Fiddling the Night Away
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 13 No. 3, May-June 1996, pp. 78-80
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.
My twenty-month-old daughter has always liked to lay her cheek on my stomach or breast. My problem is that her favorite skin contact is now her hand on my nipple. When I remove her hand, it is obvious I have taken her most favored treasure. She is very insistent, even wanting to hold on through the night. It usually takes forty-five minutes for her to stop fiddling with my nipple and be sleeping soundly enough to remove her hand. Others who have had similar problems tell me that they just had to live with it, sometimes for years. I hope this is not the case, as I find this annoying and physically uncomfortable. Can you help me?
I also have a toddler who likes to pinch and play with my nipple. I, too, find it annoying. We have found two things that help without direct confrontation and obvious distress. If I just remove her hand she gets very upset, but if I remove her hand and put it on her belly button she fiddles with that instead. At night when I nurse her in the side-lying position I nurse her with the "top" breast (i.e., right breast if I'm lying on my left side and vice versa). Since the other breast is hard to get to in this position she doesn't fiddle with it.
While I understand how difficult it is to tell your daughter she isn't allowed to do something that she obviously loves to do, I also believe that it is unnecessary to let her do something that is uncomfortable for you. This may result in you harboring resentment about your nursing relationship. You can be sensitive to her feelings and set limits. MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER addresses this situation briefly. The author, Norma Jane Bumgarner, suggests that you do not allow this behavior if it bothers you and says it is very important to be consistent. If you cannot find a way to simply take her hand away, gently explain to her that it is uncomfortable for Mommy and be consistent about not letting her do it. Good luck.
Mary Jo Aloi
Lake Park FL, USA
My two oldest boys, now eleven and nine years old, always "fiddled" while they nursed. They pulled hair, pinched nipples, tickled, scratched, fondled, and otherwise amused themselves until I could take it no more and would stop them. I did this by holding their hands, distracting them and explaining that it bothered me, etc. It sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. They nursed tandem, so for almost two years, I had two pairs of little hands to fend off!
I have very sensitive nipples, and cannot tolerate any kind of touch on them (except nursing). So when our daughter was born, I knew that "fiddling" might occur again and decided to do something about it. We started when she was two or three weeks old. Every time she nursed, I would gently place her hand on her belly button (it had already healed completely) every time she nursed. After only a few weeks, she had learned to do this on her own. Every time! The only hitch was that her clothes had to be unbuttoned or unzipped in front for her to find it! As we say in Spanish: "Santo remedjo!" ("Holy remedy!")
As Rachel grows, we've come to see and appreciate other benefits to this new way of "fiddling." At our house, the sight of Rachel coming toward me, pulling on her belly button, is a true and reliable indicator that her predictable request for a nursing signals a true and urgent need. My parents, who were annoyed by the sight of my boys touching my breasts, now smile with approval and remark how cute Rachel looks when she nurses!
The need to fiddle seems to be innate, universal, and irrepressible. With a little advance planning and minimal work, it is possible to meet all of our baby's needs at the breast in a gentle and loving way. In our family's experience, unpleasant fiddling was easier to prevent than to cure after it had become an ingrained and annoying habit.
Longview TX USA
I had a similar situation with my two-and-a-half-year old. I let him fiddle with my nipple, because he would complain and cry if I moved his hand. When he insisted on doing this in public, I became annoyed and embarrassed. Finally, pregnant again and severely nauseated, I needed to insist on more personal space, and I set some limits for him. Interestingly, despite my hesitation, I found that when I was clear that this behavior was not okay, he accepted my decision.
I let him know firmly but lovingly that it was no longer acceptable to fiddle with my nipple. At night I told him I couldn't sleep if he held my nipples. Instead he could do one of the following:
a) touch my belly
b) touch or hold a favorite stuffed animal
c) touch his own body
I also offered to massage him as an alternative. Often after a short nursing period, he would want to receive a massage.
I was never angry or punishing. Instead I was very clear and unwavering in my decision and gave him several positive alternatives. I never offered him "just a minute of fiddling" or any other option that, in reality, was unacceptable to me. Once we established a new routine and Gabriel became accustomed to his new choices, he was happy. Several months later, he is still a contented child.
Kilauea HI USA
Both of my daughters, four-and-a-half and eighteen months, have enjoyed fiddling with my nipples. I have never enjoyed it! My oldest daughter went through a long phase of having to touch and pick at any mole she saw on my skin (being fair skinned I have lots). This made me want to crawl out of my skin and climb the walls. Like you, I have friends who shrug off this kind of touch or fail to notice it at all. What a relief it was to find that there is a term for my reaction—tactile sensitivity. The fact that there is a name for it told me there are other mothers like me!
It took a long time to realize that my physical comfort is as important as my daughters' and that they could be comforted by playing with my fingers or another less trying contact. I handled this just as I did biting while nursing: a firm, calm "no" as I removed her hand, explaining that that kind of touching hurts Mommy (for simplicity's sake I defined nerve discomfort as pain). Both of my daughters objected, sometimes with sadness, sometimes with anger. Something that seemed to satisfy each girl's need for hand contact with me while nursing or snuggling was feather-brushing their palms with my fingers.
Good luck! Remember that although your child is very important, she is no more important than you are.
Marlborough NH, USA
Our son was ten months old when he started to "fiddle" with the other nipple while nursing. No matter how much I tried to discourage him it really seemed like a need, so I decided to let him continue. My nipples became a great source of comfort to the point where he would just pull out the neck of my shirt and shove his hand down! I did not like this or the "fiddling," but there was nothing I could do to discourage this behavior. At night between nursings, my son would sleep grasping both nipples. If I tried to turn over, he would wake and climb over me to find them. Sometimes after being kept awake by this all night my nipples would be sore, so I would lie on my stomach with elbows tucked into my ribs so he could not squeeze his hands under me. This normally resulted in an angry little boy who would proceed to either scratch my back, pinch me, or pull my hair. The last straw came when he was two-and-a-half years old. We were on a crowded bus in downtown Ottawa. Frantically pulling my jacket, he screamed at the top of his lungs, "I want Boooby, I waaant Booooby!"
Immediately I stopped allowing him to pull at my shirt neck. I had had enough. I no longer allowed my strong-willed son to swing on my clothes in search of his "booby." I tried to compensate with more cuddles and attention. Eventually the daytime fiddling stopped.
Otis stopped nursing during the night shortly before he was three years old and now understands that fiddling keeps me awake. We had lots of chats about fiddling, and I'm happy to say that now there is more hugging and cuddling than fiddling. Otis now sleeps holding only my breast and not my nipple. We get more sleep, and I'm hoping he will soon adapt to the new idea of morning time cuddles only. It has been a very long and difficult process for us. It's nice to know we're not alone.
Tracy Leon Harper
Nepean Ontario Canada
It's exciting when our children begin to explore the world and make new discoveries, but like you I was dismayed when my son discovered my nipples.
At first I thought it was cute when he plucked at my nipple as though it were a Cheerio to be snatched up and devoured. I figured he'd cease his "fiddling" when he discovered the nipple was attached. But, alas, it became part of his nursing ritual to pull on the free nipple while he nursed on the other. My nipples soon became quite raw, and I knew something had to change.
The solution was quite simple. When my son reached out to find his favorite "twist-toy" I held my hand over my nipple and offered him a pacifier I was holding in that hand. I kept a firm grip on the pacifier so that when he pulled on the rubber nub my nipple remained covered. Over time I have been able to remove my protective hand and allow him to hold the pacifier in his own hand where he can pick at it to his heart's content.
Battle Ground WA USA
My twenty-month-old son likes to hold my nipple. His older brother was attached to a pacifier and started carrying it around as a security object before he gave it up. Perhaps your daughter doesn't feel the need to nurse but wants to hold on to your nipple to feel secure.
Explaining that "some things are for your mouth and some things are for your hands" has helped us. When my son bites a crayon, I say "That is not for your mouth, it's for your hands"; likewise, nipples are for your mouth for "nummies," not for hands. Sometimes it helps to get silly. Children this age enjoy humor. My son thinks it's hilarious for me to wear his hat or put a sock on his hand. When he grabs my nipple, in a silly exaggerated voice I say, "That's not for your hand, silly!" When he tells me it's important to him to feel a connection with me, I nurse him.
Midwest City OK, USA