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Toddler Tips

Incredible Acrobatic Nursing Feats

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 6, November-December 1999, pp. 213-15

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


My two-and-a-half-year-old is still nursing. I enjoy nursing him at home and don't mind his gymnastic maneuvers in private. My problem is he wants to nurse in the some way when we are in public. I have tried several things to keep him from lifting my shirt, standing on his head, etc. He only gets more adamant and loud—attracting further attention to us. How have other mothers of nursing toddlers continued to nurse discreetly in public?


I agree! Nursing a two-and-a-half-year-old in public can be very frustrating. My son is full of energy and doesn't like cloth against his face. It has been very difficult for me. One thing that has really helped me is to tell my toddler what I expect in the beginning. "You may nurse, but I want you to leave my shirt down and to lie still on my lap." Then I also make sure that he knows what will happen if he doesn't comply. "If you can't do this, we will have to stop nursing." I thought this would help him understand what I expected, but I found that the greater benefit was for me! Before, I was constantly saying, 'No, Chris, put my shirt down. Chris, lie still. Chris!" I would wait until I was extremely frustrated and angry and then stop nursing because I was so upset with him. He would then react to my anger and have an outburst. When I started describing the behavior we would follow, it not only let him know my expectations, but it defined them for me also. Now, when the shirt flips up, or he is attempting incredible acrobatic nursing feats, I calmly tell him, "I needed you to sit still. We need to stop nursing now." The behavior has become the issue, not my tolerance level at any given moment. I can't say that we always have perfect nursing sessions in public now, but after a couple of times, he learned that he was just as much in control of when nursing ended as I was, and that he knew what would end it. That made him less upset when I snapped my bra and put my shirt back in place. If he asked again in five minutes, it was a new opportunity to get it right.

Lora Horn
Pasadena CA USA


When my twins were about two, they had less than perfect nursing manners. I finally realized that I set guidelines for appropriate behavior in every other area of life and that this should be no exception. When I thought of it outside of the context of breastfeeding, and looked at the issue as one of manners and privacy, I realized that a two- year-old is capable of understanding that certain behaviors are not appropriate in public.

We started by practicing at home. If the curtains were closed, then it was okay to "let it all hang out." If they were open, I would ask them to "keep Mommy covered" and to "nurse nicely." If they persisted in pushing up my shirt or whatever else they were trying at the time, I would stop the nursing until the child in question was calm enough to cooperate.

As we ventured out in public, there were times when we simply had to make a hasty retreat to a more private area (like the car) because someone was just too tired or hungry to cope with our guidelines for public behavior. This was the same strategy I would use for say, a tantrum in the middle of the library. Children, like adults, sometimes have days when they are not at their calmest and most cooperative.

It took a little time, but my sons soon learned what was expected of them. Their nursing manners improved, and nursing in public became a much more peaceful event for everyone concerned. They are now four and have long since weaned, but they tell their little sister (age 18 months) to "keep Mommy covered." Of course, you know your child best, and can best judge his ability to understand your rules and limits. I'm sure you can come to a mutually agreeable solution to this situation.

Christie Hanly
Valparaiso IN USA


I tried to remember to give my toddler the opportunity to nurse before leaving the house. I'd give plenty of notice that we would be going out and remind him that we would nurse only at home or in the car and that climbing on Mommy was allowed only at home. If he asked to nurse while shopping, I'd remind him about our agreement. If he insisted persistently, I would sometimes abandon our shopping and, if at all possible, go back to the car to nurse. As I gently but consistently enforced these rules, he gradually realized that I meant what I said and he got the message.

Ellen M. Helms 
Annapolis MD USA


Nursing a toddler can be one of the most rewarding—and one of the easiest—things we do as mothers. But those toddler gymnastics can get pretty wild. In order to be consistent, you may want to change your expectations about breastfeeding behavior at home as well as when you are out. For example, I don't allow my children to play with my other breast or, generally, lift my shirt because it drives me crazy.

It might help to start with the behavior that is the most embarrassing and start working on that. You could say, "from now on when you nurse you need to..." and then state the change. By the age of two-and-a- half, most toddlers can adapt to some basic manners for nursing in public. I've had a lot of success with this. Good luck and continue to enjoy this ever-so-short time of nursing.

Sylvia Wallis
Port Coquitlam BC Canada


How wonderful that you're thinking of your child's need to nurse outside the home! However, it can be embarrassing when nursing toddlers call a lot of attention to themselves. You might want to consider teaching "polite" nursing behavior when you are home so you could use it when you're out. Your son might be able to learn that there are different ways to nurse: the discreet way and the "anything-goes" way. Developmentally, he's most likely ready to follow a simple rule or two about nursing. Maybe you could say, "When we're at home you can move around, when we're out I expect you to lie still like this (with a demonstration)."

Kathleen Whitfield
South Bend IN USA


Having had rather gymnastic children myself, I understand your concerns. It can be really embarrassing when you are trying to be discreet and your child's behavior is like a neon sign flashing "toddler breastfeeding."

When my children got old enough that I felt uncomfortable with their public exhibitions of breastfeeding gymnastics, I felt they were also old enough to understand simple directions, such as "Keep my shirt down," or "Wait until we get to the car," or "Not in front of Aunt Bessie." If this didn't work, I would take them to a private room. There is no need to explain, but if an explanation is expected or demanded just say, "I need to settle him in private." Once you are behind closed doors, no one will know what's happening.

Thankfully, this stage is short and very sweet. Once they understand your expectations, they willingly do as you ask.

Heather "Sam" Doak
Marietta OH USA


When I read this situation, I immediately recalled my youngest when he was about two. He wanted to undress me so he could have free access to both breasts whenever he was nursing. We had many unhappy attempts at nursing during which I was trying to avoid exposing too much skin and he was trying to create the perfect nursing experience.

Two-and-a-half-year-olds are capable of making choices and don't have to have every wish met immediately. I made it clear to Nathaniel that he could nurse wherever we were if he could do it without undressing me, but otherwise he would have to wait until we got home. He wasn't talking much at that stage, but he understood the choice. If he wanted to nurse, then he could do so discreetly. He also knew that if he was distressed he could nurse anywhere at any time. Somehow those times of genuine need went smoothly and neither of us felt as though we were doing anything we didn't want to.

Jill Dye Goodmayes
Essex England


As the mother of a nursing three-year-old, I have been in your situation! I sometimes struggle with meeting both my toddler's need to nurse and my need for discreet nursing.

For about six months after she turned two, Hannah just wasn 't able to understand my reluctance to nurse her. She'd tug at my shirt and continually ask to nurse. (Thank goodness for "code" names for breastfeeding!) Sometimes distraction would work and I began carrying around stickers, a balloon, or a little toy if we were going someplace where I really felt I couldn 't nurse her. The times when I didn 't have a distraction with me, I'd do what mothers of toddlers all over the world do—stand! This meant I'd play with her a lot by swinging her back and forth or offering a piggyback ride.

If she really had to nurse, I would make an excuse and take her to our car or even a washroom stall, if we were out! Usually she would be fine after a quick break to nurse and I'd have a happy child once more.

Over the last few months, she has grown and changed so much that she rarely asks to nurse in public anymore. It has happened so gradually that, until I read your question, I hadn 't really noticed! I suspect that your son will soon be able to wait to nurse, as well. Good luck!

Kathy Dupuis
Nakusp BC Canada


You often hear that a quietly nursing baby attracts much less attention than one who is crying and hungry, but a nursing toddler doing gymnastics changes the picture quite a bit. I adjusted my nursing in public when my children were about the age of your son and they started the gymnastics, lifting my shirt, pulling off and leaving me exposed to the world while they giggled. I tried to make my child understand that we could only nurse in public if he or she could do it calmly and quietly, without pinching or undressing Mom. This had varying degrees of effectiveness. Tired kids aren't too accepting of discussion and reasoning. If my child was exhausted and would doze off quickly, it didn 't matter where we nursed. But usually the things going on around us at the mall, or wherever we were, would distract him and cause more pulling off, looking around, and gymnastics, so I often found it was best to wait and nurse in a more private setting. I was often able to set some limits by promising to nurse as soon as we got to the car, home, or wherever I needed to go for a little extra privacy. The time-honored suggestion of using the women 's dressing room in a clothing store is one that worked for me when I needed to have more privacy.

Since a two-year-old's tolerance is limited, you can 't ask him to wait for several hours to nurse, but waiting for 15 minutes or so until you find a more private place is reasonable. When we did get to the promised place, I made sure to say that we were there and to offer to nurse then. That way they knew that when I asked them to wait I would keep my promise.

One of my favorite ways to handle public nursing challenges has been to offer to nurse in the car before getting out at our destination, from the time my children were newborns on up to when they were big nursing persons. I guess it sounds like filling them up, both with milk and love to give them a bit more tolerance and patience for the adventures to come.

A baby sling could also help with this situation. Besides holding your child close and giving you more use of your hands, the fabric is usually ample enough so you can pull it up and around you and him to help keep covered up. Maybe a soft toy or squishy ball could serve to keep him and his hands busy while nursing and distract him from the usual activity. Some mothers have told me that "nursing beads, " a string of interesting colored and/or shaped beads, are good for keeping little hands occupied for a more relaxing nursing time. You might want to offer such a toy only during nursing as a kind of reward or incentive for sitting still, as well as an enticing alternative to the usual gymnastics. Any interesting distraction can help keep your child entertained enough to wait to nurse until you get home.

Remember, that little guy is going to grow every time you blink, and in a few years you'll look back on cuddling and nursing and loving your little one as one of the best times in your life.

Georgeanne Mattise
Scranton PA USA

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