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Breastfeeding a toddler is like trying to fill up a moving car’s gas tank – if the driver of the moving car is a circus clown with a heavy foot, and somehow the car can fly and jump and flip (basically it’s a spaceship), and also if the gas pump is your nipple. Also, also if the circus clown can reach his arm out of the moving car/spaceship to touch and twiddle and pinch your other nipple.
Not the best analogy, but you get the picture. Breastfeeding a toddler isn’t easy. And this is the stage of toddler breastfeeding my little and I are in – wiggling, squirming, twiddling, and playing.
But before I dig more into this, I have to get a little sappy and say that even though breastfeeding a toddler is challenging, it is worth every struggle. The connection it builds, the nutrition it gives, there’s nothing else like it. And I would not change a single thing.
Okay, back to the issue of the month – err, months – twiddling.
Why do our littles insist on twiddles?
Not a lot of research has been done about this, but we do know that nipple stimulation releases oxytocin. So, more twiddling means more oxytocin and more milk with a faster let down. It’s comparable to the way kittens knead their mothers.
Plus, breastfeeding requires toddlers to stop moving and be still, which can be very difficult for them. But twiddling keeps their hands busy and offers them a little movement, which is comforting and soothing when they need help winding down.
My humble opinion beyond the science, is that boobs are soft and squishy and fun to feel. Once our babes figure that out, they can’t get enough of them. (Although I’m sure it does add a greater sense of connection, comfort and closeness, and I’m sure it does help your milk let down faster.)
How do I deal with my little twiddler?
It really depends on the way I’m feeling and the way my toddler is feeling, but I do one of three things:
Most of the time, if we’re at home I let him be and ignore the twiddling as long as he’s being gentle. At this point in the breastfeeding game, my nipples are pretty numb, so it doesn’t really bother me. Also, ignoring the twiddling can be helpful at bedtime. My little one does it for comfort and relaxation, so it helps him fall asleep faster and more easily.
I know this isn’t the best option for everyone, especially if you’re touched out or if it makes you uncomfortable. Definitely don’t ignore you’re own needs and comfort level. You’ll be left feeling more stress and frustration about the twiddling, which will make your little one be feeling more stress and frustration, and more likely to twiddle.
Obviously, there are times that twiddling can’t be ignored. It’s definitely okay to set limits and teach our toddlers/babies how to have good manners breastfeeding. If I’m in public, feeling touched out, or if my little one is getting too rough the first thing I try is to distract those little hands.
This can mean:
- Holding hands – This works great for younger twiddlers, but my experience is the older your twiddler is the less he’s entertained by affectionate hand holding.
- Hand Kissing/Blowing Raspberries – This works great for infants and toddlers because it’s more of a game. They think it’s funny and it keeps their mind more focused on the raspberries than the twiddling.
- Giving them another object to hold – Some moms swear by nursing necklaces or jewelry (which is jewelry that moms wear specifically for their baby or toddler to play with).
- Songs/Words – Never underestimate the power of your voice. Our babies love hearing our voices, and a favorite song can ease the agitation they feel about not twiddling.
Another option is to be more direct about your boundaries. Some ways to do this are:
- Make access to the other boob more difficult– Use your shirt or bra to keep your other side concealed- although truthfully, my toddler is a ninja and can claw his way through any clothing to get that other nipple. Or use your free arm/hand to block access- this use to work fine, but now it usually results in tears and frustration for my toddler.
- Words/Talk it out– Gently say something like, “I don’t like this, please hold X [my hand, this toy, that blankie] instead.” If the problem is being too rough, offer a reminder – “soft hands.” I also like to gently hold my toddler’s hand in mine and demonstrate how to be soft. This reminder of “soft hands” has helped us a lot, and can be used in a lot of other situations, too.
- Time limit – This seems to be our most effective form of discouraging right now. If my little one is being to rough, I let him know, “Two more minutes of nursing and then we’re going to do X [get a drink from a cup, or a snack, or do this other activity].” This works well for us right now because my toddler has developed a good understanding of next and after. Also, if I choose an activity he enjoys he’s usually eager to move on to that next thing.
Remember this is just another phase and they’re only little for a little while.
I hope you found this useful and relatable. Do you have a little twiddler on your hands, too? What are your best ways of coping? Feel free to let me know in the comments! It’s always nice to hear others ideas and thoughts.
And onward we go in our breastfeeding journey. I hope you have a beautiful day!