Disclaimer: Many people do not experience a “bad” phase of nursing. So don’t expect that nursing a toddler will be painful for you.. But if you DO experience it, take heart. Others have, too. And there are solutions.
Painful toddler nursing seems to be a hot topic recently. I’ve seen four or five threads on this in the breastfeeding forums that I frequent, and I’ve had several friends mention it as either an annoying phase that they’re hoping will pass, or as the reason that they weaned or are planning on weaning.
If you are experiencing painful toddler nursing and WANT to wean, I don’t blame you. There were a few times when, after nursing for a couple of minutes, I wanted to hand my toddler to my husband and go away for three days until he forgot that breasts existed. It wasn’t just painful the way nursing a newborn was. It felt ABUSIVE. I knew that my son didn’t mean anything by it, but it was painful and it was rough. It hurt, and it felt violating.
It’s very hard to find good advice and support on breastfeeding a newborn, because many women have their attempts sabotaged by medical professionals. As our child gets older, it becomes even more difficult to get any advice other than “Maybe it’s time to quit”. Very few women make it to the one year mark, and most of those never make it to see two years. This means that there’s a tremendous lack of women that can answer questions, offer solutions and support and tell you that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m still nursing my 27 month old. He has a full mouth of teeth, and we got past the nipple twisting, the “I want to nurse but I want to watch this tennis game on TV while nursing”, the “I want to nurse but I want you to sit on THAT side of the couch and I want to sit on the OTHER side of the couch, and I expect your nipple to accommodate this request by becoming magically rubber-like. If it does not work this way, I will subject it to medieval torture techniques” thing. Oh and the “My child seems to be related to some family of creature that has razor-sharp teeth, and I’m afraid that I’m going to lose my nipple” thing. And the biting thing.. And.. Oh. I still have my nipples. In fact, my son nurses more comfortably for me now than he did for the first year of his life.
So what do you do?
A lot of the time it boils down to nursing manners. As with anything in your life, you need to set clear boundaries with your toddler. Hitting is not acceptable, biting while nursing is not allowed.. But also less aggressive behaviors such as nipple twiddling, pulling away while nursing, etc.
Some of these behaviors can be hard to break a child of, as the child learns that twiddling mom’s nipple is comforting and it brings her milk down quickly. Or the child might want to pull away from the nipple to see more of the world around him. Or some of the problems can even be purely physical. A tooth might feel like a razor-sharp protrusion that hurts even when your child is latched on perfectly.
If your child is biting: If your child is biting you can try several different things. I’m starting with the one that worked for me: Simply keep your pinky finger near your child’s mouth. When your child starts to bite down, jam your finger into the corner of his mouth between his back gums and break the bite and the latch. If your child bites three times, announce that nursing is “done for now” and “No biting mama, that hurts.” Try to stay as calm as possible. With my son anything that scared him would make him bite down harder. Anything that didn’t scare him would amuse him and he’d… you guessed it, bite down harder. Other techniques involve:
– Yelping loudly in pain. Be careful doing this if you have a sensitive child or one that is amused easily. A sensitive child might refuse to nurse again out of fear. A child that is amused by your yelp might bite you again to see the funny reaction.
– Pressing the baby’s face into your breast so that his nose is covered and air flow is temporarily cut off. Baby doesn’t like the sensation and generally stops biting and doesn’t do it again. Just don’t do it for too long because obviously you don’t want to smother your baby. With my son, doing this frightened him and he nearly took my nipple off, but other parents have had success with this method- my mom used it on me and I only ever bit her twice in the four and a half years of nursing.
– Flicking your baby’s nose hard enough to startle but not hard enough to hurt. My son was amused by this when I did it lightly, and scared by it when I did it more strongly. MAJOR fail. Lots of biting. I had to pry him off and he left toothmarks in my breast. But this method worked on my brother.
– Terminating the nursing session as soon as the baby bites down. Say “NO BITING MAMA! We will nurse when you’re ready to not bite.” Some versions of this involve putting the baby down, sort of like a mini time-out. This just resulted in my son wanting to nurse for comfort and blubbering into my breast, but it has worked for many and seems to be one of the more commonly recommended ways for dealing with the problem of biting.
If your child has a sharp tooth: If your child has a sharp tooth, it can cause a lot of pain. Sometimes you can have deja vu with flashbacks to the early days of nursing. Little teeth can come out with bumpy jagged edges that HURT! Treat it like the newborh phase. Focus on latch, vary positions and try to find one that hurts less, or at least vary positions so that the tooth doesn’t rub on the same spot all the time. Coat your nipple and areola with some lansinoh or another nursing cream. A tooth typically only causes pain for about 1-3 weeks and then once the tooth has fully emerged the razor-surface has worn down a bit and become more dull, and your child has adjusted his latch so that it doesn’t rub quite as much. I found that with my son the first tooth on the top was the worst. The bottom teeth didn’t hurt as much because my son’s tongue cushioned them. (Although he did have a short period of bad latch becuase his teeth irritated his tongue!), once he had two teeth on the top and two on the bottom, the rest of the teeth barely hurt at all. I was expecting the canines to hurt like crazy! Not even a little bit.
– If your child is pulling back from the breast and stretching the breast painfully: Give them no where to pull to! Nurse them dangle-style so that your body is too close for them to push away. Nurse them up against the side of the couch so that they’re pushed into a corner and would have to push your entire body away in order to get the breast away. Nurse them football-hold with pillows supporting their back and head so that they can’t pull. Side-lay nurse and put pillows behind them so that they have no place to roll to. Lay on your back and have them nurse while sitting up, it makes it so that if they pull away too strongly it breaks the latch and they get frustrated. If they dig their little hands into your breast and lock their arms and push (Yeah, my son did that.) push their hands away, and tell them “No” the same as you would biting. It’s nursing manners. Three strikes, and we’ll nurse later. Explain “That hurts mommy”. If they’re nursing that way because they’re trying to see something, try to sit at an angle so that they can see whatever it is while they’re nursing. Otherwise reinforce what they CAN do with their hands while nursing. I encouraged my son to play gently with my hair, my earings, stroke my chin/face, point at my facial features so I could tell him the name of what it was, and stroke my collar bone area. He could also hold a truck and drive it across my collarbone area, or hold a blanket if he wanted. But he could NOT push away from me. That hurts mommy!
If your child is sucking so hard that it really feels like he’s sucking the marrow from your bones.. First check to make sure that he hasn’t over-latched. Make sure that his lips stay within your areola. If your toddler is taking in TOO MUCH breast tissue it can hurt even worse than if your toddler is taking in too little breast tissue or “nipple nursing”. I had to teach my son to latch shallowly on my left side because his mouth outgrew my areola in certain positions. This can result in the feeling that your breast tissue is being torn, and it actually can result in tears and bleeding! Ouch!
If it’s just a hard strong suck, this is somewhat normal. Toddlers become very efficient little suckers and sometimes it can be painful when they’re very hungry. Once your child is over a year old you can offer some solids before nursing. This usually slows the sucking down. If it doesn’t, demonstrate “gentle” and “hard” sucks on your child’s thumb. Say “GENTLE” and “OUCH!” and say “If you hurt mommy we can’t nurse now. Can you nurse gently?” Again, three strikes and the toddler is out and they can nurse again later.
If your child is nipple-twiddling the solution is much the same as the “pushing away”. Try to make it so that it CAN’T happen by keeping that side of your bra latched and pushing away any little hands that try to get under it. Hold your child’s hands, or even “swaddle to nurse”. Play hand-games, encourage your child to do the things that DO NOT hurt mommy. Buy a nursing necklace, let him play with a doll or a truck or a stuffed animal or blanket. Patiently insist that the child not twiddle, and practice three strikes.
Got a problem not covered here? We’d love to hear about your solution, or even just hear what the problem is. We might have experienced it, solved it, and forgotten about it. Or we might know someone who can get the answer for you.
(Original article on my former blog- CustomMadeMilk: http://custommademilk.wordpress.com/2009/02/23/painful-toddler-nursing/ )