Well Being

How to Teach Your Baby Nursing Manners

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Welcome to the biggest Carnival of Breastfeeding to date! Many mothers submitted posts to share their “how to” knowledge, from how to wean from a nipple shield to how to get a spouse to help with breastfeeding. After I discuss how to teach your baby nursing manners, take a look at the links to the other participants. You might also wish to enter to win a free baby carrier, sling, or wrap of your choice (contest ends Friday, April 24, 2009).

Photo courtesy of zweettooth

Photo courtesy of zweettooth

If you breastfeed for the recommended year or more, you might experience some occasional unwanted behavior from your nursling. I share some tips on how to teach your little angel some nursing manners!

First, Some Caveats

Please keep in mind:

~ Not all babies do any or all of these behaviors!
~ Such behavior does not mean the baby wants to wean. As Kellymom.com says, “True SELF-weaning before a baby is a year old is very uncommon. In fact, it is unusual for a baby to wean before 18-24 months unless mom is encouraging weaning.”
~ No matter what your aunt/grandma/nosy neighbor says, such behavior does not mean your baby is “too old to nurse.”
~ These behaviors are fleeting, do not have to be tolerated, and can be corrected gently!

Second, Some Do's and Don'ts

~ Do use a calm and gentle voice when talking to your baby about nursing manners.
~ Don't shout or yelp (hard as that might be) because such a scare to the baby can trigger a nursing strike.
~ Do talk to your baby as if she or he understands your every word. Just because the baby cannot communicate with words does not mean that he or she cannot understand your meaning. As you calmly repeat gentle admonishments and distractions, even the youngest baby will get the idea!

Third, The Scenarios

I say these names in jest! For ease of discussion, I also refer to the nursling as a “he.”

1. The Scratcher. My mom describes how as a baby I would tickle her sides with my fingers, which just happened to have those razor-sharp baby fingernails! If your baby idly scratches your side or breast as he nurses, try starting out the nursing session by tucking that hand underneath the baby or under your arm. You don't want to restrain the baby (who will only get mad and disrupt the nursing) but you do want to remove the opportunity and the idea. If it happens anyway, gently move the offending hand and give him your finger or hand to occupy him.

2. The Dentist. My first-born loved to reach her hand up to my mouth and give me a “dental exam” while she nursed. I tried the same techniques as for The Scratcher above, plus used the time to teach her how to be gentle. A simple, repeated request to “be gentle” along with my hand guiding her hand to stroke my face taught her a more comfortable way for her to touch me. My current 9-month-old now knows when I ask her to “be gentle” it means she is supposed to point her finger and stroke my face (or the cat, or the china figurine)!

3. The Biter. Oh, this is a tough one for moms. When babies start teething they sometimes like to soothe their sore gums or try out those new teeth by clamping down on mom. It's not malicious, and as I said above, it does not mean that the baby does not want to nurse ever again. It simply means the baby is experimenting and needs some reminders that it's not okay. It can be near impossible not to yelp, but do your best. Then work on anticipating and preventing any clamping down. Babies usually reserve biting for the end of a feed and when the sucking slows down, you can break the latch with your pinky finger in the corner of the baby's mouth. If the baby was truly at the end of a nursing session, he won't fuss. If he needs to nurse, he'll ask.

If the baby does manage to bite, break the latch immediately and as calmly as you can, remind the baby “no biting.” Generally this brings about one of two reactions: the baby laughs or the baby cries. You don't want to encourage the laughing with a big reaction of your own. If the baby cries, usually 30 seconds or less off the breast teaches him that he will not get to nurse if he bites. You can even say, “If you want to nurse, you cannot bite. Open wide” and demonstrate how to open wide to latch on again. If you are not up to nursing again, try offering your finger (pad side up) or a teether. In my experience babies rarely break the skin, but if it happens to you, check out “How Do I Heal a Bite Mark on My Nipple?”

4. The Lookie-loo. As babies get older they start to get more and more interested in the world around them. You might find that your nursling is attempting to look around the room as he is still latched on, stretching your nipple with his wandering gaze! If possible, find a quiet place to nurse away from other distractions. Talk to your baby to keep his focus on you. Consider wearing a nursing necklace to distract him from the distractions!

5. The Sipper. Like the Lookie-loo, the Sipper might be so excited by the world around him that he can only sit still long enough for a sip or two here and there, off and on the breast again. This is one of the times to remind yourself, “This too will pass.” If you find yourself annoyed by this behavior, use his excitement about the world to divert him from wanting to nurse again. Sometimes babies like to check in with mom for some reassurance after each activity. Provide another transition to the next activity and you can prevent the sipping behavior.

6. The Twiddler. Some moms can tolerate when the baby plays with one nipple while nursing the other. If you're not one of them (and I don't blame you!), a nursing necklace can really come in handy. You might also have to try repeated warnings, “If you want to nurse, you cannot play with the other hand.” Repeat that phrase or the phrase of your choosing while you guide your child's hand away. If needed, you can break the latch for a few seconds as a reminder that he will not get to nurse if he does that. Keep in mind too that some babies fiddle and twiddle because they are trying to encourage the milk to let down for the first or even a second time. Babies are smart! You can help by doing breast compressions, and offering more frequent nursing sessions during the day.

7. The Gymnast. Some babies can't sit still for a nursing session and like to move their bodies around. It can help to learn how to breastfeed while baby-wearing. A sling or wrap can help keep the baby on the task at hand!

8. The Self-server. At some point your baby might try to lift up your shirt to help himself! In addition to reminding your baby about the rules, you can get creative with your clothing so you remain covered until you are ready to nurse. That might mean wearing a tank top underneath another shirt, or wearing a pregnancy or nursing belly band.

Your Experience

Have you had to teach your baby nursing manners? Are you dealing with a problematic behavior? Leave a comment!

Other Carnival Entries

Stay tuned as more entries are added throughout the day!

How to help your baby kick the nipple shield habit – Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog
How to get a spouse to help with breastfeeding – Mama Knows Breast
How to wean a breastfed toddler – BreastfeedingMums
How to treat a cold while breastfeeding – Blacktating
How to tandem nurse without driving yourself and your nurslings crazy – Tiny Grass
How to deal with family members who are not supportive of breastfeeding – Happy Bambino
How to pump successfully at work – The Marketing Mama
How to get baby to take a bottle – BabyREADY
How to breastfeed hands-free – Baby Carriers Downunder
How to get breastfeeding off to a good start – Amber at Strocel.com
How to become a breastfeeding support professional – Breastfeeding Moms Unite!
How to care for a sick nursling – Milk Act
How to be comfortable around breastfeeding – It's All about the Hat
How to improve milk supply through nutrition – Natural Birth and Baby Care
How to increase breastmilk supply using supplements – Maher Family Grows
How to (naturally) increase your breast milk supply with seaweed – MoBoleez
How to use YouTube to stop nosy questions – Zen Mommy
How to breastfeed (or just look like you know what you are doing) – Mama Saga