The Origin of Breastfeeding Issues and Attempting to Overcome Them

I have never made a secret of my breastfeeding issues.  My breastfeeding issues aren’t things like poor milk supply or latch problems.  Instead, I have breastfeeding problems of the psychological variety.  (Thanks, Mom.)  I grew up with my mother insisting that breastfeeding was trashy, disgusting, dirty, etc.  I had no positive breastfeeding images to counter that.  For a long time, I was uncomfortable with other people breastfeeding around me…  But before you decide to string me up or cite laws, I’ll also let you know that I never, ever suggested that a breastfeeding mom stop breastfeeding.  I was never so arrogant as to presume that my discomfort trumped someone else’s right to feed her baby.  I figured that there were plenty of other directions to look, so I just did that.  My breastfeeding issues are my problem, not anyone else’s.  I didn’t get over my discomfort with being around breastfeeding until I found a lot of mommy friends (mostly online, but a few in “meat space”) who breastfed.  But that just meant that I was okay with being around my friends who were in the act, not that I was okay with it and found it normalized to the point that I was able to do so.  And it was years after my mother’s death that I got to the point of even being okay around it.  But the mere thought of me being the one to do the breastfeeding brings about unpleasant reactions, ranging from discomfort to nausea.

With my firstborn, I never tried to overcome those issues.  I was still living at home with my parents, and it was just understood that I would feed my son formula.  (He’s fourteen years old now, so breastfeeding was a lot less common then than now.)

With Norton, I did make some efforts to overcome my breastfeeding issues, or at least I tried to work around them.  My husband was adamant that the only way that we would have children was if I would breastfeed, but I was equally adamant that it would not happen.  Instead, we settled on a compromise.  I tried to work around my issues with breastfeeding by exclusively pumping.  We rented a hospital grade breast pump (an Ameda), which seriously hurt my nipples.  After that, we bought a Medela Freestyle, which was, quite frankly, pure heaven to use in comparison.  It’s small, lightweight, and is extremely portable with a built in battery, and the soft cups fit me better and didn’t hurt.

There were some hiccups with my exclusive pumping efforts, of course.  Norton was slow to gain back his birth weight.  My family doctor panicked me over how slowly Norton was gaining back (still within two weeks, but it took right at two weeks… and the whole time, she’s got me constantly bringing him in for weight checks and I’m worrying about failure to thrive and having my baby taken away because I must not have been feeding him right or something).  I ended up keeping an extensive log about how much I pumped at each session, how much I ate or drank, how much Norton ate, and how many wet/poopy diapers Norton had.  Once out of sheer desperation, I put him to breast and tried to get him to latch.  I was relieved when he didn’t; I nearly vomited on my child.  It took such a mental toll on me that by the time Norton was nearing a month old, my husband had told me that he didn’t want me to feel like I had to keep it up.  My lactivist friends were encouraging me to quit.  I was not well.

I did quit.  And once I did, I realized that I did the best thing for us because I was not able to be a good mother.  I was spending time attached to a pump instead of spending time attached to my baby.  I was depressed and I was beginning to measure my self-worth by the amount of milk I’d managed to pump out that day.  I wanted to spend more time bonding with my baby rather than bonding with my breast pump.  Once I’d liberated myself from that (rather expensive but extremely effective) breast pump, I was able to do just that.

This time around, I thought about attempting exclusively pumping again… and then I realized that I will have a two year old running around in addition to a newborn.  If I couldn’t manage exclusively pumping with only a newborn to care for, how on earth did I expect to keep up this time around?  I couldn’t.  It was absolutely not a realistic goal.

But I still am cognizant of the information that breast milk is better.  That has me looking at ways to overcome my breastfeeding issues… if it’s possible.

Not too long ago, I went on an Amazon ordering spree.  I bought the toddler speech book for helping Norton talk, books on natural child birthing techniques, and my digital scrapbooking book.  I also ordered Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding.

I started reading it yesterday after we got back from the pumpkin patch, while Norton was safely and happily tucked away in bed.  Some of it was familiar.  A lot of the commentary on normalizing breastfeeding was familiar.  My friend Heather at The Parenting Patch has been sharing similar views since I first read her blog over a year ago.  But still, there were some things that I read that bothered me… and not because the book was written from a militantly lactivist point of view, either.

The most troubling for me was the process of describing a newborn first being introduced to the breast.  There was a line about a newborn nuzzling or licking the nipple, and I nearly lost my lunch.  I’m no lactivist (seeing as how I’ve never breastfed), but I do wholeheartedly support the rights of others to do so wherever, whenever.  I just don’t understand how someone can just be happy with some little person licking the nipple.  *shudders*  Even now, I’m still uncomfortable with it.  (And by “uncomfortable,” I don’t mean “slightly bothered.”  I mean “Oh, goodness, I need a shower.”)

I’m trying to normalize breastfeeding enough where I can be okay with even the mere idea of doing it.  I am aware of the benefits, and I’ve heard from breastfeeding mom friends that once you make it past the first two months, you’re pretty much in the good.  I’m struggling with even the idea, though, so the concept of making it to two months is just… wow.

Did you struggle with your own psychological breastfeeding issues?  Did you make it past them?  (I know that I’m not the only one with these hang ups.  I don’t know anyone who has gotten past them enough to actually breastfeed, though.)  Does anyone have recommendations to help someone with such a powerful hang up get past it?

About Suzi

Suzi is an American ex-pat living in British Columbia. She's a cloth diaper addict, wife, mom of three, and President of the Prince George chapter of Cloth for a Cause.


  1. I grew up the opposite, breastfeeding was the only way I had ever considered to feed my child. I never considered it digusting because it’s what our breasts were designed for. Our bodies are these incredible life sustaining machines. It’s empowering! But I can definitely understand the hangups some women have, especially if the negative was instilled in them their whole lives. Successful breastfeeding takes support and encouragement. My sister used to be involved in breastfeeding groups that helped encourage new mom’s or mom’s new to breastfeeding. The one I’m thinking of is called Le Leche (

    If you decide to go through with it, I wish you the best of luck! You have to go into it with a positive frame of mind and an attitude for success otherwise you’ll resent it and feel like you failed. It’s best to do what’s right for you so that you can be and feel like the great mother you are.

  2. Thanks for sharing this story. It was a brave of you to share and a great reminder to all of us all that the world is not black and white, but colored by our experiences.

  3. Have you tried going to a group for breastfeeding women such as La Leche League? You might find other mothers who went through the same thing that you could talk to.

    And also remember, any amount of breastmilk you give your baby is good, even if it’s only a little bit.

  4. Patricia says:

    I am not asking this to get an answer, but to throw it out there. Could it be that you have been sexually abused as a child?

    I understand that the sensual aspect of nursing is a difficult thing to wrap ones head around in this culture where breasts are so clearly marked for heterosexual pleasure only, but the fact of the matter is that it is also meant to be fun for the baby – and the mother. Many older infants will pop off, smile at their moms, look lovingly at their mother’s breast and DIVE in for some more. Many mothers apparently, if one wants to believe research are experiencing arousal, which shouldn’t surprise since the same hormones are at play.

    I didn’t like the sensation at first but grew to love it. While I never really felt aroused there were plenty of time I felt like I would after sex; all spent and happy. My baby with a milk drunk look on his face…

    • It’s a fair question. 🙂 But, no, not to my knowledge. I think if anything, it’s because of my mother raising us to have the perception that there’s something wrong with breastfeeding.

  5. Patricia says:

    On and I wanted to suggest some interesting reading on this subject – anything by Fiona Giles really. Especially “Fresh Milk”.

    You might also enjoy Christina Traina’s “Erotic Attunement, Parenthood and the Ethics of Sensuality between Unequals”.

  6. Lauren S. says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Suzi. Breastfeeding is such a heated topic, as EVERYONE seems to have an opinion. I breastfeed my son, but I will tell you, those first few days were difficult, both physically and psychologically. I had never been around breastfeeding (b/c it isn’t normalized) and felt that it should be a discreet, private thing. I also had to quickly learn see my breasts in a totally different light, having to desexualize them in my mind to be able to breastfeed my son. Yes, breastfeeding is a natural thing, but it was unnatural for me in the beginning.

    My sister was much like you. She tried to breastfeed in the hospital because it was pushed on her, and became turned-off by nurses and LCs coming in every few hours and manhandling her in an effort to force breastfeeding; it took her several visits to get across to them that she was put-ff and done trying (she’s a very private person, and as my older sister, was NEVER comfortable talking about sex with me). She pumped exclusively for a month with her first baby, and bypassed it altogether with her second child.

    What’s the saying? Opinions are like buttholes, everyone has one, and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks. My thought? If it doesn’t affect me or my family, it’s none of my business…

  7. umm licking? no. that never happened. not in nearly 4 years of breastfeeding 2 kids. all babies want is food. the end. 🙂

  8. psychsarah says:

    As I read your story, I wondered whether some systematic desensitization through imaginal exposure might help you get used to the idea of breastfeeding before your child arrives? This means that you (with or without the help of a professional, depending on how you are feeling) create a hierarchy of situations that bother you about breastfeeding, and then start to try to imagine them (the least bothersome first) in your mind until they stop being as uncomfortable. I’m simplifying here, but really, if you can access a psychologist who does this kind of work, it might be helpful. It’s a well established therapy for anxiety/aversion, that could help, without needing to spend years on an analysts’ couch. Many people feel better after a block of sessions (e.g., 6-10 sessions). Best wishes to you, whatever you choose to do.

  9. Jennifer Carman says:

    I breastfeed and am extremely passionate about helping others, IF THEY WANT TO, but I have never ever understood why moms will bash other moms for different choices they make regarding any aspect of parenting as long as the child was healthy and happy. I get really upset when I see someone try to make a mom feel guilty about her choices or that she is a bad mother for them. We are always doubting ourselves to begin with, so that added pressure is terrible! You do what’s best for you and your child and if that means not breastfeeding so they get the best of you as a mom, then pull out the bottle!

    Much love to you.

  10. We chose to formula feed our children (we are expecting #2) and have always been super secure in our choice. We have. Thriving little girl and a happy set of parents. I support my friends that have chosen to breastfeed and am happy for them that they feel they are doing a good thing for their children. That being said I have never ever wanted to breastfeed (even before I had children) not because of any trauma or issue; I felt that I would resent my child for depending only on me and for being the only one who could do it. I worried I wouldn’t bond with her but instead would hate feeding her and I didn’t want that for us. My husband and I talked about it, we talked with my mom and gran about it. They formula fed all their kids and were super supportive no matter what we chose. It’s a choice for a happy mom and I am glad we chose to formula feed.


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