My Nursing Aversion Episode

by Abby Theuring

I have always heard about this thing called Nursing Aversion. Since becoming pregnant people have asked me how I deal with it. I usually just say “I suck it up and move on.” What I didn’t know at the time was that I wasn’t really experiencing Nursing Aversion!

The other night, March 6, 2014 starting at approximately 10:30pm, yes, I remember it that clearly. I was nursing Jack to sleep. He had been having trouble falling asleep that night and the night before. We were rocking in the rocking chair as we always do and it was getting really long. I was getting tired and just wanted him to fall asleep. Sounds pretty normal, right? It is around here at least…

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Well, things started to change for me over the next 2 hours in a way they never have. I started to feel more irritated than usual. It wasn’t even really at him. Just in general. My nipples started to feel sensitive in a strange new way. It didn’t hurt; it wasn’t like anything I had ever felt. It made me recoil. I had to pull my nipple out of his mouth. Fast. I was overcome with a physical in my nipple of stinging, prickling and buzzing and a creepy crawly feeling all over my body; an emotional feeling of disgust mixed with fear mixed with irritation mixed with the heebeegeebees. Mostly the heebeegeebees. It was different from feeling touched-out when my emotions are directed at Jack. This was not.

Jack wanted to nurse. It was going on for a long time now and I just wanted him to fall asleep and knew he wouldn’t without my boob. So I kept trying again and again. His loose latch made the feeling even more intense. I was overcome with this desire to push him away and pull up my shirt. I said “nurse or don’t! Not this in between thing!” He obviously didn’t understand and said “I need boobie!”

I started wishing for pain. Breastfeeding was so painful when I first got pregnant. I was longing for that type of pain to stomp out this feeling. I became so emotionally agitated by this foreign feeling that I started wishing to hammer my nipple or that Jack would bite me really hard or that I could smash my head through the window. I even started to pinch the side of breast as he nursed hoping that the pain would overpower the weird sensation and emotional state that I was in. Nothing helped.

I remembered trying to be really calm. My agitation was just agitating Jack. I started to talk to him about how I was getting frustrated and that it was hurting my nipple. I asked if we could please take a break. Jack would say “bye bye boobie” and pull up my shirt and just lay his head on my chest. (I suppose the benefit of this happening with a toddler is that you can explain it to them.) But he inevitably started to try to nurse over my shirt and poke at my boob. It just brought me right back into that weird and dark place.

I thought about getting my husband to take over, but I felt like sleep was so close that I wanted to just get there the fastest route possible. Which is boob. I thought about this blog post that I would share with all of you. I thought “oh, wow, this must be that Nursing Aversion I keep hearing about!” This is really much more than just being irritated, touched-out or in pain. I get it now! And it is nearly impossible to explain in words.

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Jack is also the master at twiddling the other nipple. Since being pregnant this has been a huge no-no. I just can’t deal with it. I simply pull his hand away and say “that hurts mama.” He hasn’t slowed down one bit with trying to do it, but I just keep repeating the same thing over and over. That night I could sense he was going to do it even before his hand moved. It’s like I could read his thoughts. I wanted to crawl into a hole in the Earth or, even better, take a bat to my house and knock it down one swing at a time. I told Jack again that I was frustrated and he said “that makes me sad.” I wanted to die all over again!

I try to be pretty rational about things; when wild things are happening to me I try to talk to myself like some snooty professor at an Ivy League college. “I do believe that this is within the realm of normal human experience and perfectly understandable that in this situation one might have these thoughts, feelings or behaviors.” It was like some Twilight Zone alternate universe where the emotional side and rational side of me were operating simultaneously. I didn’t feel in danger of hurting myself or my child because I was able to be so rational about the thoughts I was having, but I was so overcome by an emotion that I had literally never felt before that I just wanted to run out of the house and down the street and run, just run, for-fucking-ever.

Ok, so I am a pretty dramatic writer and this might sound like a crazy person is writing this, but now that it is daytime and the emotion has passed I know that I could have just walked in to get my husband had I needed to. I see this as just another intense experience in this journey of motherhood that keeps knocking me down, waiting for me to get up, and then knocking me down again. I guess that is just what we do. Keep getting up, keep coming back, keep sharing our stories and leaning on each other. If you have never experienced this, please don’t let it scare you. It doesn’t happen to everyone and if it does happen you can find support in several places. (linked at the end)

People are already asking “why don’t you just wean?” Well, I don’t want to. I still feel that the benefits of breastfeeding Jack outweigh this negative experience. If it happened every time I breastfed then I might have a different answer, but it happened just the one time so far and I don’t make decisions based on one experience. When I talked to my husband about it he said “your breastfeeding relationship is a 2-way street.” He is right. I have to take my own feelings into as much consideration as Jack’s. I have had to balance this for 2 ½ years and will continue to do so while keeping my breastfeeding goals in focus. This is what this blog is all about; finding the strength to do what I feel is right despite the criticism of others. Only a mother and baby can know what is best for them.

The biggest impact this experience has had on me is showing me just how primal breastfeeding is. It connects us to all other mammals since the beginning of time and is tied to instincts, reflexes and emotions so deep they can’t be explained logically. I am once again in awe of what Jack is teaching me about being human.

Abby Theuring, MSW

Resources:

Nursing Aversion Support Group

Nursing Aversion Tips on Dealing

Creating Boundaries/Positive Weaning

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37 comments

  1. I had never heard of nipple aversion until now, but I wish I had heard of it when I tried breastfeeding my son because this was EXACTLY how I felt. I gave up after 3 months because it was just too much. It was exactly the strange skin-crawling feeling like you described and I used to beat myself up over it feeling like a terrible mum because I just couldn’t bare the way it felt. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this because knowing it is an actual thing has made me feel a lot better, so thank you.

  2. This happened this year. I had just gotten pregnant again, and I had to stop breastfeeding my son because of my aversion. Luckily, he was over four years old and was sad but he gave it up without protest. A few months later, after being disciplined for something, he told me, “Mama, I wish I was a baby and could have some of your milk again.” He would lovingly rub my brassiere on his face…now I am nursing my one-month old son and trying to cope with overactive letdown…

  3. I am crying reading this. Thank you so much. I have felt so distressed with my reaction to feeding my 17mo lately. I literally want to rip her off and throw her against the wall. If I take her off she’s becomes frantic trying to get back on. Her hands seem to be seek and destroy missiles for any bare patch of skin. I want a full body suit with boob flaps!!! It’s so comforting knowing this is a shared experience. X

  4. Oh my goodness, that’s what it’s called?! I have had those same prickly, tingling feelings when I nurse my daughter. It doesn’t happen that often but when it does I want to crawl out of my skin. It’s so hard to explain, other then I feel irritable and want her to stop, NOW! I’m so happy to know it’s not just me losing my mind. lol

  5. I get it quite often. It makes my skin crawl.

    Nursing has been somewhat of a struggle for us. I was exclusively pumping the first month or two, until we learned how to work with eachother. Having massive boobs, a wonky flat nipple and lazy feeders (both my kids were that way).. it takes work for us.

    I still pump about 50% of the time, so when I get the heebyjeebies I can usually hand her over to dad and he can give her pumped milk. It usually happens at night when I’m tired and just want to go to bed and she does that fiddly thing and keeps popping off and acting like an octopus, kicking and flailing. She’s only 5 1/2 months old, but I sadly can’t wait to have my boobs back to myself. I’m an introvert and it’s hard to share your body with another person. But, we keep going, even when I want to quit, because I hate formula more than breastfeeding ;-) (the way formula stains everything, the smell… the clumpiness.. the work. I did it with my first baby, we never managed to get the breastfeeding thing worked out. So no judging those that use the stuff! Been there, done that.)

    My poor husband has been on ice for about two months now, a small human owns me and the last thing I want is getting frisky. And he’s a boob man. Ofcourse my 2 1/2 son has been yanking on my nipples because he’s curious what his sister has been doing to them (He didn’t nurse past 2 days old, he ended up in the hospital with jaundice. Milk didn’t come in until a week after. We tried and cried for three weeks. I chose my sanity at that point. Just a big mess. Basically he doesn’t know the joy of boobies. I tried to see if he’d latch since he was so interested, but nope.)

    I’m a boobie playground for all, apparently.

  6. I’ve been experiencing nursing aversion with my son (26 months) for the past 8 weeks or so of my pregnancy (now 14 weeks). It has been constant and is growing more with each passing day. I feel completely horrible but know that I NEED to wean him NOW for sanity’s sake. If I could lock myself away (as many other mothers have said ) I would. But I can’t (UGH) and need to make this as seamless as possible. He only nurses for his nap during the day and at night. Dad can’t help out every night due to work schedule but can help out some. I’m exhausted as I’m a stay-at-home mom and so by bedtime, I’ve nearly transformed into a full-fledged zombie and I’m scared with how much I may have to put up with when I make the move.

  7. Have you tried using a pacifier along with nursing? I am nursing baby #3 and I never listened when it came to the lactation consultants telling me to never give a pacifier for fear of nipple confusion. It is the only way I was able to continue to nurse and stay sane. Once my little nursling suckles for comfort beyond 10 minutes I do the “nipple switch.” I stuff the end of the pacifier between his lips in a corner, just like you would whe you use your finger to detach them from your nipple, and once he opens his mouth I pull out my nipple while placing the pacifier in place at the same time. He then gets to continue suckling for comfort and my nipple doesn’t have to endure endless chewing. He has a preference for pacifiers too….he likes the ones that are shaped similarly to my own nipple. I hope this helps and good luck. I know it can be frustrating and wear you out. Hugs to you and stay badass!

  8. Wow I’m totally going through this right now with my 29 month old son.. Im 28 years old, he’s my first child.. I EBF him for the first whole year of his life. I continued to nurse through the night up until I became pregnant 2 months ago.. He’s a serious twiddler.. Dun dun dun! Crazy!!!! I just had to start sending my husband in for the night time wakings. It broke my heart but I soon realized the sleep I desperately needed and had been missing out on.. I’m very much an attached parent (among not many in my circle I may add.)
    Finding the proper support I searched for has never been easy, this FB page/group is amazing.
    I’m curious as to what will happen at the 20 wk mark, with my son being such an avid nurser and all. He has always nursed to sleep which is such a labour of love as you obviously grasp :) I salute you for getting through all of the hard impossible seeming times that I just know you must have gone through! I wonder if my milk wil dry up or if he will start to dislike the taste? I’m not sure if I really would be happy if he weaned yet or not to tell you the truth.. Would I tandem nurse come February? I don t know.. I just wish there were more pregnant long term nursers out there to bounce my curiosity’s off of :P
    I currently run a home daycare so continuing to nurse him so much has been a challenge. I knew it was important to keep it up though so I’m persevering!
    Thanks so much for everything you do, you really are one of a kind!!
    Xo
    Sam
    Don’t worry I knew those formula ads were not condoned by you.. Sneaky little bastards!

    • I let myself ‘dry up’ while my son dealt with a bout of thrush, but afterwards he still went back to wanting comfort nursing – and my milk is minimal and salty as hell – he doesn’t seem to care in the slightest that it’s not sweet.

      I actually dealt with ‘nursing aversion’ when I was pumping for the first two months (oversized jugs and tiny baby did not mix) – and I had time to study the reaction in depth, because I couldn’t rightfully explain that a few minutes after letdown, I would be sweating, my heart would be beating harder, and I would just be angry at the whole universe. And my skin would just CRAWL.

      I did some research on the ACTION of the hormones in MATURE breastfeeding (after the first few weeks when you milk is well in), and it turns out that an adrenalin surge is part of this action. Oxytocin causes letdown, and after you’re letting down, to make sure that you don’t ‘dry up’, or are harmed by sucking action on nearly empty breasts for an extended period of time, you are then bombarded with adrenalin.

      This has a threefold effect, it breaks down the oxytocin reaction so you stop letting down (so your breasts aren’t leaking while they attempt to refill), it wakes you up (because oxytocin is extremely relaxing) which, to an animal that has just put its child to sleep, you need to ‘wake up’ in order to go find food during the precious child-free moments you now have, and it triggers your weaning process.

      But, depending on the person, you can also have a number of other side effects from this very natural process, including anger, hot flashes, cold sweats, numbness or tingling in the body, passing out, and a strong aversion to being touched. And in my case, extreme moments of lightheadedness and NAUSEA. (which when you’re pumping, is so VERY STRANGE!)

      What you can do about it? Not too terribly much, other than ride it out, or pop them off the breast and cuddle at a distance (tickling, or playing with baby’s hands and feet gently, so that you are the one making the contact), and when the ‘heat’ dies down, pop them on your other breast and go back to feeding. The surge itself doesn’t last more than a few minutes, and so long as you do not freak out about it, you can ride out the feeling and go back to business.

  9. I had this exact same problem during the second trimester of this pregnancy, while nursing my two-year old. I felt like I needed to crawl out of my own skin, or go running down the street while clawing at myself. Bugs creeping all over you is a good way to describe it. It was just awful, especially at bedtime when I had a toddler struggling to soothe and trying to dig his fingernails into my other nipple. This eventually led to me wean him at 28 months. He still has the urge to get grabby/pinchy with my nipples when he is tired, and they’re still very sensitive, so I have to remind him to be gentle and encourage him to instead pinch my neck/cheek/ear/collarbone area – which fortunately works. It’s only been about 3 months since we stopped nursing and I’m due in a week. I’m hoping this aversion is pregnancy related, because I’m about to dive head first back into nursing full time. Thanks for posting.

  10. I am a ftm nursing my 2month old. I have had a few nursing adversion episodes that happened when I was really tired and my girly was really fussy/having a neverending nursing session. The first time I was able to reason through it but the last two I had to nurse in 5min bursts. I bought a nipple shield which seems to help a little. Has there been anything proven to “fix” it?

  11. Sounds like when I have anxiety attacks! They’re for no particular reason, at no particular time, feel terrible but unexplainable and I never know what to do to make it stop!

  12. My daughter was a nipple twiddler too. It made me crazy…we made it till her 3rd birthday, and I couldn’t take it anymore. My son is 15 months and just in the last few weeks he had been less easy to settle and that other hand is looking for something to play with, but I’m not letting it anywhere near the other breast! I want to be able to let him wean when he wants to, not because I am feeling done with it all. People always looked at me stupid when I tried to explain what my daughter used to do, it’s good to hear someone else experienced the same.

  13. Wow, this reads like my own experience with my daughter back in February when I was pregnant with my son. It took my all just to get through a nursing session. I never let her tweak the unused nipple, but I have mole in the middle of my breasts that she fond of and twiddles to my great annoyance. But, when I was pregnant the tweaking was almost more than I could stand. I still feel aversion if I’m nursing both babies simultaneously and it bugs me. Does the aversion go away? As the younger baby gets older?

  14. I had this with my first, and it drove me to stop breastfeeding. I thought there was something wrong with me? Have had it off and on with my toddler, and during pregnancy with my baby and now when tandem feeding.

    It truly is horrible and almost indescribable! I too have moments when I just HAD to pull her off or else I was going to go mad. Its not pain but its like my skin is crawling and I almost feel like running away….

    The best thing I have found for me is to have a book or game on my phone I can distract myself with.

  15. I cannot believe as I read your post there’s an advertisement for formula. They will get on any page!!!!

    • Anne Smith, IBCLC

      I do not accept advertising for formula or any other products in violation of the WHO code, and I have made this quite clear to Google ads. However, formula companies are sneaky, and will do some underhanded things to slip their ads in. They use different IP addresses, different names, anything to get their ads on my site.

      When this is brought to my attention, I immediately get the webmaster to track them down and remove them.

      Please let me know if you see formula ads on this site. I am SO not okay with that, and will take action ASAP.

      Anne Smith, IBCLC
      http://www.breastfeedingbasics.com

  16. Thanks for this! I worry that if I tell my husband or anyone about this, they will just tell me to wean her! I am not ready for that yet. She will be 14 months on May 5. She is nursing a lot, I think, because her first year molars are coming in now. Do they usually nurse more when they are in pain like this? It is making me hurt like you are describing. I take her off, and she latches back on. It hurts to take her off, too, b/c she bites down if she does not want to let go.

  17. I most definitely have experienced this, I never knew there was a name for it though! I felt it most often with my third (I now have 4). He was a difficult baby and would nurse every 1-2 hours around the clock for the first year. I remember it happening always in the middle of the night when I was the most exhausted. I remember feeling like I just wanted to smack him off of me because of the intense discomfort in my body. I also have Restless Leg Syndrome in my legs and arms that worsens when I am tired. It is a very similar feeling for me and both make me extremely irritable. In both cases I try to inflict pain to take away the intense annoying creepy-crawly feeling. My third was usually in the bed with us when it would happen and I would end up kicking my husband and telling him I just can’t do it anymore :) Thanks for writing about it!

  18. I just wanted to say hang in there! I am so with you and know your pain! Nursing aversion for me started about this time last year. At first, it was infrequent…maybe twice a month…then once a week, a couple times a week, and eventually it happened almost every time ds was at the breast. He is 3.5 and just after turning 3, I had to start limiting him….I just couldn’t handle feeling that way so often. It was making me resent him and i did NOT want that. I’ve got him down to pretty much only nursing to sleep at night now. If he happens to nurse in the daytime, I can be sure the aversion will be too strong to nurse more than a few minutes before bed. To too things off, his latch is getting lazy lately, so now my nipple hurts on top of the aggravation! At least he is over the twiddling stage!

  19. Thank you for writing this! I started getting nursing aversion as soon as I got pregnant. I didn’t even know I was pregnant when it started and my son had just turned 2. I finally found an article about it and realized what was going on but before that I thought I was losing my mind. I had it every single night in the beginning and then it was every nursing session. I tried everything to make it stop from meditating to physically hurting myself and it wouldn’t go away. I dealt with it for 3 months and then my son finally lost interest in nursing. I explained to him that it was not his fault Mommy was feeling this way but it still hurts and he stopped asking one day. It still makes me sad that we had to stop nursing this way. I think the worst part for me was the guilt I felt from having these feelings. I have never felt so out of control in my life. I wanted our nursing relationship to end on a better note but I feel like I did the best I could. If he asks to nurse when the baby is born I will most likely let him. Thank you for always being so honest!

  20. I had this once or twice when my daughter was a few weeks old I chalked it up to being overly tired mixed with being a new mom trying to transition from my life of no worries to careing for my LO. I absolutely love breastfeeding and even though we are only three months in I’m glad we have stuck with it!

  21. I’ve never read anything else about nursing aversion before but this article totally describes what has been happening to me lately! Is this something that normally only happens when nursing while pregnant? I’m not pregnant (at least I don’t think I am) but I doubt I even could be right now. My lil one just turned one and the last couple weeks of nursing have just been brutal. There are times at night while trying to nurse him to sleep that I literally just want to jump out of my skin. I keep trying to explain it to my husband but all I can say to him is it hurts and I can’t describe how it hurts because it’s not actual physical pain but it just hurts. So thank you for this blog post. This post along with so many of your other posts have helped me in so many ways. I’m going to look more into nursing aversion now that I have a word to go along with the feeling. Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy and thank you so much for all of your posts!

  22. thank you for this article..

    i have been feeling guilty about how irritated and uncomfortable i feel whenever my 37mos daughter would nurse..

    i can feel that she is not ready yet to wean, and i dont think im ready, too..but it has been weeks since i started to nursing aversion..

    i dont know what to do..at least now i know that im not alone..

  23. Wow. Just wow. I never post comments to articles I read online, but I will now because everything you said in this article could have been me. I wish I had read this article three years ago when I was pregnant with my second and still nursing my then 15-month old. I had what I would call an extreme form of nursing aversion, and when it started I had NO IDEA what the heck was going on. It is definitely a little-discussed and understood topic. The book Adventures in Tandem Nursing touched upon it briefly, but other than that I have never found anything that explained what I was feeling up until this article. The most frustrating thing was not having ANYONE who I could relate to at the time. In fact, people had no idea what the term ‘breastfeeding aversion’ even meant. And by people I mean my local La Leche League chapter, the lactation consultatant at my local hospital, even the local ‘crunchy moms’ store in town who were avid breastfeeders. And trust me, I tried talking to EVERYONE about my issue who would listen lol. It was extremely hard for me, because I did not want to stop breastfeeding. Up until that point, I had loved loved loved nursing my little one. If I could describe the sensation in one sentence, it would be that I used to feel like I wanted to take my daughter and rip her off me and throw her against the wall! I know, it sounds violent right? This is exactly why it was so hard to discuss with people, because they just didn’t ‘get it.’ And those feelings were only present while I was nursing, and subsided immediately upon stopping. And while no I never did anything harmful to her obviously, the feelings of ‘get off me’ were very present. I remember literally running away from her because my body did not want her to nurse. And I also agree with your statement that nursing is very primal. I do believe that it is nature’s way of telling us “Okay, you need to stop nursing now because you need to start preparing for your new baby.” I still can not get over how on point this article is!! Everything from the creepy crawly sensation to wanting to feel pain because pain would have been a million times better than this indescribable feeling we were experiencing. And thank you for addressing the sentiment that people share of ‘why don’t you just stop breastfeeding then?’ The truth is, it’s not that easy. I didn’t want to stop and neither did she, but like I said, my body wanted me to stop. All very weird, mixed emotions going on that I truly truly believe if you have not gone through it yourself you will never understand. And like you said, it’s not just about sucking it up and moving on. Thank you so much for posting this. So on point I can’t even believe it. :)

    • Abby Theuring

      I am so glad this resonated with you! I think this is why it is so important to talk about this stuff because when things get really tough it’s almost always the case that others are going through it too! Moms are so important to Moms! <3

  24. I am pretty sure I understand this feeling but it happens everytime I nurse. I get a sudden loss of appetite, a real sick feeling in my stomache, a bad taste in my mouth, and become irritated with EVERYTHING! The only thing that helps is holding his little hands and looking at his face and reminding myself what an amazing thing is going on between us. It really sucks though and I wish it would stop!

  25. This was a fantastic article. It’s been a few year since I’ve nursed but I remember it very clearly and I remember a few times having this feeling. What a lot of people don’t realize is that even animals get irritated when nursing their young. It’s a completely normal feeling. And if a mother ever told me she never got irritated while nursing I’ll call her a liar to her face.

  26. I’m so glad u wrote this….. I’m 7 1/2 months along and nursing a 2 &1\2 year old who just downright refuses to wean… it’s been a very difficult transition for me going through this…but it’s good to see that I’m not alone lol

  27. I would like to know how far along you are?

  28. Yes!
    Last night when it took what felt like days for my daughter to nurse to sleep, I felt similarly.
    My skin was crawling and I had to actually hold on to the sheets to keep myself from just rolling out of bed and running away.
    I pleaded with her to just take a pacifier. I just knew that that the next unlatch/latch back on was going to legitimately make me lose my mind. And she would drift off, loosen her latch, then bite and wake back up.
    For 4 hours. Maybe longer, I didn’t see the clock again until morning.
    Somehow we both fell asleep and everything has been fine today.

  29. thank you for this post!! i knew nothing about what a nursing aversion was, but reading this makes me realize that i have had that sensation before!! it is hard to put into words but the way you wrote it totally clicked in my mind for the way it felt for me. i never even thought once about it when it happened to me. it’s probably happened a few times. my DD is 2.5 too. and i can usually just say “Mama’s nipples hurt now so we’ll have to be done for a bit.” and she gets it. it’s not always successful, but in those moments that’s what i’ve done. even though it didn’t necessarily *hurt*. so i get it! and never would have made a connection to Nursing Aversion if i didn’t read this! i can kind of relate the sensation to Restless Leg Syndrome. it’s just a weird feeling that overcomes you and you want to escape it! so weird…..

  30. Thank you for writing this. I had this feeling several weeks ago for a few nights in a row and had NO IDEA why I was feeling that way. Thankfully it passed for me but I am so thankful to be able to identify why I had that reaction.

  31. I have had this for the last few nights/early mornings its left me in tears and no matter how hard i try i couldn’t explain it to my partner. It is a horrible feeling,thanks for putting it into words,nice to know im not alone

  32. I had it horribly for about 2 days when my daughter was 10 months. I remember just wanting to stop and be by myself and not have her touching me. Even snuggling was too much. I then started my menstrual cycle. Usually I get jumpier the night before my period starts. It is no fun at all. It’s not as bad now at 16 months, but the first couple of months of aversion, even for a night, were hard.

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