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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tips for Breastfeeding a Toddler

This post was written as part of the weekly Breastfeeding Blog Hop hosted by Slacker Mom and cohosted by The Gnome’s Mom and Happiness Redefined. Visit the links below and link up your own story or leave a comment!

In last week's post, I wrote about my breastfeeding goals for the new year. This week's theme is Tips and Tricks to Breastfeeding an Older Child or Toddler.

Breastfeeding a toddler can be challenging. You and your baby were on a roll: he snuggled in your arms, nursed to sleep, and nursing was a special quiet time for the two of you. Then, your baby began to crawl and walk. He began to get coordinated, to talk, and to explore. The sweet little sack of potatoes in your arms became a circus tiger, a shark swimming frantic circles around its meal, an octopus with its tentacles everywhere. Your nipples turned into taffy. Or perhaps not, but your toddler certainly thought they did. Nursing to sleep became a thing of the past as your baby popped off every few moments to tell you something.

Nursing a toddler or an older child isn't the calming gratification that is nursing a newborn, but it has its own set of sweet benefits. If you expect it to be the same as it always was, you may get irritated or impatient. Instead--and this is usually my advice for every parenting obstacle, although I often need to be reminded of it myself--throw out all of your expectations and go with the flow.

Tips for Breastfeeding a Toddler or an Older Child:
  1. Accept that things are changing - If you don't accept the new patterns or routines, you'll begin to feel like you're forcing your child to do something he or she doesn't want to do. This could make your breastfeeding relationship strained. It is hard to accept change, but doing so is your first step into throwing away your expectations.
  2. Be willing to establish new routines - Let's say you could always count on your baby to nurse to sleep. All of a sudden, he nurses next to you in bed, then pops up and pokes your eyes, honks your nose, and tries to crawl off the bed. (Can you tell I've had some experience with this?) It may be time to change up the routine. Instead of nursing in bed, can you nurse in a rocker? What about nursing in a quiet room and then wearing your baby down in a baby carrier before bed? It may not be as easy as lying next to your baby and dozing off, but avoiding a struggle will make both of you happier in the end.
  3. Think about your NIP (nursing in public) MO - I am not shy about nursing in public. I've shocked a few people by pulling out my huge nipples wherever and whenever and latching my baby on. Most recently, the nurse in the ER said, "Whoa!" when she walked into the room and saw me nursing Little M. It doesn't bother me. My kids were never able to nurse under a blanket or nursing cover, and they certainly aren't going to start now. I use my hand to cover myself up. When Little M gets distracted and pulls off over and over and over again, I just cover my boob with my hand. I think the trick to being discreet is to be nonchalant about it. Maybe you change positions: let your toddler nurse standing up while you sit on the floor instead of cradling him. That may be easier for him to come and go without it feeling like a struggle.
  4. If all else fails and your child won't stop doing acrobatics while nursing, try a distraction - Baby T stretched out all of my camisoles when he was a nursing toddler. He would stick his foot in the strap. Even if I was wearing a shirt, he would stick his foot in the neck and push it out the sleeve. That's what breastfeeding toddlers do. They try to go about their daily life while continuing to nurse. If it's driving you crazy, gently remind them that you don't like it. Toddlers can understand "like" and "dislike" pretty early on. If they continue and you really can't stand it, try moving on to a different activity. Snuggle and read a book together, or have a snack. Sometimes there is nothing you can do...I resigned myself to letting Baby T stick his feet in my shirt, because I'm lazy and prefer to avoid tantrums, but that's just me.
Having said all that, I never found nursing a toddler particularly terrible. In fact, there were many more benefits to nursing a toddler than their were drawbacks.

Benefits to breastfeeding a toddler:
  1. Breastfeeding is an instant tantrum tamer - Your toddler is writhing around on the floor, won't settle down, or is exceptionally needy? A good session of snuggly breastfeeding can stop this behavior in its track, comfort your child, and return him or her to his regular, sweet self.
  2. Breastfeeding provides antibodies and nutrients - If you toddler is a picky eater or gets sick, breastfeeding can ease your worries. Even though Baby T would go without eating much of anything for a day or two, I always felt better knowing he was nursing. I knew he was getting a lot of the fat and nutrients he needed, not to mention live antibodies that could help him kick all the boogers he was getting at daycare.
  3. Breastfeeding gives you a chance to relax - Even though breastfeeding a toddler isn't quite as relaxing as breastfeeding a baby, it still gives you a chance to sit back and relax. During the whirlwind day that is wrangling a toddler, this was often a welcome break.
I often heard that it was necessary to limit a toddler's nursing sessions. Even my La Leche League leaders talked about limiting sessions in duration, in number of sessions per day, or when nursing in public. What I found in my experience is that limiting a toddler's nursing sessions is only necessary if it's something you need. Nursing a toddler never really bothered me. (It was tandem nursing that got under my skin).It didn't feel right to limit Baby T, but I did because I thought I was supposed to. That ended up being detrimental to our nursing relationship (and to my sanity) in the end.

So I'll leave you with this: When it comes to nursing your toddler, just do what feels right. 


    Marah Mumma said... Best Blogger Tips

    thanks for sharing. i think people too often overlook all the benefits that continue when you nurse a toddler/older child!

    Julia_at_NaturalParentsNetwork said... Best Blogger Tips

    I have a nursing toddler so I can relate to all of this for sure! I especially love that it can comfort my daughter after she gets hurt or is upset for one reason or another. And I agree that it is comforting to know they are getting all that extra nutrition!

    Tmuffin said... Best Blogger Tips

    Yes!! I miss that with my now-weaned Baby T. Thanks for stopping by!!

    Tmuffin said... Best Blogger Tips

    Right. Most people think cow's milk is a good substitute for breast milk. It's not a substitute at all, though. It's like apples and oranges.

    Jenny K said... Best Blogger Tips

    Thanks for a great post! I can soooo relate to all of this! My little one is 19 months and he feels the need to touch everything while nursing (my hair, face, other boob, ANYTHING really). Sometimes I try to get him to stop, but most often I've just learned to be really patient and put it out of my mind. I've become so good at it that sometimes I don't even realize he's doing it anymore!

    Karen said... Best Blogger Tips

    Our recent issue with my nursing 22 month old is he will rush over and grab my breast and try to quickly uncover it himself. He's ripped buttons off of my pj's this way. So we are working on it. He isn't talking yet, but signs, so I now stop him and make him ask by signing "milk" and "please". I'm wondering how long it will take to break this bad habit. Luckily he has never done the aggressive approach in public, but I'm finding myself feeling practically assaulted and quite annoyed when he does it at home.

    That being said, in most instances I really enjoy nursing a toddler. There is the nutritional aspect, the calming effect and the continued connection. Also the antibodies have been very helpful this fall and winter.

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