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Mothering My Nursing Toddler

Amanda Mayan
Hollywood, FL, USA
From New Beginnings, Vol. 26 No. 2, 2009, p. 20

I have a two-and-a-half-year-old nursling, who has a tendency to be whiny. Here are a few thoughts and observations from our household that may help other mothers.

When Maya whines, her usual way of asking for something -- anything -- I think she is whining because she has been thinking about what she wants for a while but is perhaps too distracted by her current activity to make a request. I don't think children of her age (particularly ones who are still nursing) have fully differentiated themselves from their mothers, thus something in Maya's mind is, to her, as good as said already. By the time the request comes out of her mouth, she's already asked it in her mind a couple of times over and so we hear the whiny desperation. Perhaps I'm wrong but this explanation helps me cope with the whining!

I remind Maya to ask for what she wants without whining; but I don't think it's really fair to expect her to do this when she feels the request is so urgent. If someone asks for something routinely and sometimes gets it and sometimes doesn't, that person will keep asking -- frequently -- since whether or not she will get what she is asking for seems to be totally random. I am particularly thinking of nursing here. Consistency is key.

There are three ways to eliminate the frequent requests. Say yes all of the time (and the asking will decrease because the child learns she can nurse any time she wants to); say no all of the time (the child will eventually understand that the activity is no longer an option); or have predictable times for the activity (so the child knows what to expect) and then make a point of setting aside that time for her and the activity. For example, sit on the couch and say that this is the time to nurse if you want to and I will be here for the next 15 minutes. Give her your undivided attention. She can nurse then, if she wants. If not, then she can nurse at the next set nursing time.

Two-year-olds are very young and fool you with their ability to talk and dress themselves. A two-year-old may be treated less like a baby than she still feels she is. Perhaps she has always been able to nurse whenever she chose to and now she is being told to wait. It's hard for her to understand what's going on. I try to give Maya specific reasons, "when this show is over you can nurse," "when I get down off the ladder you can nurse." One mother suggests narrating your progress toward nursing time, "I'm climbing down, I've got two more steps, I'm walking toward the couch where we can nurse," so that she knows how close she is to being able to nurse. It's hard for young children to conceptualize time.

Sometimes I feel "nursed out." I notice that when I'm feeling this way I withhold nursing more often and then my daughter wants to nurse still more. Here are some of the things I try to do when I'm feeling "nursed out."

  • Have special time with my husband since feeling connected to him helps me give more of myself to my family.
  • Remember that my daughter will not nurse forever and my feeling this way is a phase I'm going through.
  • Make some time alone for myself a couple of times a day to recharge: a cup of tea, a shower, or ten minutes with a good magazine.
  • Say yes to the requests for nursing with a smile. I think smiles change your body chemistry.

When I'm feeling "nursed out" and tired of meeting Maya's needs, I talk to everyone who will listen sympathetically to my feelings. These are gripe sessions, but trading stories and knowing others care makes me feel better.

I don't complain to people who will not be supportive of my continuing to nurse. Luckily, there are La Leche League meetings for exactly the sort of mother-to-mother sharing I need.

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