Long before baby arrives, many parents choose to take a breastfeeding class.
For many, this will be their first exposure to the world of breastfeeding. These 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. Your breastfeeding class may also touch on many of the speed bumps nursing parents can encounter like sore nipples, cluster feeding and growth spurts.
But there’s an oft overlooked practical aspect of breastfeeding. While not as pressing in those early weeks, is equally as important: Nursing manners.
Many expecting parents picture the image of Mary breastfeeding Jesus. You may picture the serenity on her face as she gazes down at her baby who is contentedly nursing at her breast. You may envision this as the type of relationship you’ll have with your own baby while nursing. In the early days, once the common obstacles are overcome, this is what breastfeeding looks like for most, but what many don’t realize is that for some older babies their preference is for nursing to become an interactive, acrobatic almost olympic sport.
Breastfeeding should be a positive and rewarding experience for both you and your baby.
While it is entirely normal for babies to want to twiddle, scratch, pat the breast, reach down your shirt, nurse upside down or standing up it doesn’t mean that you have to permit something that is uncomfortable or painful to you. It may be cute at four months old for the baby to pat and pinch your breast as they nurse; at six months when the baby is bigger and stronger these actions can leave scratches and bruises and cause 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 her 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 shape behavior in your baby. These actions can keep 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. This increased activity level doesn’t have to equal a painful or uncomfortable experience for you.
Around 4 or 5 months it is common for babies to become “distracted nursers.”
At this age, it is natural for them to become more aware of their surroundings. As a result, they also become 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 with less noise. Or create a nursing routine that is consistent and familiar to your child.
Ask any breastfeeding parent 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 and habits can help you maintain a positive, healthy, comfortable, and enjoyable nursing relationship. For months and years to come!