Dear Breastfeeding Toddler: It’s Time To Develop Some ‘Nursing Manners’

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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If you’ve ever nursed a baby past the infant stage, you know that sometimes breastfeeding can get, well, interesting. For instance, older babies and toddlers don’t just nurse; they use your body as their own personal playground, climbing all over you and dragging your nipple along for the ride.

It’s funny, sort of. Also, it’s totally maddening and painful as hell.

Toddlers also have creepy, crawly little hands. When they nurse, one hand is usually tucked down by their side, or under your boob, while the inquisitive little tyke’s other hand flies all over the place.

Babies and toddlers develop all kinds of “nursing habits,” some of which are adorable and some which are absolutely intolerable. Some kids will twirl your hair, stroke your neck, or play with your lips. I have even heard of babies who like to pinch. I knew one who pinched the inside of his mom’s elbow, and another who pinched the soft squishy flesh on her belly.

My personal cardinal sin? Nipple twiddling. Just the thought of it makes me shudder and wince. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s where a nursing baby or toddler uses their free hand to poke, pull, or twist your other nipple. To which I say, hell no.

My first child was a nipple twiddler, but because he was my first, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I mean, I absolutely hated the sensation of having someone push my nipple as if it were a button on a soda machine, but I assumed I should start addressing the problem with something I’d heard of called “gentle redirection.” I tried to distract my child by singing a song, reading him a book, or finding a toy to place in his free hand. I even tried one of those “nursing necklaces” that you wear to hopefully occupy your nursling’s curious little fingers.

But nothing worked. After a few months of failed attempts to fix the problem, a friend gave me some advice that I still rely on today: Just say no. She reminded me that breastfeeding is a two-way street and should work well for both parties involved, especially if you are going to be doing it for a while. She told me there is no reason why you can’t teach your toddler some good old-fashioned “nursing manners.” And she was absolutely right.

So from that day forward, I told my kid in no uncertain terms that there would be absolutely no nipple twiddling. If he did it, we would stop the nursing sessions for a bit until he stopped. I started wearing a tight-fitting sports bra and kept my hand over the breast for extra protection. After a few weeks, he got the message that his antics were not going to work anymore, and he never tried it, except occasionally when he was nursing to sleep (but even then, I didn’t let him).

By the time I had my second baby, I knew that nipple twiddling wasn’t even an option, so as soon as I noticed him reaching for that free nipple, I moved his hand away, and started wearing my tight sports bra for protection. I also would fold my arm at the elbow and drape it across my boob so that there was no way for him to get through.

Thankfully, my second baby never developed the habit. Instead, he became a chronic lip-puller, which was pretty annoying too, but much more tolerable than the dreaded nipple twiddling. Whatever the specific pet peeve, we all have thing or two about nursing a toddler that drives us totally batshit bonkers. But the bottom line is this: You don’t have to “just put up with it.” Sure, some moms choose to wean when nursing becomes annoying AF. Others will just go along with it, even though things about nursing are irritating them beyond belief.

And while those are both totally cool options if they work for you, it’s important to know that setting up boundaries is an option as well.

Don’t be afraid to teach your kiddo some “nursing manners.” Teach them where their fingers can and can’t go. If acrobatic nursing isn’t your thing, tell your kid that it’s a flat-out nope. Same goes for how often they can nurse, and whether they can nurse during the middle of the night.

And by god, teach your kid to ask nicely for their milk. Please and thank you go a long way and make the nursing relationship that much more pleasant for all involved.

Establishing boundaries can be a process, so have patience. There will probably be some tears along the way (yours and theirs), but setting up some nursing manners is good for everyone involved and is a far better option than feeling your blood pressure rise every time they latch on.

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