Have you ever heard that while breastfeeding is natural, it might not always feel comfortable? Statements like that were gently offered quite a bit during the years I led with La Leche League. And they can be true – for many reasons.
One of the most notable points about discomfort during breastfeeding is the fact that no matter how much we liked (or didn’t like) nipple stimulation before having babies, we never had anyone continuously sucking on our nipples like a baby does. It can take some getting used to, and once we begin, we’re in for a ride.
In addition to the basics of adjusting to the experience of suckling, many other factors can contribute to breastfeeding discomfort or aversion. To start, most of us grew up experiencing our breasts as sexual and we may not feel comfortable feeling those sensations while we’re breastfeeding our babies. Some experienced sexual abuse, we have varying pain tolerances, as babies grow teeth they can suck in ways that cause different sensations, we may become pregnant while breastfeeding and we all have varying levels of personal stress.
Discomfort and aversion are important signals from our bodies. When we honor our bodies, we send a powerful message to our nurslings about modeling self-respect. Instead of resisting the discomfort we can learn to meet any uncomfortable emotional or physical sensations in the moment we experience them in two ways. One is through inner body awareness and the other is through making choices that feel right for us at the time.
The following inner body exercise offers the opportunity to center and relax while breastfeeding so you can make choices about nursing from a grounded perspective. With some practice meeting the physical sensations of nursing aversion through awareness, you’ll create some space to make choices about how you want to handle any continuing discomfort, while honoring you and your little one.
INNER BODY EXERCISE FOR NURSING DISCOMFORT OR AVERSION
If you aren’t nursing right now, imagine you are preparing to nurse. Notice how your body feels, bringing gentle attention to any tension while you allow your shoulders to soften. Breathe in deeply and begin to really notice how it feels to breathe. Notice the slight relaxation that comes with each exhalation. It may seem too simple, but the action of paying attention to the breath circulating in the body is very centering. Continue focusing on the sensation of breathing as you read.
As you bring your attention into your breath, notice how you feel about breastfeeding. Are you feeling anxious or scared, sad or angry, grateful or loving? Maybe all of these feelings are coming to mind. Just notice. Allow yourself to feel what you feel and bring your baby in close. Take a moment to recall a positive nursing experience. If you do not have one in mind, just allow yourself to relax (even if slightly with each exhale) as you focus on your breath and prepare for nursing.
Notice how your body feels. If you are beginning to tense, bring your attention into your breath and notice also where you feel any relaxation or calm in your body. Maybe in your hands, feet or face. Allow this relaxation to spread and soften in your body. Feel your breath touch every cell in your body, expanding and contracting gently. Bring your baby in to latch on and continue feeling your breath. If the latch feels like it works for you, allow your supporting arm to relax and notice if any other parts of your body feel constricted. If so, breathe into the areas of tension as you allow them to soften.
Begin to feel the peaceful life energy inside of your body. Slowly notice this energy first in your fingertips or toes, then gradually move to feeling the life inside every part of your body – hands, wrists, elbows, arms, shoulders, head, all the way to the other end – and inside of your breasts and nipples. This energy is both neutral and alive, still and cleansing. It may feel a bit tingly or warm.
Here’s where it can get interesting. If you start to feel uncomfortable sensations while your baby is nursing, breathe deeply into the sensations. Really notice how your breath goes into your breasts and nipples to meet the sensations from the inside. Instead of tensing against the sensations, meet them from the inside with inner body awareness. Feel the life energy inside as you feel the uncomfortable sensation and notice what thoughts come to mind.
Would you prefer to stop nursing right now? Are you open to continuing while focusing on your breath to see what happens? Would you prefer to nurse in a little while? Are you feeling like limiting nursing sessions with a toddler would help you enjoy the experience more? What are you experiencing, and would you like to experience nursing differently?
Continue focusing on your breath and each time you feel like you are tensing up, consciously relax from the inside. Notice your baby and how it feels to hold him/her close. Listen, gently touch and feel the love you have for your little one. Soak up the experience like a sponge. Experiment with this exercise as you nurse.
Moms who choose to breastfeed through discomfort often do so because they feel the breastfeeding relationship or the breast milk is worth the sacrifice. Instead of looking at it as a sacrifice, we can learn to experience the option of surrender through inner body awareness. Not like surrender as in defeat, but surrendering into the moment of choice, focus of attention and love as a mother. We release (or willingly meet) the inner resistance to what we are experiencing and choose to dive in fully with awareness, opening ourselves to a new experience with breastfeeding. This may or may not be easy, depending on our personal circumstances.
Discomfort with breastfeeding can come at any stage. If you are nursing a young baby reliant on breast milk for nutrition and want to continue nursing, there are many ways you can work through discomfort. Breastfeeding really doesn’t have to hurt although the sensations different moms experience are varied. Some mothers feel a strong let down that mimics the sensation of pain and they gradually learn to adjust. Other moms may have a baby who sucks kind of funny and they work to nurture a more comfortable, effective latch. Connecting with a lactation consultant or other breastfeeding helper can assure that there are no issues with the mechanics of the breastfeeding process.
If you are nursing an older baby, toddler, or young child who is eating solid food, the urgency for breastfeeding is different than while exclusively breastfeeding. Clarifying the answers to the questions below when you experience nursing aversion can help you determine how you want to address what you feel.
• Do I want to be nursing right now? If not, am I willing to stop, acknowledge what I feel and/or transition my thoughts so I feel more positive while I am nursing? Our children feel what we feel, so if we nurse when we really don’t want to, they are receiving a non-verbal message that we’re not comfortable and it has something to do with them. If we continue breastfeeding while not really wanting to, we also send a non-verbal message about sacrificing our well being for the pleasure or demand of another. This isn’t something to feel guilty about; it’s an opportunity to try something new when we feel like we don’t want to nurse so we are sharing the message we want to share while we are breastfeeding. Try simply saying this statement to yourself, “I am choosing to breastfeed and I can stop at anytime.”
• Would I feel better nursing in a little while? If so, am I willing to stop now and hold my baby even if crying is involved for a little bit? Sometimes we may need a little space to focus within and re-center ourselves before nursing. Sometimes our children may want to nurse immediately and we’re not ready. It is okay to hold your little one in loving arms while they cry for a little bit if you need to stop nursing for a while. It conveys the message that you respect their body and your body, their emotions and your emotions.
• Am I afraid if I don’t nurse I will not be a loving mom? There’s a lot of pressure to breastfeed. It can be a beautiful, connecting experience, but that’s not always how it is. Definitely seek assistance if it seems more like a drain than a joy. If you feel like breastfeeding is one of the main ways that you share love with your child, the experience of discomfort or aversion may be a call from nature for you to expand your ideas and ways of sharing love. Consider loving touch through a back rub or massage, reading while you hold your little one on your lap, cuddling with a blanket, or another way your family likes to connect. Release guilt so you can share the love you have for your child without feeling like it can only come through breastfeeding.
• Do I want to wean? Is this a temporary situation? Is it possible I may feel different soon? Weaning can be done in many ways, gradually generally working best for mom and little one. If you think you may want to wean, consider weaning temporarily or dropping one daily feeding for a week to see how it goes for both of you before complete weaning. If you find that it’s time to wean, talk with your little one about it (even if the child is non-verbal) and consider that love shared through breastfeeding does not stop with weaning – it just changes form.
• Can I learn to accept how I feel? As mothers we can feel like it’s not okay for us to feel discomfort in our role, much less while we are nourishing our young. Since breastfeeding is touted to be a wonderful bonding experience, we may feel confused or frustrated if discomfort seems overwhelming. Learning to notice and accept our feelings from the space of inner awareness can help us feel more balanced and able to respond not only to our children, but to ourselves. Consider taking this journey just one moment at a time by bringing your attention to your breath and body as often as possible.
If you find that you experience continual nursing aversion or discomfort you may try working through the sensations and thoughts with mindfulness meditation, focusing, or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Most importantly, allow yourself to feel what you feel, appreciate the time you have with your little one, and be gentle with yourself along the way.