Tips for Breastfeeding Manners

By Beverly Ann Curtis, APRN, PNP-BC, IBCLC

Breastfeeding the four month old or older baby often becomes challenging due to your baby’s new interest in the world around him. He is discovering new things each day and with that comes a distracted behavior at the breast as well as with other tasks. You may find your baby beginning to search for additional “extra curricular” activities while nursing. These include searching with the free hand for your other nipple, pinching the other nipple, pulling on your shirt, putting a foot anywhere, pulling your hair or shirt, twisting his or her own hair, or putting fingers in your mouth or nose.

Your breastfeeding may have evolved from a peaceful tranquil nurturing moment to an upside down, kneading, twiddling, pinching gym-nursing event. Congratulations, you are now graduating into the world of breastfeeding the older baby. While these behaviors are all part of growing up, and are very amusing at times, they may physically create discomfort for you, or create such a distraction that it may be difficult to breastfeed in public or even in your own home. Enter the Miss Manners of Breastfeeding.

  • Encourage good breastfeeding manners and discourage unwanted behavior early on. Babies are smart and will learn quickly with guidance from mom.
  • Take advantage of the distractibility factor of your baby. You can easily redirect uncomfortable breastfeeding behaviors. Hold your baby’s hand, guide the pinching into patting, kiss the baby’s fingers, blow on his hand. Suggest “nice touching” rather than scratching or pinching. Start early with correcting this behavior as once it becomes a habit it’s repetition may reinforce the unwanted activity.
  • Distract the roaming hand with a soft toy or blanket your baby can hold while breastfeeding.
  • Breastfeeding necklaces seem to work extremely well for mom to wear and baby to handle while nursing. These could include a necklace that is a bit stretchy and non-breakable, a scarf or even a breastfeeding bracelet, mom wears. Be careful not to allow your child to put small beads or part of necklace or bracelets in his/her mouth.
  • Reading a story while breastfeeding may provide the distraction your little one needs along with counting fingers and toes.
  • Covering the other breast and limiting its availability while breastfeeding may be enough to distract your little one.
  • Your little one may protest at first with the new “rules’ regarding breastfeeding but firm and consistent responses such as “breastfeed nicely” or “no pinching just gentle touching” on your part, may actually create a more pleasant and happy breastfeeding relationship.
  • Praise and reward your baby when he or she is breastfeeding appropriately. “This is nice breastfeeding” You might give an extra hug close to you or hold his hand to reinforce the comfortable breastfeeding behavior.
  • Stop breastfeeding if your child continues and explain calmly why you stopped breastfeed, in a sentence such as “Mommy can’t breastfeed such a pinchy baby.” “We’ll try again later once you get your squiggles out.”
  • If your child is insistent on persisting in these breastfeeding behaviors in public, you may want to establish rules for breastfeeding at home and when in public. These could be the same rules or different rules. Your child understands other parameters for behavior once they reach toddler age and breastfeeding expectations should be no different.
  • While in public carry a snack and other foods. If your older baby or toddler is insistent in behaviors that are uncomfortable for you, offer alternative foods and snacks.
  • Breastfeeding Manners can be established at an early age and can create a pleasant and comfortable breastfeeding experience for both of you.

To find out more, call us at the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh at (412) 246-4726.

Bev Curtis is the former Executive Director of the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh.