Breastfeeding As A Sexual Abuse Survivor

There are so many things that we don't talk about when it comes to motherhood. The relationship between breastfeeding and sexual abuse or trauma is a pretty taboo subject. It's not something you bring up on a playdate in the park while you're sipping lattes.

A history of childhood trauma involving sexual abuse is a risk factor for a PMAD (perinatal mood and anxiety disorder). It is one of the many risk factors that I had, but didn't know raised my odds of getting sick after my son was born.

I fought for a breastfeeding relationship with my son but eventually had to accept that it wasn't going to work for us.  There were so many reasons why it didn't work - and I was determined to learn from them and change them when I became pregnant again. This involved some really rough sessions with my therapist bringing up things from decades ago.

Then Boogie Baby was born, and she did her cute little froggy crawl up to my breast and latched right on. It wasn't always perfect. I had my share of sore, cracked nipples and she ended up needing me to be on a very restrictive diet. To me it was worth it to finally have the relationship I had always wanted.

A few weeks ago that all changed.

If you don't know what cluster feedings are, or if you haven't experienced one as a nursing mom I am pretty jealous. Boogie hit a growth spurt and the cluster feedings began. One night she nursed for two hours straight. It was the middle of the night, the house was quiet all around us. It was the time when I usually like nursing best because I feel like we are the only two people awake in the whole world. That night was different. She just wouldn't stop. Every time I tried to ease her off she screamed angrily.

Twenty minutes.

Then thirty.

Forty-five.

Then an hour.

At an hour and a half I felt the panic attack begin. I started grounding myself, counting my breaths.

By the time we hit two hours I was barely holding on. More than anything I felt that I had lost ownership over my body. I felt violated. 'This is what rape feels like', I thought. Looking back now, that was the moment. That was the end of our breastfeeding relationship. For as much as I love my daughter and valued our breastfeeding time I never, ever wanted to feel that way about her again.

Eventually she fell asleep. Sometime later I did too. The next morning I talked to Adam about what had happened, at my next session I talked to my therapist about it. I pumped for a while and then we totally weaned. There have been no flashbacks to the feelings of violation, disgust, and panic that overwhelmed me.

I've already gotten a few dirty looks from people when I start shaking up a bottle of formula in public. I got dirty looks when I was breastfeeding too. There is no way to win the mommy wars, so I stay out of them. But if anyone ever asked me why I was feeding my baby formula I would answer them, "I had a triggering event involving childhood sexual trauma and made the decision to wean her to formula".

We don't talk about the effect that sexual abuse, trauma, or rape can have on the breastfeeding relationship. We should talk about it. We can't solve problems by hiding them. We can't support mamas through silence. We need to talk about this with lactation consultants, with breastfeeding support group leaders, with pediatricians, and we definitely need to talk about this with mamas.

Graeme Seabrook