What is Nursing Aversion and Agitation?

Breastfeeding is an incredible, unique, and exciting bonding experience between you and your baby—but some mothers, usually first-time moms, feel differently. Sometimes mothers will experience nursing aversion, a phenomenon that can affect breastfeeding mothers due to a range of physical, mental, and emotional triggers.

What is Breastfeeding Aversion and Agitation (BAA)?

Nursing aversion, or Breastfeeding Aversion and Agitation (BAA), is when you find yourself filled with anxiety-inducing thoughts, negative feelings, and an overwhelming urge to de-latch while breastfeeding. This experience can leave mothers confused, stressed, and guilty for not enjoying this special bonding time with their baby.

Even if you have a strong desire to continue breastfeeding, these negative thoughts and feelings can discourage you and make you want to stop. The important thing for you to know? You aren’t alone. Nursing aversion is nothing to feel guilty about—it’s a common experience, and it’s not a reflection of your abilities as a mother.

Remember that you’re a fantastic mother, despite how you may feel at a particular moment.

Am I Experiencing Nursing Aversion?

Thoughts and feelings, because of their nature, are very difficult to categorize—no two women will have the exact same experience with nursing aversion. Most, however, describe the feelings as one (or several) of the following:

  • Anger
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Self-consciousness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Despair

Motherhood is an extremely tense, emotional experience. You feel the most intense joy you’ve ever felt and the most exhaustion you’ve ever felt all at one time. It’s completely natural to not feel yourself all the time, and it’s okay to have these feelings—you’re human!

Physical Triggers of Nursing Aversion

Nursing aversion can be random and can vary in intensity from mom to mom and from individual experience to individual experience. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been very much research into the cause of nursing aversion, but there are some commonly known triggers which include:

  • Discomfort
  • Breast and nipple pain
  • Cracked nipples
  • Teething baby

All of these can lead to hesitation while breastfeeding, but it’s important not to let the fear of what could happen to keep you from breastfeeding!

Mental Triggers of Negative Emotions While Nursing

Many mothers feel frustrated and confused when their negative embodied emotions get in the way of their true, loving intentions for their breastfeeding goals. The reasons you experience aversion can be rooted in cognitive triggers beyond your control, and some are not connected to physical causes (like that of D-MER).

Some mental triggers for nursing aversion include postpartum depression and previous sexual abuse. Having to process these challenging feelings is no reason to feel ashamed. You never asked to feel this way, and you deserve to know that these are valid emotions and you are still worthy of your baby’s trust and love.

You’4re still an amazing mother, and experiencing these obstacles in your breastfeeding journey doesn’t change that.

Seeking Professional Advice for Mental Wellness

Neglecting your own mental health is its own trigger for breastfeeding aversion and agitation. If you feel like there might be an underlying or more serious cause to your nursing aversion, it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional.

Seeking help is absolutely nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. Getting the help you need is the best thing for you and your baby because taking care of yourself is taking care of your baby.

Is Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) a Form of Nursing Aversion?

Lactating women who experience Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (or D-MER, for short) encounter overwhelming dysphoria, symptoms of depression, and other negative emotions during milk releases for around 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

D-MER is not a form of Breastfeeding Aversion and Agitation; D-MER is a physiological reaction of temporary sadness during or before milk ejection, whereas BAA is more of irritability that can stick around the whole time you breastfeed. Even though these feelings are hormonal and short-lived, the consistent cycle of deep sadness whenever you breastfeed can be very disheartening and could lead to nursing aversion.

How Does Nursing Aversion Affect My Child?

Neonatal nutrition and infant behavior can be affected by stress in your maternal life history and when you experience aversion. Levels of human milk cortisol increase due to this stress and predicts infant temperament. A breastfeeding mother may also see changes in the way her toddler responds when weaned off of tandem nursing while she continues infant feeding.

What is Tandem Nursing Agitation?

Tandem nursing is the term for women who continue a breastfeeding relationship with their toddler while simultaneously nursing a newborn. To promote healthy growth and development, the World Health Organization recommends continuing nursing sessions with your baby until they are at least two years old.

Breastfeeding aversion can get in the way of these goals. A suckling infant may not bother you, but you might feel weirded out, irritated, or annoyed as your older nursling reaches toddlerhood. You’re not selfish, abnormal, or alone if you experience aversion in this way.

Many mothers have shared that their nearly two-year-old nurslings can really get on their nerves, whether by biting and pinching their nipples or even making uncomfortable eye contact during nursing sessions. Other mothers can have breastfeeding aversion towards both nurslings or only infant feeding.

When You Have to Wean Your Toddler

Some women try to combat their breastfeeding aversion without taking away the nutritional benefits of breast milk by switching to a pump and bottle feeding for one or both of their nurslings. The transition can be a very challenging and tricky process when your baby or toddler is used to their mother’s milk from traditional nursing, but it can be comforting to know you have that option.

As we mentioned, tandem nursing can be a cause for breastfeeding aversion towards your infant or toddler, but a change in your breastfeeding relationship with your older nursling can cause them to be a bit confused, moody, or even jealous of their younger sibling.

Many breastfeeding women feel like they’ve done something wrong when their toddler is emotional during a transition or change in the breastfeeding dynamic, even if it’s the right time to wean. However, this type of response is quite natural and is to be expected, and you have to do what’s best for you and your babies.

When you have to wean or switch up the routine, no matter the reason, the best thing to do is show your toddler that you can still provide them with the love and comfort they need without nursing. Many mothers do this by:

  • Giving lots of hugs, cuddles, and other reminders of the safety and comfort their little ones seek from nursing.
  • Sticking to their guns. Don’t go back on your progress! The bond of trust you and your little one have will only grow stronger when they see you making confident decisions for their best interests.
  • Slowly replacing nursing with other forms of nutrition—especially when a toddler becomes old enough to eat solid foods.
  • Providing positive reinforcement—not a bribe, but a small reward—for their progress. This can be anything from encouraging words, celebrating with a cake, or having their favorite food at dinner time. It’s the little things that count for your favorite tiny humans.

Weaning is often the last resort for mothers who can’t shake their nursing aversion to their toddlers; it’s not always a choice. Whatever the reason for switching things up, you’re not alone, and you are more than capable.

How Can I Get Past the Nursing Aversion?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic cure-all remedy or therapy to make your breastfeeding aversion disappear. Still, you can alleviate or improve your symptoms with self-care and by seeking support to help you cope with the negative feelings.

Self-Care to Combat Breastfeeding Aversion

Motherhood is tiring. We have a very natural tendency to put our children and our families before ourselves, and while this is an admirable quality, we can let it go too far. The reality is that we have to take care of ourselves—so that we can better care for our families.

Feeling trapped, depressed, or resentful are all normal for an exhausted mother. You might feel overwhelmed and like you don’t have time for yourself, but you need to make time—even if it’s only 30 seconds.

Go for a walk! Take your little one for a stroll around the block. Odds are, you’ve been cooped up inside for a bit, and a change of scenery is exactly what you need. Take 30 seconds to meditate.

Close your eyes, be still, focus on your breath, and recenter yourself. A little moment of calm will go a long way. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. It’s very common to feel alone when you’re experiencing nursing aversion, but even if you don’t know someone who’s personally experienced it, know that millions of mothers out there are feeling the same way.

Try Remedies

A mother’s milk has powers you might not even know about—it can actually be used to soothe irritated or cracked nipples! Rub a little bit of your milk on the area before and after feeding, or you can use coconut oil instead. It smells good, and most likely, your baby won’t mind the taste.

A teething baby who thinks you’re a chew toy is a sure-fire way to induce nursing aversion. It’s important to remember that teething is a new experience for your baby—they’re just as uncomfortable as you are! Try to establish early on that you aren’t for chewing—as soon as you feel a bite, unlatch your baby and gently tell them not to do that. They should catch on if every time they bite, the milk is taken away.

Dietary supplements

Anecdotal evidence suggests that mothers who experience aversion can notice improvements in their discomfort and negative emotions by increasing their magnesium intake. You can boost your magnesium levels with dietary supplements and topicals, which are also known for their gradual calming effect on individuals with other forms of anxiety and agitation.

See a Lactation Consultant

Sometimes, a mother’s breastfeeding aversion can be influenced—for better or for worse—by her baby’s habits while they’re nursing. It can be truly stressful when you’re struggling with tandem feeding, your baby’s latch causes you nipple pain, or you have a number of lactation and breastfeeding concerns.

When you bring these concerns and questions to a lactation consultant, they can provide you with the advice and solutions you need to help improve your breastfeeding aversion and nursing habits.

Find a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter

Many mothers who experience aversion and agitation while breastfeeding or tandem feeding find that the support of fellow breastfeeding mothers helps them to cope. You can find comfort and reassurance for your struggles with aversions from fellow breastfeeding friends or a trained breastfeeding peer supporter through maternity support groups and programs.

You have to remember that having struggles with breastfeeding aversion and agitation does not make you an inadequate mother. Some people have a hard time understanding women’s intentions when it comes to nursing aversion, but your breastfeeding journey is only the concern of you, your baby, and those you choose to share it with.

We’re Here to Support Your Breastfeeding Journey

Our maternal medical care team in the Women and Children’s Pavilion at RMC in Anniston welcomes more than 2,000 newborns each year. We have a team of specially trained OB Nurses, board-certified physicians, and top-of-the-line labor, delivery, and recovery care systems.

For all the advice and support you need for pregnancy, delivery, infant care, and breastfeeding contact Regional Medical Center—and check out more on our maternity blog—today!