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Toddler Tips

Setting Limits with Your Nursing Toddler

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 1, January-February 2000, pp 15-16

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.

Situation

My three-year-old wants to nurse constantly during the day. I know I'm not pregnant and we haven't had any major family stresses lately. In the last year, it has started to become uncomfortable to nurse him, perhaps because my milk supply is so low. It seems like he asks to nurse in all kinds of situations, whether he is hungry or hurt or bored. I would like to reduce his nursing frequency. He responds to loving guidance in other areas, but cries when I attempt to limit his nursing. I am happy to spend time with him doing other activities: reading, snuggling, and going outdoors. How can I set appropriate boundaries for daytime nursing with my three-year-old?

Response

Setting limits with a three-year-old nursling can be a real challenge! I have found that it is almost always easier to be proactive than reactive. My current nursling is nearly three and is very vocal and persistent about his own requests to nurse. We have negotiated certain times and places (for example, before naptime or in my rocking chair) for nursing. I try to plan lots of interesting activities and suggest them before he asks to nurse. One thing I noticed with one of my older children was that if I spent a lot of time on the telephone, he would ask to nurse more as a way of getting my attention.

If you haven't already read it, I highly recommend the book MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER, by Norma Jane Bumgarner. I found it to be an invaluable resource, especially with my first three-year-old nursling. Three-year-olds are mastering many challenging new skills and may find nursing to be especially comforting during a time filled with transitions.

Laura Hankins
Charlotte NC USA

Response

Perhaps it would help to try to anticipate more of his needs? You say he asks to nurse when hungry, hurt, or bored. While you can't eliminate the hurts, perhaps you could have a prepared snack ready in the refrigerator or cabinet that he can reach and plan a few quickly organized activities for each day.

Sharon Starkston
Hinsdale IL USA

Response

I nursed my almost three-year-old regularly up until about a month ago, including two to four times at night. Then I became pregnant and was not keeping down enough liquids even without nursing. I was getting dehydrated because of severe morning sickness, so I had to nurse my son less frequently. First, I told him that we would not be nursing so often. I also had to stand up much more and leave the comfortable places we usually sat when we nursed. He soon understood what I was doing and stopped asking to nurse. We spend a lot of time doing other things together—we play with cars, read books, watch some television, dance and listen to music, go for walks, play outside, and many other activities to keep our close bond. The first week was the most difficult for us!

Jane Osborn
Springville PA USA

Response

I understand what you are going through. You sound frustrated that your son asks to nurse so often at this age, and this is exactly how I felt six months ago.

My youngest daughter is three-and-a-half, and we went through this stage not so long ago. Here are some of the things we did.

I found that if I always told her "no" or "later" she would become even more determined to nurse and was upset when we didn't. I decided to allow her unrestricted nursing while at home for a few weeks. Once she became comfortable and secure that her needs would be met, I began to gently suggest doing other things when she wanted to nurse, trying to bring up other ideas before she asked to nurse. If she was adamant about nursing, we nursed—no questions. But as time went by, she became more willing to have a drink or snack, or cuddle and share a book.

Another idea that worked for us was counting. When my daughter asked to nurse, I would tell her I would count to ten (or say the ABCs). Then I would count - slowly or fast, depending on my patience that day—and we would stop nursing when I reached 10 or Z. She learned her numbers and letters quickly this way, and I was able to meet her needs while maintaining my sanity on those really challenging days!

I found that by filling the need she had for nursing when it was very strong, she was able to let go of that need a little at a time and let other things replace it. Now she usually nurses at bedtime and occasionally in the morning, but once in a while, she will feel a strong need to nurse during the day and I am able to recognize that and fill it.

It took six months for us to reach this point, so this is no quick and easy fix! But your son will outgrow it before you realize it! I hope some of these ideas help you. Good luck!

Lizz Curoe
Bernard IA USA

Response

When my daughter Anna was two-and-a-half and still nursing, she began what we called the "hungry bird" phase. No matter how often we fed her, it seemed like every five minutes she would tell us that she was hungry. Finally one day I stopped what I was doing and asked her, "Are you hungry for food, or hungry for love?" Her eyes fit up as she smiled and said, "I'm hungry for love!" and with that we cuddled and gave each other a big hug. I think the important thing to learn here is that our kids need to be taught how to differentiate their own needs. To do that we first have to teach them to name those needs. If you can teach your son to tell you that he is bored, or hungry, or hurt, it will be that much easier for the two of you to decide what to do about those needs without always having to resort to nursing. I hope this helps.

Kathy L. Abbott
Beverly MA USA

Response

First of all, make sure you are offering meals, snacks, and drinks every two to three hours. I've found that once a child has asked to nurse because he's hungry or thirsty, he usually won't accept a different snack at that point.

Second, decide where and when you are willing to nurse and let your child know your guidelines. Let him decide when to nurse as much as possible. Use your judgment to relax your guidelines on days when he really seems to need to nurse more.

You may be surprised that he's accepting of these limits once you're firm about them. It helps if he has some choices about when to nurse. On the other hand, he may still cry and carry on if he wants to nurse when you are somewhere you don't feel comfortable nursing. Be sure to offer to nurse when you get home. I'm sure there are many other decisions you have to make for your son that don't make him happy. Setting limits is part of the job.

Jeanne Schrank
Milwaukee WI USA

Response

My two-and a-half-year-old daughter also asks to nurse frequently during the day. I think that sometimes she asks in order to exercise her control. "Nur-nur" is always available to her upon awakening in the morning, at naptime, and bedtime. She usually requests to nurse about an hour after getting out of bed and I have found that if I comply and give her my undivided attention, with conversation and cuddles, it will satiate her. Later, when she asks, I often tell her that "nur-nur" is resting. She's usually satisfied with that explanation. If she persists, I hold my ground, but offer to hug and cuddle her, to read a book, or play a game. She's come to accept that, with rare exceptions, we nurse only at home, on the couch or in bed. As children grow, I think it 's okay to deny nursing requests as long as you are available to your child and can satisfy their needs in other ways.

P.S. I also occasionally experience discomfort while nursing—it might be because these little people are getting stronger!

Leah Riordan
Glendale CA USA

Response

When I was tandem nursing my three-year-old with her newborn brother, she often seemed to nurse constantly. At other times, when we were visiting grandma or doing something exciting outside the house, she didn 't ask to nurse and I would get engorged.

I noticed that she would want to nurse mostly when she was bored and I sat down to relax or talk on the phone. She especially wanted to nurse if her brother was nursing. "I want to nurse because HE'S nursing!" she would say. Keep them busy is the only advice I have!

Maureen Sullivan-Panse
Palm Beach Gardens FL USA

Last updated Tuesday, October 17, 2006 by njb.
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