You CAN Teach Your Toddler Breastfeeding Manners

Christie Haskell

When nursing a toddler is discussed, someone inevitably comments on how children shouldn't be "running up to you, lifting your shirt, and demanding to nurse." They're right. Well, they're right that the behavior isn't acceptable, but if they are suggesting that is reason to wean, they're wrong. It makes as little sense as weaning 4-month-old because she's biting. It's totally unrelated to nutrition.

What you do need to know, though, is that nurslings of any age need to be taught nursing manners. It's not an age or weaning issue when a child tries to get in your shirt in public, it's a disciplinary one.

Just like any discipline (discipline meaning "to teach," not punish), it's best if you start when they're young. You can hold the hand that's trying to twiddle the other nipple (a natural action that stimulates letdown) or lay an arm over your other breast. When your child's hand reaches to pull your hair, hold the hand so she doesn't pull to discourage that behavior. Giving your kiddo something to mess with that ISN'T YOU while they're nursing can often be a quick and easy solution, too.

When they get into the toddler years, it's not quite as simple -- then again, neither are they. But if you've already set the groundwork for no-nonsense nursing, they understand that smiles and giggles are fine, but kicking Mommy's face and ripping her hair out isn't. Granted, they're still toddlers, which means learning is an ongoing process, and you just need to be consistent when unwanted behaviors are repeated. Removing them from the breast and setting them down can show them that unwanted behaviors end nursing sessions -- sometimes this will get them to nurse politely, other times they'll run off and play. If it's the latter, chances are you missed a cue that showed you your toddler was done nursing anyway and they were just playing.

Using very simple verbal explanations can be very helpful, such as: "Mommy's clothes stay on," and remove the hand that's trying to pull on your shirt. If it continues, detach the kiddo, cover yourself up, and repeat the same sentence while using your hands to show what you're talking about.

For a child who is trying to pull on clothes to ask to nurse, if they can't verbalize the request, work on sign language. Babies can learn "nurse" as a sign around 8 months when shown frequently. This can be really helpful as they get older, giving toddlers a polite way to ask. 

So remember, despite the common argument that you should wean a child who can pull up your shirt and ask to nurse, this has nothing to do with weaning and everything to do with just teaching nursing manners with gentle, ongoing discipline. A child who is taught to ask politely at home will also ask politely in public, which removes that common anti-toddler nursing argument completely.

How does your toddler ask to nurse? What "nursing manners" did you work on with your toddler?


Image via April Roller

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