Some older babies and toddlers try lots of different behaviours when they are feeding. Things like pinching, twiddling the other nipple, kneading, grabbing hair, putting hands in your mouth, biting, coming on and off, feeding standing up and all sorts of acrobatics. Some of these are cute. Some hurt!
Its important to remember that although all of these behaviours are normal, if you are finding something intolerable, it is a 2 way relationship! You really don’t have to put up with it!
Start early! If your child starts to do something you don’t like, work on it immediately. It’s true a lot of behaviours are temporary as they are just exploring, but you don’t want them to keep doing it if you can’t stand it!
Distraction – if it is something their hand is doing, give them something else to play with; a toy, necklace or scarf perhaps. Or move their hand to a part of the body which is less sensitive (I’m thinking not the nipple!!)
Offer alternatives. Try offering to do something else. Maybe take them off and offer a toy, play, go out, give them a teether to chew, a snack or drink instead. If they want to nurse again, offer the other breast as sometimes the faster flow reduces the behaviour
Use some gentle discipline. If unwanted behaviours continue, take them off and explain simply that they can’t feed if they do that as it hurts or you don’t like it. Offer them an alternative or if they want to continue feeding then they must not do it. Even quite young toddlers can understand this concept, although they might not like it! But boundaries a important. This is actually a great way to introduction the concept of body autonomy. It is your body after all!
Use a code word – some people have concerns about the way their child asks to breastfeed. Maybe they yell BOOB! or start to help themselves by undoing your bra or pulling your top down. Maybe they just scream. Developing a baby sign or code word can make this easier to deal with. They can still make their wished to feed clear but in a respectful and gentle way.
If your child is asking to nurse very frequently in the daytime and you are struggling, there are some things you can do. Distract! Give other options of things to do. Go out. Change of scenery. Nurslings generally aske to feed a lot less if they are busy. Offer a snack or drink. They can be hungry or thirsty, although toddlers like to feed for all sorts of other reasons of course. Nap on the move. If your child tends to feed to sleep then doing a car/buggy/sling nap can break this cycle. Use language like “after …” not just No. No is rejection. After lunch or after we get home means they will still get to breastfeed, just not right now. Validate and acknowledge their feelings. Understand that not breastfeeding is challenging, they may be cross with you, they may need some extra support with this. That does not mean you have to do it. “I understand that your really want some milk right now, but we are in the supermarket buying some yummy food to eat. You can have it as soon as we get home. Here have a biscuit to keep you going” You may end up with screaming but remember they are only letting you know they are not happy about this. And that is ok.
Kathryn Stagg IBCLC 2023