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Breastfeeding and Rape Trauma

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: One of the tragedies of a violent sexual assault is the daily nightmare that can linger for years: PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder involves terrifying flashbacks and debilitating phobias -- and for many rape victims, the prospect of childbirth and breastfeeding brings a particular brand of fear.

woman breastfeeding
The possibility that vaginal birth could rekindle some of the trauma of a sexual violation has prompted some doctors to recommend C-sections for women who have been raped. Similarly, the high level of physical arousal mixed with pain that might accompany the adjustment to a breastfeeding lifestyle is also thought to be noncompatible with surviving sexual trauma. 

But one brave woman who had endured a violent gang rape ignored the lack of positive literature. In fact, she credits breastfeeding with empowering her and helping her take back her body from her assailants. She told her story via an e-mail sent to Blacktating.com, the preeminent online source for African-American breastfeeding mothers, who are typically less likely to breastfeed than other moms. This particular mother's words poignantly described her fears: 

"I read that survivors of sexual abuse may feel uncomfortable with the idea of breastfeeding, their bodies belonging to someone else again, their breasts being handled, with the pain that breastfeeding sometimes causes. I hadn't really thought about that before, but reading about it triggered a lot of questions. 'Maybe that's how I am going to feel? What if the little baby starts searching for my breast and I ... feel nothing but disgust?'" 

Instead, this woman enlisted the help of a supportive midwife, who read her journals and understood her fears and apprehension. With such a caring woman at her side, this victim of rape had a successful natural childbirth. Then came breastfeeding:

"I never felt like the baby was taking over my body in a negative way; the way he sucked never reminded me of the rapists abusing my breasts and the rest of my body. There simply was no connection like that. Instead, I felt myself growing stronger. In fact, it felt like my body belonged to me for the first time since the rape. My body was being used for something positive and normal; I did this -- I could make my son thrive and blossom .... Breastfeeding has empowered me, and I believe it can empower lots of women with lots of different backgrounds and different baggage." 

This mom believes that the advice most practitioners give (for rape victims to avoid breastfeeding) in some way enforces the idea that one must remain a victim forever: 

"Of course, it can be a relief for someone who has trouble breastfeeding to hear from some professional that it's OK to give the baby the bottle. But that person is also saying that it's OK for the rapists to still control that woman's body." 

This woman's e-mail was a testament to the fact that clinicians shouldn't rush to quickly dissuade rape survivors from breastfeeding. Survivors of sexual trauma will only become truly free from their assailants when they can live normal lives again. Kudos to this brave mother!


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8 comments so far | Post a comment now
MommyLisa November 17, 2010, 9:00 AM

Wow. Strong, powerful story.

Bettina November 22, 2010, 6:35 AM

Thank you so much for educating others that breastfeeding can be tremendously empowering, even (and sometimes especially) for victims of rape or sexual abuse.

Danielle November 22, 2010, 11:51 AM

What a lovely article, however that was not my experience as a rape and molestation survivor. Breastfeeding was torture for me the entire time, all 3 1/2 years. Not once was I able to close my eyes and relax while I fed my son. For over 3 years I had to use self hypnosis and meditation to get through it. Are our only options to not breastfeed or just deal with it?

S.B. November 22, 2010, 10:50 PM

Danielle, did you get any help? I think that would be the third option, besides bottlefeeding or suffering through breastfeeding. I admire you for doing what’s best for your baby even though you had to suffer, but I wish someone had asked you how you’re doing and had offered you some help.

Mom November 28, 2010, 9:01 AM

I agree with SB and would go so far as to add I think 3 or more years is too long to be so uncomfortable as to need meditation.

pharmacy technician November 29, 2010, 10:37 PM

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Casey Wauson March 29, 2011, 5:08 AM

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106 107 April 9, 2011, 8:21 AM

Great post, thanks to whoever thought of it and for showing the initiative to put it up


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