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June 26, 2020

Trauma and Breastfeeding

Butterfly Baby Doula

Trauma and Breastfeeding
Randi van Wiltenburg

This week (August 1- August 7, 2019) is World Breastfeeding Week. I don’t often post regarding this, as it has always just sat uncomfortably with me.
I see posts talking about how difficult it can be to breastfeed, or alternatives to nursing, or formula feeding, and all variations of infant feeding.
I find that none of the posts address something deeper and more poignant; trauma and breastfeeding.

There are countless studies and a bunch of knowledge regarding how past traumas can impact people’s experiences and abilities to breastfeed, or even express breastmilk. The focus trauma for this blog will be on past sexual abuse and breastfeeding. That is where a majority of my knowledge and experiences are. This does not mitigate other traumas and their impact on breastfeeding.
This may be a trigger for people, if this does not feel safe for you please stop reading and reach out to local resources for support. https://www.rainn.org/ is a resource that you can use via online chat, email and calling in. I like it as I find it very accessible.

When it comes to the sheer thought of breastfeeding to a survivor* it can bring up a lot of feelings and emotions, other times nothing comes up. There is no right or wrong feeling, thought, process or emotions when going through this journey. Sometimes it can feel like a reclamation over our story, or our body, mind, spirit, or soul; whereas for others, it can feel like a re-experience that brings all those past traumas, fears and emotions to the surface. With PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) it can bring on flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, dissociation, nightmares etc.

Sometimes when we enter into this journey, we know how we will feel and have minimal fears, other times we don’t know how we will react, and the fear of the unknown is paralyzing. Sometimes knowing the sex of the baby can be a huge factor in our narratives and our choices on how we will feed our baby.

I am a survivor of childhood abuse. When I was pregnant with my first born, he was assigned male at birth and it was never a fear or worry for me. We had a lot of struggles with feeding but none of which were ever a trigger for me personally, however, when I found out the sex of my second child, I was terrified. The sheer thought of breastfeeding a girl made me feel sick to my stomach, thankfully I knew that this was a red flag. I got resources in my toolbox if it became an issue post birth. It was humbling and shocking to have such a visceral reaction after having already breastfed a baby. For me once that baby was born (assigned female at birth) she latched right on and biology took over. I was able to nurse her without issues; I do not take that for granted.

I know some people choose not to breastfeed and opt to pump or, have nothing touch their breasts at all. We really need to respect people’s choices and not need to know the background or reasons behind it. It’s our job to respect people who are capable of making choices that will hopefully serve them best. We do not need to know the reason why or to understand it; it is not our place or privilege.

Now as many celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, please do not let your past or present diminish your feeding journey; it is still of worth and value. You and how you feel matters.

*I opted to use the term survivor, if this does not resonate with you, please disregard my word choice; use what works best for you.*

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