“Extended nursing” is typically defined as a nursing relationship that exceeds one year. Most of us are well versed in the WHO recommendation that supports extended breastfeeding (for fun check out these breastfeeding statstics from around the world). Many of us are also quick to emphasize the last part of the AAP breastfeeding recommendation that states “to continue breastfeeding for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mother and baby desire” (bold type is mine).
While it comes with many great benefits to mother and baby, extended nursing can also present its own challenges. This may surprise you if, like me, you thought breastfeeding would all be smooth sailing once you got past the initial hump after baby was born. Nope…that would be all together way too simple, right?!? Breastfeeding is a relationship full of on-going complexities; this is in part what makes it such a special relationship.
Listed below are commonly observed types of toddler nurslings. You may recognize your child in any or all of these:
The Acrobat – tries to do handstands and somersaults while nursing
The Drummer – will rhythmically bang on mommy’s chest while nursing
Thumper – will kick legs enthusiastically while nursing
The Hairpuller- or in my case, dreadlock twiddler
The Grazer – latches on, suckles for 10 seconds, stops nursing to play for a few minutes and then goes back to nursing…repeats this over and over and over again
The Squisher – will attempt squeeze, pinch, or squish mommy’s skin while nursing
The Chipmunk – will try to nurse while storing food or other objects in their mouth
The Bottemlesspit – wants to nurse every 45 minutes around the clock
The Ninja - can latch on to mommy in complete darkness, in the middle of the night, regardless of how many layers of clothing mommy has on
These nursing behaviors can certainly make nursing less enjoyable for mama. I know it does for me. Although instilling some boundaries around nursing as well as teaching “nursing manners” helps make extended nursing more enjoyable. Right now my biggest nursing challenge is the Squisher and a combination of the Grazer and the Bottomlesspit. Not fun to say the least!
One solution to an active nurser is to wear a nursing necklace. A nursling necklace is a specially designed necklace that gives baby something to hold, twiddle, and occupy their hands while they nurse. Esty has lots of lovely nursing necklaces made by work-at-home-mamas.
Another approach is to stop nursing baby when he/she engages in a behavior you don’t like/enjoy. You can say to your child ”that’s hurts mommy, you need to be gentle”. When you stop nursing he/she is likely to get upset and request to nurse again. In which case, I will nurse my son again, but remind him to “be gentle”. Each time he does whatever it is I don’t want him to do while nursing, I will stop nursing him. I might also gently stroke his hand or talk to him while nursing to keep him calmly occupied. If he really does want to nurse, he is likely to stop after a few trials of this and regain sole focus on nursing.
Sometimes a baby asks to nurse frequently because it’s something they know how to request and is enjoyable for them, but they would be equally happy doing something else. The Grazer might be a symptom of this in which case you can use distraction to engage baby in something else. I also sometimes offer a sippy cup of water or a snack if my son is requesting to nurse frequently in a very short period of time. He doesn’t yet have the language (or baby signs) to ask for these things, but often is satisfied with the offer of a snack/drink of water.
There is definitely a shift that occurs when you go from nursing a newborn on demand to instilling some limitations and or bounderies with your older nursling. It’s a transition for both of you that often requires a little experimentation and a lot of patience to find a new rhythm to your nursing relationship. I am in the midst of that transition right now and hoping to find some balance in it soon.
What does nursing your older baby look like? Do you see him/her in any of the nursing types described above? If so what do you do to let baby know you don’t want to continue nursing in that way?