“As my baby gets bigger (more than a year), I feel like I’m constantly pushing her hands away from “twiddling” my other nipple. I know it is a natural instinct to massage and rub to help with letdown, but she is much stronger now and my nipples are sensitive – it just doesn’t feel good. But I feel a bit sad that I’m refusing her efforts to touch. How do other mothers handle this?”
Clare Lyell, North Canterbury – Try wearing clothes that cover your other breast, then a necklace with big chunky beads, or a pendant that she can play with while nursing. Worked for my first and second.
Karen Swan, Canberra – My 14 month old is crazy for it! He seems to only do it when we lie down to feed before naps or, as we co-sleep, during night feeds. If I wear a nightdress/top that also exposes my other breast, he’ll be all over me, so I tend to wear something like a sleeping crop top. If he can’t see it, he tends to keep hands off or just concentrate on the fleshier part of my breast, which I can handle! Other than that, the only success I’ve had is to cover my nipple with my thumb or finger – it fools him sometimes!
It would seem the more I take his hands away, the more intent he becomes. Downside? Now he pinches me instead! I know how strange it feels; I figure he’ll grow out of it like everything else!
I hope I’ve been of some help (as LLL is to me!)
Friederike André, Thames – I could not stand the touch at the other breast, and so I held my baby’s hand to stop him from doing it. He stopped trying after what seemed to me many months and would still keep trying on and off later. I kept telling him it hurt and once he understood that, it was okay. But that really was a long time later.
Jenny Coles, Lower Hutt – Hello, I understand the feeling of being torn between meeting the emotional and physical needs of your daughter and your own comfort. Touch is a natural part of breastfeeding and parenting.
We encourage our toddler to stroke or gently hold the breast he is feeding from, while saying “soft touching, thank you”. When he reaches for or twiddles the other nipple, I remove his hand saying “ouch that hurts Mummy” or “ouch, touch softly, thank you”. We have found saying “thank you” reinforces my words as a directive, as opposed to “please” as a choice.
Some days he only needs reminding once, other days, when he is feeling ill or teething, many times at each feed. We borrowed some touch and feel books from the library and received two for his birthday. They have aided his understanding of soft and gentle, rough and ouchy. When playing we alternate between rough and tumble and quiet gentle play to help him relax and unwind before nap time and bedtime. This greatly reduced the “twiddling” initially.
You may like to read Mothering your Nursing Toddler by Norma Jane Bumgarner. Reading this helped me understand the changing dynamics of the mother-baby relationship when I was having difficulty with the balance of his needs and my own comfort. Contact your local LLL Group or library for a copy or purchase one directly from LLLNZ.
Breastfeeding manners as toddlers often comes up at LLL meetings, especially when a mother is feeling uncomfortable or undecided about her own comfort versus her child’s behaviour at the breast. I try to remind mothers about breastfeeding being a love language and this is one of the many opportunities to teach our beautiful little people we are growing about respect for others. Just as we respect their need to breastfeed for more than nutrition, they need to respect our body by being gentle with it. We wouldn’t fiddle with our child’s body parts so they were uncomfortable or in pain while they breastfed. When we gently, firmly set boundaries about how they can touch our bodies this lesson can then flow on to how to pat the cat, stroke a new sibling or a friend’s new baby. Hopefully, this respect for others becomes an admired quality in our children as they grow into adulthood.
Merewyn Groom, Lower Hutt – My daughter is 23 months and has recently started doing this too. I can’t stand it! I try not to uncover the other side so she doesn’t have too easy access and hopefully doesn’t notice it. She is old enough that I can try and explain that it hurts Mummy, and I also invite her to hold my hand which she likes to do.
If you lie down to nurse you can use the “uphill” side, in other words, if she is lying on your left then nurse from your right breast, this way you have to lean over a bit and she won’t be able to get at the lower one. When we were learning to nurse lying down this is actually how we started out and I still find it more comfortable.
Tineke Snow, Lower Hutt – I had this as Jackson got older. The only things I found helped were to distract him: give him something to hold in the free hand, play games on the free hand like this little piggy or round and round the garden.
Claire Hargest-Slade, Timaru – Charles still does this. I tickle him under his arm so he pulls his hand away. Also I’m not above tickling his nipple or “milky” as he calls it in a bit of tit for tat!
Janine Pinkham, Kaiapoi – Gosh, that takes me back. I can remember my boys getting twiddly with my nipples as they got older – or trying to; it is something I always found really annoying but somewhat mean about as I watched other mothers happily breastfeeding, braless and with their toddlers twiddling the free nipple. In short I didn’t let my children twiddle. I would hold their hands away from my other breast, usually holding firmer and firmer as the urge to find the non-latched nipple got stronger during a feed. Sometimes I used words like, “no” or “I don’t like it when you do that” or “don’t do that”. If it was too annoying I would stop the feed and cover myself up completely.
Since I usually wore a bra and covered up the non-latched nipple the opportunities for twiddling were limited to nighttimes or when wearing a bathing costume or some other unusual clothing. When my twins were toddlers they usually fed simultaneously so twiddling was not a problem. One of the lovely things about simultaneous feeding is the two children holding hands. They would “twiddle” each other’s hands too, twisting and intertwining fingers and stroking each other’s faces. Another thing that can be cuddly is gentle stroking with the hand that goes around the back of you. That can turn to pinching, which is not nice.
Breastfeeding a needs to be an enjoyable experience for the mother and the child. If you are not enjoying an aspect of breastfeeding it’s only natural to stop the annoying behaviour. Toddlers are so wonderfully huggable there are plenty of other times for skin to skin touching when you are with them during the day so they can still get all the touching they need.
Jessica Parsons, Auckland Central – It’s not nice to feel like you’re in armed combat with your child, and this is something to address now especially if you think that you may still have years of your breastfeeding relationship left. Older babies develop lightning reflexes and tricky fingers to seek out spots to send you to the roof before you know the hand was in your clothes! My youngest seems to play spider fingers on me just to keep herself amused, which can get very tickly. I often have one hand in defensive coverup position, and often I still get very pushy little fingers.
I will play gentle handholding games and kissyfingers, or move the wandering hand to the breast she’s latched on (so it’s safe). I also demonstrate to her with my hand what gentle touching does feel OK to me. It sometimes works to stroke her softly on the cheek or arm, which distracts her from touching me.
With older children you can explain that it bothers you – my five year old knows that he has to have good manners and quiet hands or it’s “all done time.” I always try to tell them what they may do instead of just saying “Don’t do that!” Also, check to see if you are modelling quiet hands. Since I don’t have to use my other hand for holding a little one, I notice that I am often finger-combing my hair or other fidgeting myself!
Elaine Winchester, Petone – This situation is one that others can learn from in advance. The solution parallels what we do if a toddler keeps putting things in the wall socket (without a cover that is!) or what mothers do when one set of grandparents find displeasure at open nursing in their home, when it’s okay with the other set.
Babies are learning even before birth and can learn from our tone of voice (firm and friendly) and consistent actions. Repeat in a kind voice “no more” or “no thanks” “uhuh” while removing the little hand. I found holding the hand or putting the clasp onto my finger helped – or another object. It takes patience, just as when they start looking/pulling around when people enter the room whilst breastfeeding.
La Leche League Leaders can prepare a mother for this situation with older babies, as well as helping her decide what she’d be most comfortable calling breastfeeding, in preparation for the toddler calling it out in public!
Rose Davis, Waiheke Island – How mothers feel while breastfeeding is important too!
The baby will be fine without twiddling your nipple and your experience of this irritation while feeding could lead to you weaning earlier than if you set limits that preserve your comfort.
I would encourage you to look after yourself on this issue, and let your baby know that playing with your nipple doesn’t feel good to you.
Your baby’s needs are of vital importance, but mothers need to care for themselves too, not least of all so that they can carry on being wonderful mothers.
Robin Jones Greif, Blenheim – This can be super annoying and be really off putting for continuing breastfeeding. After a year of age, a baby can learn that some things are just not acceptable during breastfeeding. After all, you wouldn’t let your baby bite you just because they wanted to and nipple twiddling is in the same category. A gentle “no” and removing the hand will be enough for some babies to get it; others benefit from putting something small and soft in their hand as a replacement. If it happens towards the end of a feed, if saying no doesn’t work ending the feed while telling the baby why s/he’s finished can work too.
Some children can be very resistant to stopping this, but it’s better to parent to halt this unwelcome activity than to quit breastfeeding because you just can’t stand it!
Jenny Della Torre, Sydney – If the baby is drinking well from a cup and commenced weaning, the breastfeeding time could be cut shorter as the twiddling usually does not happen at the beginning of the feed, when the baby is hungry. The breast that the baby is not feeding from could be covered. Hold the baby’s hand and stroke it gently or give your baby a favourite soft toy or small object to hold. Keep a note of which time the twiddling tends to happen more often and offer other substitutes first or use distraction. Without refusing the nursing, just cut the feeding time shorter.