The health benefits and your child’s comfort from breastfeeding can motivate you to continue feeding longer term. By now, you and your child no doubt have the act of breastfeeding mastered. What you did not anticipate was the uneducated and demeaning societal pressures around extended breastfeeding, nursing aversion, or considering having another baby while still breastfeeding your toddler.
Much of what I discussed in my first breastfeeding post: Breastfeeding – The Whole Truth Part 1: The Newborn Stage may be useful for you to remind yourself of the reasons you are choosing to breastfeed rather than formula feed. The last paragraph of that post also includes lessons you learn from breastfeeding which can be applied to making you a gentler parent. What is different about breastfeeding a toddler of 1 year and older? This blog will discuss different issues mothers can face when continuing to breastfeed toddlers and young children.
The main debate in this blog post is facing the public and peer pressures associated with nursing a toddler. It also sets everything into perspective, so you know you are not remotely disgusting, or mad, or harming your child, or whatever other hurtful words people want to throw at you, and that in the longer term you and your children will be healthier physically and emotionally. Remember, all the general public views on breastfeeding will have moved onto something or someone else. These comments can also contribute to an emotional turmoil called nursing aversion which can be terribly uncomfortable. The post moves onto long term tandem or triandem breastfeeding, and how to cope emotionally with extended breastfeeding. The post offers help for weaning your toddler if that is the best option for you, and how to gently help your toddler cope if you choose to part wean them.
Help Me Deal with the Emotions Caused By Others’ Negative Comments
Whilst deep down you know that negative comments about extended breastfeeding are mainly a result of mass marketing from the formula companies, it can still make you feel uncomfortable to face the public with your growing toddler.
Strangers’ comments can be one thing, you can shrug it off as them being an uneducated follower of the masses, but what can be hurtful is if family or friends say something nasty too. Your wonder ‘Would I talk to you about a choice you’re making with discipline in the same way?’. The answer is a highly likely no, I wouldn’t. I would consider the family or friend’s feelings and, even if I felt strongly about it, would just mention some research they could do if they mentioned that they wanted to change things.
All advice given to mothers really are only welcome if the Mum has asked for help about changing something. I’m sure you’re reading this post, and I know I’m writing this post, because I have never once asked to stop breastfeeding any of my toddlers. I do not want to. In an ideal world I would let them all self wean and leave them with a legacy of fond memories and loving connecting moments with their Mum who put public viewpoints at the bottom and their emotional and physical needs right at the top.
Of course, the psychology of our brains and bodies do not work in an ‘ideal world’. Subconscious memories are going on within us, making us react in ways we consciously would not if it were not for our internal memories (see Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson’s ‘The Whole-Brain Child’ and my previous blog post about childhood trauma for further information on subconscious memories). This internal memory function may contribute to us feeling something called nursing aversion, which I will discuss further in the section below.
So how do we deal with unwanted comments so as not to affect our long term mental health and achieving our personal parenting goals? The most important thing I have learnt is to try and not react to the comments as the type of people who say things like this will be willing to continue the conversation even when you’re clearly upset. The way we communicate with others, in front of our children, will influence how they communicate with others. If I want my children to accept each other’s different views in a healthy way, then I have to really dig deep and try and accept the other’s point of view. It does not mean I have to agree with it.
Internally I have a dialogue going with thoughts such as if they have done the research I had done, and lived the life experiences I have, then they would definitely be a pro-longterm breastfeeder too. It is so sad for this person that they have never experienced a love like this to understand how important it is to both the mother and the child. And how devastating for them to think that the mother is somehow twisted or selfish – perhaps that reflects on how they were raised – perhaps they view others’ as twisted or selfish because they themselves were told this on a repeat basis as children. Perhaps I should feel really grateful at how lucky I am to want to raise my kids the best way my gut tells me how, rather than just do what everyone else tells me to.
Having the above sort of dialogue can help you realise this person’s comments are not really personal to you. It is personal to them and their upbringing. Next, I try to end the conversation now as quickly as possible but with a small snippet of information. I respond with the ultimate health research supporting why I continue to breastfeed all 3 of my toddlers. I have grown up with type 1 diabetes since the age of 2, so my response is themed around research on breastfeeding and the risks of diabetes. “Scientists have repeatedly found reductions in the risk of a baby developing type 1 diabetes in the future, with significant protection from longer exclusive and total breastfeeding duration. No matter what your opinion is, if you lived with diabetes like I do, you’d understand why I have no choice but to continue this in the hope it reduces their risks of type 1 diabetes.” It tends to shut people up, and also technical and scientific responses stump the majority of people.
Even if you deal with the person in the present moment, when you get home and rest, you can start to feel overwhelmed with how little support you actually have from those around you to do this amazing thing for your children. Now is the time to learn to be your own gentle parent. Think what you would say to your kids if they were to come home having had such horrible words said about them by someone else. Allow that empathetic response to be relayed to yourself. Mine is something along the lines of “Julia, look what a wonderful thing you are doing, look how kind and amazing all 3 of your kids are, imagine if you stopped breastfeeding just because of these silly comments people make off the cuff? What would that say to your kids – that we care more about other people’s opinions than we do about each other? No way. Not under my household will anyone feel an outsider is better than my babies.”
A final step I have taken in helping me deal with the emotions is poetry. I write a poem for each of my children each year. The first poem I wrote was breastfeeding related for my eldest child. They’re just silly little poems, but they have meaning to me. I have copied it here so you can see it really doesn’t matter about the quality of your writing, it’s about the release and puts things into perspective to help keep you stronger.
You and I share something not many others have, can or will.
I did not even know we would, until we were.
In fact our first moments together made me fear that I failed to climb us up this hill.
As time went on, the thought of free time became a desperately distracting lure.
How pleased am I that we somehow carried on our journey together.
You are my baby, you need me more than I even need you, and your needs are therefore my command.
I made you complete and you gave me your heart in return.
Our love will thrive and disregard anything negative anyone might backhand.
They may judge because it is unusual to see a love so deep, but it is also a love they yearn.
You see, luck has nothing to do with any of this. It is care and mindset and willpower alone.
These attributes will pass from me to you in our love, helping you to be better, stronger and kinder when you are grown.
Nursing Aversion: What Is It, What Causes It and How Can I Reduce It?
It’s no wonder sometimes we can get negative emotional reactions to our babies’ breastfeeding when you consider the sorts of comments our society say to us, on top of the physical challenges that breastfeeding involves. The below picture really struck a chord with me, especially when I scanned to the title ‘Nevertheless she persisted’.
Nursing aversion is unpleasant feelings such as frustration, disgust, anger and rage while breastfeeding your baby. It can cause you to have to wean the child earlier than you had hoped, which can make you feel guilty. Whilst there is no official theory about what causes nursing aversion, I feel that the following all have contributed to my nursing aversion.
Emotional and subconscious thoughts are a big factor. My mum clearly started being uncomfortable with me still breastfeeding my daughter getting close to a year old. She would belittle comments I made when I tried to educate her, for example that the World Health Organisation recommends to 2 years and beyond. She screwed up her face and said “I think that’s mostly for third world countries.” I said “no it helps stop diabetes too” and she shrugged. I was raised by that lady, who feels so uncomfortable with babies having milk. It’s no wonder part of me feels a bit uncomfortable with it too. Who knows, I may also have some sort of childhood trauma stemming from when my Mum stopped breastfeeding me by the age of 3 months. If you feel this may be the reason you have nursing aversion, you may want to read my post about dealing with childhood traumas. And who really wants to be looked at in disgust by the people around us? Nobody. I mean, it’s not something you look for as social beings. We want to be liked and respected by the people around us, but especially the people closer to us.
Another reason is likely to be some sort of nutrient deficiency. I started getting nursing aversion when the twins were born, towards my toddler. I found only drinking water, no tea or diet coke etc, and lots of it, really helped reduce the aversion. I guess I was becoming dehydrated feeding 3 babies that my body was telling me to stop. Some other mothers have also found magnesium supplements help with this, although I have not tried it personally as I’m on a multi-vitamin supplement specifically for breastfeeding anyway
Milk supply is another factor as since I’ve experienced nursing aversion, if I take all the kids out for a few hours and the twins don’t feed as much, I started getting close to having mastitis. At these moments, the twins are still not interested in feeding and I feel absolutely no aversion to my eldest daughter. It is worth bearing in mind if you plan to wean your baby as a result of aversion. You may be able to feed them occasionally if you’re experiencing oversupply.
When I am premenstrual, I also have just started getting minor levels of agitation towards my 20 month old twins. Therefore there must be a hormonal cause too. I had no aversion while premenstrual when I only had one child, so I think my aversion is a combination of many factors. I may have avoided nursing aversion because I was taking the breastfeeding vitamin tablets, but I can’t know that for sure. Sleeping better by asking your partner or support network to give you a little break can help reduce premenstrual contributions to nursing aversion too.
And last, but by no means least, sleep deprivation has a big role to play in it in general. On days when I have slept better, I may still feel slightly agitated to breastfeed, but not as strongly as sleep deprived days. See if you can use any of your support network to help you rest.
Nursing Aversion: Tandem or Triandem Feeding and My Toddler
Many Mums who are longer term breastfeeding can dream of tandem or triandem breastfeeding. That is, until they get struck down with nursing aversion. Then anything in the present relating to your toddler breastfeeding can be unbearable. You can’t see past the end of the next minute no matter months into tandem feeding with your newborn. You may wonder if the nursing aversion will go once the baby is born, or if you will get it towards the newborn baby. You may wonder if you need to wean and how to go about it.
In my personal situation, I did not have aversion while pregnant with the twins. I did get it towards my toddler after the twins were born. I had no aversion to either newborn baby. It is best to just aim to continue one day at a time and see how you go. This research indicates that your body would not allow you to get strong aversion feelings towards a newborn baby because your milk supply is reduced while pregnant and comes through again after the birth.
How to Wean a Toddler – Strategies to Cope and Perhaps Continue Breastfeeding
I did decide to start setting boundaries gently and slowly. I thought it was worth a try to see how my toddler coped with it. She was 22 months at the time I started and I said she could only have milk after a meal (so 3 times a day, from 4 times an hour!). I said “yes after dinner” or “in an hour after dinner”, and would offer water or a snack if needed. She ate and drank a lot, so don’t underestimated how much they can eat compared to when they’re breastfeeding on demand.
After about a week, she was happy with this arrangement and I restricted feeds to twice a day in the same way. I then gradually started reducing how long she could feed for. Now at over 3 years she’s on only 10 seconds once a day, if she asks. It was a long time coming but she’s mostly weaned and I don’t really get aversion for the 10 seconds now. I let her feed for longer if my boobs are swollen as I don’t get aversion and it helps stop me getting mastitis. I made sure I was gentle with her in this process, I would not allow her to get distressed or cry for milk – I always gave her 10 seconds if she did get upset. It was only once that he cried again after the 10 seconds, when I gave her 10 seconds more and that was fine.
How to Help My Toddler With the Emotions Caused By My Nursing Aversion
If your toddler is old enough to have emotional conversations, it is definitely worth having a conversation about how the weaning is making them feel. It actually filled me with a lot of relief after I did this with my daughter when she was 3 years old. I asked if me not letting her feed very long made her feel sad. She said no, she just wanted something to eat now instead. It was as simple as that to her. All of that guilt I had felt that I was hurting her slid away with those few words.