Setting boundaries when nursing an older baby

What to Know

  • What types of behaviors to expect from an older nursing baby
  • How to keep breastfeeding comfortable and productive for you and your baby

If you’re still nursing your baby as he approaches his first birthday and beyond, great! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding until at least 12 months of age, while the World Health Organization encourages up to 2 years of age and beyond.

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Mom breastfeeding her child

No matter how long you choose to breastfeed your little one, you’ll notice that nursing sessions will change as your baby develops, grows and becomes more aware of his surroundings. While smaller babies may simply nurse, older ones may start “playing” with your breasts, grabbing your nose, pulling at your shirt, twirling your hair or performing acrobatics when breastfeeding.

All of these behaviors are completely normal for more mobile babies. Your older baby is more interested in exploring the world around him, and your body is no exception. While some of these tricks may be funny or adorable, others may be uncomfortable, painful or just plain annoying. Tackling these issues will require patience, but if you are firm and consistent, you’ll be able to set boundaries that you and your not-so-little one can live with.

What to Do

Correct unwanted behaviors early

Correct unwanted breastfeeding behavior right when it occurs. The earlier you make it clear that something is inappropriate, the more likely your babe will discontinue that behavior. Be consistent and clear from the beginning.

Be firm

While you don’t want to be mean or scare your baby (which may bring on a nursing strike!), you’ll certainly want to use a firm tone to make sure your little one knows you mean business.

Try direct commands like “be still” or give a consequence like “keep doing that and nursing time is over.”

Be sure to speak in simple terms that your child can understand. If the behavior continues, give a short explanation for why feeding time is over and then try again in a few minutes.

Be patient

Improving your baby’s nursing manners will take time, so do your best to be patient. Older babies are capable of listening and understanding more and more each day, so give short, simple explanations and be consistent.

You may sound like a broken record, but your kiddo will comprehend and comply sooner or later.

For nursing antics that are just a little annoying (like blowing raspberries), it may even be worth it to wait and see if the novelty wears off. But for bigger issues (like shirt lifting or hair pulling), tackling the unwanted behavior as soon as possible will keep it from becoming a problem.

Distract and redirect

Give those little hands something else to do when nursing! You can offer your baby a small toy to play with, have him explore his own body (where’s your nose? ears? toes?), clap his hands or play finger games. You can even distract your baby with a story or a song.

Special nursing necklaces, bracelets and scarves are also available to entertain your baby as he feeds. Think of anything that can keep your little one’s attention without preventing him from actually feeding.

Keep your attention on your baby

Focus on your baby when breastfeeding so he doesn’t feel compelled to demand your attention with unwanted behavior. He may be acting out if you’re talking on the phone, watching TV or chatting with a pal while nursing. Turning your gaze to your babe may be all that’s needed to settle him.

Find a quiet spot

If your baby tends to pull off the breast and squeal at every passing distraction (squirrel running in the park or wailing fire engine), find a quiet setting to feed. Do your best to limit external distractions.

Breastfeeding in public may be more difficult for older babies who are distracted easily, can’t stay still, or insist on pulling your shirt up and down. It’s often simpler to nurse before leaving home and offer a snack while you’re out and about.

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