Dealing With a Child Who Performs 'Nursing Gymnastics'

Gymnastic BreastfeedingI remember this from my daughter Penelope’s first year, too: Around 12 months, assuming you’re still nursing, babies often go through a phase I can only call ... vigorous. Nursing becomes a contact sport: Abby punches my breast, pushes it away while sucking as hard as she can, kneads it with her feet, and actually stands up while remaining latched on. It’s nuts.

My mom has no memory of us doing this, but I think she blocked it out; a friend of mine said her husband refers to this phase as “the nipple extender.” It’s not really painful -- she doesn’t bite -- but it’s rather more exciting than the peaceful, bonding breastfeeding moments I’m used to.

So why do babies perform crazy, extreme nursing stunts?


I asked Fritzi Drosten, RN and BCLC, who was my lactation consultant when Penelope was in the NICU and runs the Breastfeeding Task Force (sounds serious!) at UCSF Children’s Hospital. “This is really common at that age,” she says. “The breastfeeding book from La Leche League calls it ‘gymnastic nursing,’ don’t you love that?”

Basically, she says, “Kids at that age are getting more active, and they also love ‘their’ breasts.” The combination makes them “climb around while they nurse.” It just means they’re doing everything they like to do at the same time.

But she also says, “This is the beginning of learning that Mommy is another person.” The baby learns that the breasts aren’t part of her -- they belong on you, and the beginning of her learning the difference. Just like mealtimes later in life, nursing is both a social moment and a nourishing one.

You can begin to actually reinforce some “table manners” -- telling your babe, in your own way, that “these breasts belong here on me, so when it’s meal time, how about you just pay attention to your lunch and play later.”

Breasts are their first “loveys,” she points out. So if they start seeming distracted from nursing and wanting to play with them all the time ... that’s why.

“Enjoy it while it lasts!” she told me. “It’ll be gone in a heartbeat, and before you know it, they’ll be fighting over who gets the car for the evening.” Good grief! Suddenly the nipple-extender doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world!

Does your baby do Extreme Nursing?

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