You may not even be able to tell in this picture, but General Leia is nursing here. In fact, it’s a picture of the last time my oldest ever breastfed. We quit because of a phenomenon called nursing aversion and agitation (BAA).
This was a hard time for me (and for her). I became pregnant with her sister when she was about thirteen months old.
At first, I had no problem with continuing to breastfeed her while pregnant. In fact, breastfeeding was easier because it kept her still, and I didn’t have the energy to chase her! So we would come home from work, we’d cuddle up, and I’d nurse her for as long as I could in the evening. I’d get a break, and she was happy.
And then came nursing aversion.
I started feeling really annoyed almost every time General Leia breastfed. It’s like her touch made my skin crawl. And I hated it.
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I was determined to “power through” because I knew breastfeeding until at least two is recommended by the World Health Organization and I knew it was good for her development. I even continued nursing her after her sister was born. Ideally, I wanted to let her nurse as long as she wanted and then let her self-wean.
RELATED: Breastfeeding a toddler
But the negative feelings continued. Almost every time General Leia nursed, it made my skin crawl. Seriously, it felt weird and gross and creepy. But not with baby Bella Bean! I had no problem nursing my infant, only my toddler.
RELATED: Tandem nursing – Nursing while pregnant or nursing two kids at once
I know how upsetting it is to have nursing aversion. Let me share my story so you can learn how to get past nursing aversion, whether that’s to get it to go away or gently wean your child.
How it feels to have nursing aversion / nursing agitation
Nursing aversion/agitation is like nothing else. It’s hard to describe unless it’s happened to you. In case you’re wondering what to expect, here’s the best way I know to explain nursing aversion symptoms.
Nursing Leia didn’t hurt. In fact, at the time I wished it did hurt. Hurt I could deal with. Pain I could handle. But this intense feeling of annoyance, even rage, was something I couldn’t battle. It’s like when a creepy guy touches you and makes your skin crawl, except it’s your own kid.
And then there was the guilt and shame. How could I feel this way about my own little girl? What kind of mother am I?!
And on top of that, I had the guilt of being able to nurse Bella Bean but hating breastfeeding Leia. Part of why I didn’t want to wean my toddler during that time was because I was afraid of her being jealous that the baby could still nurse, but she couldn’t.
(NOTE: It’s actually very common for tandem nursers to have aversion with only their oldest.)
I tried to ignore how I felt. Despite being so touched out, I tried to just let Leia nurse anyways. I would leave nail marks in my arms, trying to distract myself from the feeling.
The thing is, I really couldn’t hide my feelings from her very well. The level of disgust I felt made it very difficult to not be snappy with her, even when she wanted to touch me without nursing.
I got to where I felt resentful of Leia almost all the time. But I was convinced I had to keep breastfeeding her, despite the aversion. So we continued on, through some of my most stressed-out time with my kids.
Is nursing aversion and agitation the same as D-MER?
While nursing aversion can happen to mothers of newborns, they are more likely to be struck by a condition called dysphoric milk ejection reflex (D-MER).
D-MER is when a milk letdown (or ejection) is immediately followed by an intense sadness/depression or anxiety. It lasts for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, and then the mother is fine. But there’s nothing she can do to control the sadness. It’s related to hormones.
So no, D-MER, although it sounds a bit similar, is not the same thing as nursing agitation.
Toddler weaning – the last-resort cure for nursing aversion
When Leia was two and a half, I recognized that continuing to nurse her when it was causing me so much mental and emotional turmoil was not doing either of us any favors.
At the same time, abrupt weaning can be traumatic for children, so I wanted to wean her as gently as possible, while still showing her support.
RELATED: How to wean a toddler – Gentle weaning tips
I decided that in three days, we would have “no more na-na day.” Each night, leading up to it, I would explain to her that “no more na-na day” was coming.
The night before the big day, she “got na-na” and I told her it was our last time. She fell asleep on my breast, something that hadn’t happened in several months, and my husband took a few pictures for me.
The next morning, Leia came in looking to nurse, but I reminded her that we were all done with the na-nas. I told her that at the end of a successful week without nursing, we would go to the zoo as a family and have a weaning cake. General Leia was excited about the idea (woo cake!).
I had to keep giving my little girl reminders throughout the week that we were done with the na-nas. It was hard, but I knew I didn’t want to send her mixed signals by going back on my decision to wean.
At the end of that week, we really did go to the zoo and have our little weaning party afterwards. Leia enjoyed herself, while I worked on not crying.
A week or so after her weaning party, my little girl seemed to decide that a cake wasn’t a good trade for giving up breastfeeding. There were a lot of tears, and she would beg to nurse.
I felt really guilty during that time, but I continued to stick to my guns. I knew that weaning her when I did was be better for both of us in the long run. Plus, I knew that what she really needed from me was empathy and support, not just my breastmilk.
RELATED: 11 steps to calm tantrums
It took about a month, but eventually, we weren’t having nightly tantrums about nursing. And we were okay (both of us)!
So much of why I didn’t want to wean was I would afraid it would hurt our relationship. But in this case, I think the toddler weaning actually helped us.
Once I had relief from nursing aversion, I was no longer resentful of Leia. And perhaps she felt more secure, knowing Mommy was happy to cuddle her and that I still loved her even without the na-nas.
And my second fear, that Leia would resent Bella Bean for continuing to get na-na while she couldn’t, seemed unfounded as well. Those two little girls still had a great relationship (and continue to do so!).
Nursing aversion and agitation the second time around: What was different?
When I became pregnant for the third time, I continued to nurse Bella Bean into toddlerhood, alongside the girls’ baby brother. Midway through my third pregnancy, I started feeling some aversion creep up again, but I was more empowered to handle it.
One of the biggest things that helped me was simple education: I had read about what I had experienced, and found out that it’s a real thing and it has a name: nursing aversion (or nursing agitation).
The fact that this was a real condition, that I wasn’t just crazy, was a huge relief. The guilt and shame I felt from nursing aversion dropped away. I wasn’t a bad mom; there was just a mix of hormones, exhaustion, and general depletion that caused my problem!
What can prevent (or at least lessen) nursing agitation?
With the help of what I learned, I began to notice that I felt nursing aversion most under a few conditions: If I didn’t have enough sleep, for one thing. It was also worse a few days before my cycle started.
After this realization, instead of feeling stressed and guilty about my nursing aversion with Bella Bean, I took it as a signal that I needed to slow down and engage in some self care.
Magnesium supplementation for breastfeeding aversion
Nursing aversion can be linked with low magnesium levels. Lack of magnesium can affect your mood and even be linked to anxiety. After reading up, I decided to see if increasing this mineral could help and I looked around for the best ways to increase magnesium.
Most magnesium supplements (including multivitamins) contain magnesium oxide, which really isn’t processed by your body well. This means you don’t absorb the magnesium from the supplement. But after further research, I found an alternative called magnesium oil.
Magnesium oil isn’t really oil at all! It’s just a concentrated solution of salts in water, including magnesium. Since magnesium can absorb through your skin better than through your digestive system, it’s a great alternative to traditional magnesium supplements!
If I feel extra cranky or tired (or have restless legs, a problem I encounter during pregnancy), I spray on magnesium oil. I either put it on at night and wash it off the next morning, or I put it on about twenty minutes before a shower. And after using it a couple days, it really makes a difference!
The only problem with magnesium oil is it feels a little uncomfortable. You know how you have that film of salt on your body after swimming in the ocean? It’s like that.
If the feeling of magnesium oil really bothers you, you can take an oral supplement instead. But don’t just get a plain magnesium supplement from the store!
Instead of the typical magnesium oxide, use chelated magnesium, as it will be absorbed better. It’s a little more expensive than a typical magnesium supplement, but you actually get the benefit from it, so that’s a win!
Drinking plenty of water makes a surprising difference in your ability to deal with nursing aversion. Just try drinking lots of water (at least 64 ounces or two of these per day) and for a few days and see if this fix works for you.
Fix your sleep deprivation
Seriously. When I was more run-down, I had a harder time dealing with my toddler nursing. I did significantly better when I had enough sleep.
That might mean you have to go to bed early, like 8:30 early (especially if you have a newborn). This period doesn’t last long, and it’s worth it.
Another measure you can take before resorting to complete weaning is to night-wean your toddler or older baby. You’ll probably resent your child’s needs much less if you’re not waking up 2 or 3 times a night by him
RELATED: How to night wean a toddler or older baby in a week
Be ready for more nursing aversion symptoms around your period
Hormones definitely affect nursing aversion. Not only does PMS cause me the usual symptoms like irritation and even anger, but I would also have more agitation from breastfeeding.
During this time, focus even more on all that other self-care. Stay hydrated. Up your magnesium intake (magnesium helps with PMS anyways). Go to bed early.
Focusing on keeping calm
I know, staying calm when you are so stressed sounds like the opposite of what you are capable of doing in the moment. But hear me out!
The first time I dealt with nursing aversion, I tensed up as hard as I could when nursing Leia. I squeezed my fists so tight I left nail marks in my palms. I gritted my teeth.
All this tensing just feeds back information to your body that you’re in a dangerous situation, so you’re really just ramping up your nursing agitation even more.
Or sometimes you’re advised to try to distract yourself with your phone. This might work for a little while, but in the long run, it still just sets you up to become more and more agitated by your child’s nursing.
The second time I went through nursing aversion, I tried another tactic. I focused on my breathing. Inhale… Exhale… If my mind got distracted, I simply went back to my breathing without judgement.
I also learned a few mantras that I could repeat to myself when I was frustrated. They make a huge difference! I still use these daily (multiple times daily!) whenever I feel my emotions getting out of control.
How self-care affected nursing aversion the second time around
Before Miss Bella Bean turned three, we talked for months about her weaning. Her answer was always “But I like na-na,” or “But na-nas are my favorite!” It was hard to say no to that.
Plus, the aversion wasn’t nearly as intense with Bella Bean (because of the self-care techniques I put into place, so the drive to wean her wasn’t as intense as it was for Leia.
But finally, I decided it was time to be done nursing. My husband and I talked, and we decided to tell B. Bean that she could nurse three more times (or “have three more na-nas,” as we put it to her). After our experience with Leia, we thought that giving her a little control over the situation might help her cope.
Bella Bean could choose when to take her three “na-nas,” but afterwards, she’d be all done nursing.
After her self-chosen “no more na-na day,” we celebrated by going to the zoo the next weekend and having a special weaning day cake I made for her.
Bella Bean dealt with weaning much easier than Leia. She fussed for maybe a week or so.
Even the day of her weaning party, she once told me “I want na-na,” as she was sitting in my lap. Wryly amused, I pointed out to her, “but it’s your no more na-na party. You’re all done with na-na.” Fortunately, she accepted that answer.
For months after weaning Ella, we still had discussions about nursing. Some days she told me that she’s a big girl who is all done with na-na. Other mornings, she’d cuddle up to me and say, I’m still a little girl. I need na-na.”
But there’s not the deep angst and grief that there was with Leia. Maybe it’s because I can be stronger for her because I’ve experienced weaning before. Either way, I’m grateful this has been such a smooth transition for both of us.
Eventually, Budrow will wean too. I really hope to allow him to self-wean. If I end up with nursing aversion again, I’m glad to know that this time I have several tools available to me to help me deal so I can give him my best. And I’m grateful to know already that life really does go on after weaning.
Let’s work together to destigmatize nursing aversion. Please share this story with people you know so they can learn that if they experience this heartbreaking condition, they’re not alone.