If you have ever watched a cat or kitten appear delighted as they purposefully knead your lap, you can imagine how they stimulate the milk-ejection reflex doing a similar action against their mother’s chest while feeding.
Your baby will get the same outcome when they stroke or brush the nipple with their hand while breastfeeding. Your body will respond to the gentle stimulation with a surge of the hormone oxytocin, which not only releases the milk but makes you feel warm and fuzzy about your baby.
It’s when they are still doing this a year later and gentle brushing has become pulling, tugging, pinching or grabbing that it stops being warm and fuzzy and can lead a mother to want to stop breastfeeding altogether.
Not all babies do this and not all mothers find it annoying. However, it can be a hard habit to change once it sets in, so if you have especially sensitive nipples or you really find it unpleasant, the sooner you take action, the easier it might be.
5 Steps To Stop Nipple Tweaking
Here are 5 steps you can take now to help you and your baby make breastfeeding a more enjoyable experience, minus the tweaking:
#1: Stop The Habit From Starting Up
Those learning from past experience or taking advice from other mothers often set a ‘zero tolerance’ approach from the outset. At the first sign of their baby taking interest in the other breast during feed times, they gently redirect or provide an alternative.
You can offer your young baby your finger or hand to grasp, or simply move their hand away from the second breast.
#2: Redirect With Words And Actions
If your child begins to reach for the breast or nipple while feeding, verbally remind him, “Pinching hurts mama”, or “Necklaces are for playing with”, while also physically redirecting him. Choose a phrase that is simple and that you are happy to repeat in front of others. Keep it positive or neutral in tone. Be consistent about redirection – if you allow the behaviour sometimes but prevent it at others, your child will become unsure and confused about your message.
In extreme cases, you may need to cover your breast with your own hand for the length of the feed, or abruptly end the feed stating boobies are finished because of the behaviour (or otherwise give a very strong message). Be gentle with your words and actions, even when you must be firm. Creating a negative association with the breast may lead to your baby refusing to feed or weaning before you both are ready. Read more here: Breastfeeding Boundaries: Why It’s Okay To Say ‘No’ To Your Toddler.
#3: Offer An Alternative
Breastfeeding – or nursing – necklaces have long been used by mothers to keep little hands busy while feeding. You can now choose from a wide range of purpose-made necklaces made from silicone or wooden beads, made to resist breaking apart or becoming a choking hazard. By wearing one at every feed, they soon become a focus for your baby’s eyes and hands and you can encourage wandering fingers to play with the beads instead.
You can also introduce a small soft toy which can be cuddled during feeds, keeping the hand and arm occupied. This might later become a helpful transition item during weaning.
#4: Cover Up
Reduce access to the second breast when feeding by choosing bras and clothing which only expose the one breast. Restrict wandering fingers with multiple layers, higher necklines and maximum skin coverage.
Night feeding – especially if you co-sleep – can be more challenging. Most breastfeeding mothers wear loose-fitting garments to sleep in and some sleep topless. You might need to sacrifice some convenience for control by wearing close-fitting tops with higher necklines.
#5: Focus On Your Baby
Sometimes your baby just needs to connect with you, especially if you are chatting, reading or otherwise occupied during breastfeeds. By simply taking the time to stroke, speak to and focus on the child, you can minimise his need to tweak and twiddle during the feed. Older babies and toddlers usually have much shorter feeding sessions than when they were younger, and the few minutes you can give them your full focus can be all you need to do reduce the habit.
These strategies will also help with hair pulling, mouth exploring and fingers up your nose! Let us know how they work for you.
Remember that breastfeeding is a relationship between mother and child. By finding balance between both your needs you will have an enjoyable journey. You might like to read BellyBelly's article, Breastfeeding Toddlers – Why Are You Still Breastfeeding?!