Nursing Manners

November 9, 2010

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It’s amazing how much stuff you forget from baby to baby.

For example, how quickly they go from being this tiny newborn for whom breastfeeding takes all their attention and energy, to this wiggly, peekaboo playing, grabby-hands creature you have to wrastle and hog-tie in order to get a good feeding in.

At 4 months, Miss Ruby has already developed some bad nursing manners. (She’s so advanced.)

Afternoon snack - 115 days old
Creative Commons License photo credit: jessicafm

Meaning my breasts look like I had a hot and heavy makeout session with Edward Scissorhands.

(In which he gets to second base.)

Big Z looked at me the other day and cringed. “That’s hurting me, and it’s not even happening to me!”

And I certainly don’t want my hubby avoiding my mammary areas in a sweet but misguided attempt to avoid causing me discomfort, so…

Time to teach baby some breastfeeding manners.

Of course, it’s really my fault for letting it get this bad. What starts off as a cute developmental milestone (oh look, she’s patting me!) quickly turns into a painful proposition involving sharp fingernails and increasingly strong fingers pushing against me (with opposing suction coming from the business end).

I can no longer read, type on the computer, or do much of anything while nursing because I have to hold her little hand so she can’t poke, prod, pull, push, scratch or see how many fingers she can suck/chew on while simultaneously being latched on.

One of my children was a dedicated “twiddler“. (Twiddler on the Boob. Sounds like a musical. ) He was so dedicated to his “free hand” activity that when I tried to stop him he would just stop nursing. It just plain hurt his feelings that I wouldn’t allow him to twist, pull, pinch and scratch my helpless “other side” while he took his meal.

He was also a determined biter. It got so bad that at 8 months old, I had to put him down on the floor and walk out of the room (while he cried for a moment) to underscore that mom is not an apple and I would not tolerate being crunched. It only took a few times and he stopped, but I learned to watch for that twinkle in his eye that came right before a bite so I could end the feeding.

I’m sure some of this behavior serves a purpose. It probably causes mom’s milk to let down faster, or makes it flow more quickly. Maybe it even puts more fat in the milk. I’ve seen cats and puppies do the same to their mommies. Even calves butt their little heads against mom to get things flowing.

Of course, teaching nursing manners is very important. Not only for mom’s comfort, but because it is one of the most important lessons in life:

That there are two people in this relationship, and if you want to keep getting the good stuff, then in the words of  Otis Redding, you got to, got to, try a little tenderness.

Like all of us, babies are just a little bit selfish. Greedy, even. We want our milky and we want it nee-owww! Reminding baby that s/he has to get food in a way that doesn’t hurt mom is frustrating for baby at first but will pay off later.

Some more breastfeeding manners I’ve found helpful to teach baby over the years:

  • Euphemisms are good. It’s not so fun when your toddler screams “I wanna nurse!” in the checkout line at Target. But nobody knows what mee-mees or nee-ners are.
  • It’s not ok to reach in, grab and pull it out the neckline of mom’s shirt.
  • Don’t go braless. Keep your nursing bra on and the other side done up- much like husbands, nursing babies can’t resist dangling participles.
  • If mom wants to be modest, you have to deal with a little shirt in your face.
  • Keep your hands to yourself. (One caveat: be careful when nursing an undiapered baby, especially a boy. They really enjoy keeping their hands to themselves. Ahem.)

I’ve also found it handy to busy baby’s hands with something else interesting. The need to twiddle something seems to peak before and right when baby develops the pincer grasp, that skill that will eventually enable him to pick old moldy raisins and lint off the carpet to eat.

In the meantime, this is why God invented nursing necklaces, but anything else will do: a small toy, or something interesting on your clothing (big buttons, appliques, a brooch, etc). I’m told that as a baby, I had a penchant for rubbing my mother’s silky pajamas while nursing.  Whatever works.

What do you think? Did your baby have bad nursing habits? How did you handle it?

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2 Responses to “Nursing Manners”

  1. Your Momma on November 10th, 2010 11:14 pm

    Ahhhhh, how fondly I remember those sweet times! The most heart-warming 18 months of my life!!

    Love you, Mom

  2. Stacie on November 14th, 2010 1:52 pm


    Interesting you should post this. My son, 6th baby, now 8 months old has some of the worst nursing manners of all my kids. lol

    He reminds me of a puppy with all the pushing he does while trying to nurse. Thankfully he’s not much of a biter like my other son seemed to be.

    But still – some of his habits HURT!

    So – his feeding gets cut short until he’s ready to eat nicely. :)

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