Breastfeeding a toddler

Breastfeeding a toddler is an art form. They’re capable of all kinds of “boobnastics” – acrobatic gymnastics that involve the strangest positions and movements while nursing.

And while breastfeeding an older baby has amazing benefits for their health and the bond between the two of you, it can also be difficult and frustrating. Your toddler will no doubt be multi-tasking while hanging from your breast. They’re prone to pulling your top down or sticking their hands into it in public, or twiddling, pinching and slapping the breast or nipple that they’re not busy feeding on.

They’re old enough to know what they want, but not old enough to tell you properly, or to understand why you’re refusing them. Here are some tips to make the toddler breastfeeding experience more enjoyable.

Teach manners: Teach your baby breastfeeding manners from an early age. Be gentle, firm and consistent about what you do and don’t want them to do during breastfeeding.

Be patient: As your child gets older, they’ll develop new, often annoying behaviours while nursing. Be patient with them as they learn new, more acceptable behaviours from you.

Code word: It can be pretty embarrassing when your toddler screams “boobies” over and over again in public. Come up with a more discreet word which they can use when they want to nurse, and start teaching it to them when they’re still very young.

Nursing in public: Some breastfeeding behaviours which are acceptable at home – like breast acrobatics – might not be suitable for nursing in public. Gently teach your toddler what behaviour is or isn’t acceptable when breastfeeding in public. If you child is still very young, they might not understand why there’s a difference in ‘rules’ for nursing at home and in public. In this case, it’s better to be consistent with what you want from them, until they’re old enough to understand the difference.

Redirect behaviour: If your toddler is displaying annoying behaviour at the breast – like twiddling or pinching your nipples – find ways to redirect their behaviour. Use your hands or bra to cover your other breast and give your toddler something else to fiddle with instead like a small toy. Alternatively, wear a necklace with large, colourful beads which they can play with while nursing. You can also gently, but firmly reprimand them if they’re hurting you and show them instead how to stroke your arm or breast instead of pinching it. Read our article about how to deal with toddlers who bite during nursing.

Create distractions: A toddler who’s irritable or impatient at the breast can become very rough. Consider singing or reading to them to distract them from their bad behaviour.

Stop nursing: If none of these tactics are working, stopping a nursing session can give the toddler time to calm down and help them understand that this behaviour leads to the breast being taken away from them. For example, if your toddler insists on jumping up and down on your lap, breast in mouth, you can put your breasts away and say: “I can’t feed you when you’re jumping on me. Let’s go play and you can have some more later.” Then, offer the breast to them again in a few minutes, or wait until they ask to feed again. – Gabi Falanga