Long before birth many parents choose to take a class on breastfeeding.
For many this will be their first exposure to the world of nursing, and classes cover important topics like how to achieve a good latch, how to properly position baby at the breast, and how to tell if baby is getting enough milk. The class may also touch on many of the speed bumps nursing mothers can encounter like sore nipples, cluster feeding and growth spurts. But there’s an oft overlooked practical aspect of breastfeeding that, while not as urgent in those early weeks, is equally as important: Nursing manners.
Many expecting mothers picture the image of Mary breastfeeding Jesus. They picture the serenity on her face as she gazes down at her baby who is contentedly nursing at her breast as the type of relationship they’ll have with their own baby while nursing. In the early days once the common obstacles are overcome that is what breastfeeding looks like for most mothers, but what many don’t realize is that for some older babies their preference is for nursing to become an interactive and acrobatic sport.
Breastfeeding should be a positive and rewarding experience for both mother and baby. While it is completely normal for babies to want to twiddle, scratch, pat the breast, reach down mom’s shirt, nurse upside down or standing up it doesn’t mean that mothers have to permit something that is uncomfortable or painful to her. It may be cute at 4 months old for baby to pat and pinch your breast as they nurse; at 6 months when baby is bigger and stronger these actions can leave scratches and bruises and cause mom much pain.
As you start your breastfeeding journey, give some thought to what boundaries you’d like to establish for breastfeeding. Start implementing your boundaries early. Our clients have found that the two most effective ways to curb unwanted nursing behavior is to distract and redirect. If your newborn’s grasping reflex causes him to pinch, redirect the reflex to your finger. Hold hands with your baby as she nurses and kiss his fingers and hands while nursing right from the start. For older babies who are beginning to reach for objects to explore their world, try a nursing necklace for them to grasp and twiddle. These subtle actions establish behavior in your baby that keeps your nursing relationship comfortable and positive for all parties – You’re important too!
Even very young babies respond quickly to positive reinforcement. A big smile, kiss to the hands, or caress on their toes communicates love, while gently redirecting the pinching fingers or wiggly, kicking feet to a more enjoyable interaction. As babies get older you can expect nursing time to transition from the sweet, serene experience of infancy to something more active, but this increased activity level doesn’t have to equal a painful or uncomfortable experience for moms. Around 4 or 5 months it is common for babies to become “distracted nursers” because they are more aware of their surroundings, and more engaged with their environment. If this becomes an especially challenging situation for you it may be worth considering ways to help baby focus by reducing outside distractions during nursing. You can dim lights, relocate to somewhere quieter, or create a nursing routine that is consistent and familiar for your child.
Ask any mom who has experienced “niplash”: It’s not fun! But it also doesn’t have to be a regular thing. Being proactive about setting nursing patterns can help you maintain a positive, healthy, comfortable, and enjoyable nursing relationship for months and years to come!