Common Toddler Breastfeeding Problems

March 01, 2017

So you’re nursing a toddler, huh? I bet you didn’t even plan to do that! So many of us just find ourselves doing it. And when we find ourselves here we find there are whole host of new obstacles to overcome. Breastfeeding a toddler or small child is nothing like breastfeeding a newborn. I have found breastfeeding to be a great parenting tool. There are many lessons to be learned from the bosom for both mom and tot. Let’s talk about some of the new things you might be experiencing.

Nerves About Nursing In Public (NIP) – I was a little cautious about breastfeeding in public when I became a mom. I thought people might stare at my boobs or tell me I had to do that in the bathroom. After a few months we found our groove and we NIPed everywhere. Then my nursling turned 3, then 4, then 5 years old. I felt my caution return. Would someone say something to me? Would I get harassed with my son right there to hear it? No one has ever said anything negative to me while nursing in public, but it happens to many women. Would it happen to me?

These are normal things to be concerned about in a culture where it isn’t the norm to see toddlers and small children breastfeeding. Sometimes I fake it ‘til I make it. I put my chin up in the air, smile big and make eye contact with everyone who looks my way. Like that time on the crowded city bus. I figure the more I look OK with what I’m doing the more OK everyone else will be. Other days I decide to find a more private location or I simply tell my son he’ll have to wait until we get home, since he is older now he actually can wait. There is no shame in doing what makes you feel comfortable in any situation. One day I was waiting for my car at the dealership. The waiting room was me and about 15 men. My son wanted to nurse. I just couldn’t do it. I felt really uncomfortable. I distracted him and he was fine. Do what you need to do to get through your day.

A Changing Latch – They are growing up and their mouths are growing too. This means that their latch will change. I found this uncomfortable. My oldest son started to struggle with his latch around 3 years old. His teeth started scraping my nipple, he started to add this slight pulling motion of his head when he was latched on and he couldn’t maintain the same level of suction as when we was younger. It drove me up a wall and made breastfeeding unpleasant.

He was 3 years old so he understood when I told him it hurt. He didn’t know how to stop, but we worked together. I helped him to make sure he was getting my entire areola into his mouth. When he started to pull I would point it out and ask him to stop. I tried having him sit differently on my lap to minimize scrapes developing on one part of my nipple. I used a lot of nipple cream to help with smooth suction and suckle. His latch is still a bit awkward because he continues to grow, but it’s not painful anymore.

Gymnurstics – This includes everything from ants in the pants, to pinching, squeezing, poking fingers into your mouth, eyes, nose and ears, pulling on your shirt and slapping you. My second son would just start slapping my chest as soon as he latched on. The truth is they were probably this energized at our breast the whole time, but now they are big and strong. There are no more peaceful slumbers at the breast while you chat on Facebook. Now it’s more like trying to get your cat into the carrier for a vet visit. It sounds funny, but it can be overwhelming.

This is a great way to begin the concept of boundaries. “This is my body and that hurts me.” “I don’t like that, please stop.” It’s a great way to model bodily autonomy. You do not have to accept things that are uncomfortable for you just because you are a mother. I stick to simple directives such as, “Please sit down.” “Please stop squeezing.” I make sure my toddler has something in his hands before we sit down to nurse like a toy or piece of garbage. No kidding, the other day he was totally still the whole time when he was able to hold a crumpled up piece of plastic bag. Go figure. But this is not a newborn baby that depends on every feeding. If it’s too much for you and they aren’t calming down offer them a jelly sandwich.

Nursing aversion – This does not happen to everyone nursing a toddler. But it threw me for a loop when I was pregnant with my second and still nursing my first. It hit me like a ton of bricks. It felt like panic, rage, creepy-crawlies and the desire to run through a brick wall all wrapped in one moment. And it didn’t let up until he unlatched. In fact, I still deal with it 2.5 years postpartum.

It was during this time when I really began to appreciate the idea of breastfeeding boundaries. I never created any boundaries around breastfeeding before my pregnancy because I didn’t feel like I needed them. Boundaries can be hard to create because it’s a change in routine you have to say “no” quite a bit which can send your little bub into hysterics. It’s really hard at first, but start small like using time limits and planning out the day’s nursing sessions. Plan lots of activities to keep your child busy. Consider some tasty snacks when you need to distract. And when your child melts down talk lovingly to them that you are there for them and stick to your guns.

Sleeping through the night – At least your tot is sleeping through the night now, right? Just kidding. She doesn’t sleep at all and you don’t either. You side-lie at night so that you can try to get some rest. She hangs onto your nipple from sun down to sun up, but this position isn’t comfortable and you’re pretty sure you’ll need chiropractic care for the rest of your life. You try to slip your nipple out of her mouth, but you might as well be banging two pans together next to her ear by the way she screams.

Night waking at this age is totally normal. There is nothing wrong with your toddler and there is nothing wrong with you. It’s easy to believe you are the only one awake at this hour with a child so old, but it’s just not true. If you are not sharing a bed with your toddler you can go ahead and give that a try. It’s been found that moms who share a bed with their toddler get more sleep. And your child is old enough now to create some of these boundaries at night. There are some great gentle techniques that you can adopt like this. I have found that telling my 2.5-year-old, “One minute of boobie and that’s all,” and then “OK, it’s time to go to sleep,” has worked on occasion. I will keep doing this multiple times a night every night to create this routine.

Breastfeeding a toddler is something you should absolutely be glowingly proud of. If you are having unique struggles with this age you don’t have to feel alone. There are tons of us moms out there breastfeeding the tots and small children. We are here for you!

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder






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