Dealing with past sexual abuse is never easy, but when it comes to issues like breastfeeding, it can turn a beautiful experience into a painful one. That's why it's important to deal with the issue before the time comes for you to develop this bonding nutritional experience with your new infant.
Even if you have been in therapy in the past, it can be helpful to go again before the baby is born. You'll have a chance to reflect on ways that the past abuse might still be impacting your life, but you'll also have the chance to explore coping skills that will work for you. This is particularly important if your abuse involved your chest or breasts in any way. Survivors of sexual abuse often experience an aversion to being touched at all, much less being in touched in areas of the body where the abuse occurred. Obviously, breastfeeding is going to involve intimate contact, so you might consider addressing some of the topics below in therapy.
- Understanding personal boundaries and permissions
- Practicing appropriate touches
- Learning about coping skills when it comes to being touched. For example, seek out privacy so you feel more in control and not as exposed or express your milk yourself and feed the infant through a bottle so no intimate contact is necessary.
Talk with a Lactation Consultant
While you are addressing some of your emotions in therapy, it's a good idea to address some of your physical concerns with a lactation consultant. Lactation and breastfeeding are new experiences for your body and if you don't fully understand the process, these experiences cannot just be stressful, but painful as well. Your nipples are more sensitive now than ever before, so that any touch can invoke unpleasant memories. You can talk with some of your close friends and loved ones, but they will be focused on their own experiences. A professional can help navigate you through all the details so that there aren't any surprises.
Open Up to the Father
Whether the father of the child knows about the sexual abuse or not, he may not realize the conflicting emotions that can arise because of it. Now is a great time to ask for support and explain some of the issues you are trying to overcome. You might even want to discuss the option of bottle feeding rather than breastfeeding, depending on your comfort level.
Your pregnancy should be a time of joy for you and your family, but you may need to take some of the steps listed above to better cope with your emotions and the experience to come. Talking helps, but getting some sound advice and reliable information gives you something solid to hold onto when you are feeling overwhelmed.