and the older child wants to nurse whenever the baby nurses, suggest a special box of toys that only comes out when the baby nurses.
Help them distract themselves. When nursing, a parent with an aversion can try focusing on other things–reading or listening to a great book, looking at their phone, or watching TV. Offer reassurance that it is okay to take care of themselves this way.
Make sure they’re eating enough.  Anecdotally, pregnant or tandem nursing parents experience aversion more often when they are lacking adequate calories.
Try supplements. For some parents, daily zinc and magnesium are helpful.
Suggest herbal remedies. Nervine tonics (such as chamomile, oats, and milky oats, in nonalcohol forms) can be helpful.
Suggest peer support. Talking with other parents who have been through breast/chestfeeding aversion can be the best medicine for someone who is in the throes of it. Being able to express their experience and hear that they are not alone, and that it does get better, can be the thing they need the most.
Interested in learning more about breast/chestfeeding aversion as well as many other topics related to tandem nursing? Enroll in our new course, Grand Rounds: Tandem Nursing.
We’re excited about Community Breastfeeding Grand Rounds, a new type of course offering at LER!
Each Grand Rounds involves a recording of a live event. Hosted by Birthmark Doula Collective and New Orleans Breastfeeding Center and cosponsored by LER, Touro LCMC Health, and the Bureau of Family Health, the courses offer roundtable discussions of accessible, informative case studies on a variety of topics.
Look for our next Grand Rounds featuring a case study on galactosemia, coming soon!
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