Many mothers are survivors of sexual abuse. These unhappy experiences and memories can affect how new mothers feel about breastfeeding their babies. Sometimes breastfeeding becomes a very healing thing for women — an empowering chance for them to use their bodies to nurture their babies. For other women the negative associations with their breasts can make breastfeeding extremely stressful.
Penny Simkin, has written a book that addresses this issue. It’s called When Survivors Give Birth. Penny is a doula and childbirth educator. Penny’s interview with Tanya Leiberman is available on the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog (March 23, 2009). This podcast is well worth the listen. WABA (the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action) has a brief publication (From Hurting to Healing Touch) that talks about survivors and breastfeeding. I’ll also put the pdf file at the end of this post.
I think the most important thing that I took away from this interview is a reminder to avoid judging women that make different breastfeeding choices than I might make. Some mothers that are survivors of abuse don’t enjoy breastfeeding. Feeding their babies at the breast brings up too many traumatic memories. When a mother draws a clear line about what she wants to do with breastfeeding, whether it’s breastfeeding for a short time only, exclusive pumping, feeding with a nipple shield only, not breastfeeding in public, or not breastfeeding at all, I need to respect that. She shouldn’t have to share her reasons.