It’s ok to say “No” sometimes.
Actually, if you’re considering weaning because you’ve had enough of your boob addicted toddler, saying “No” may just prolong your breastfeeding relationship with your child and make breastfeeding more enjoyable for everyone in the long run. Is there a difference between feed on demand and constant, in your shirt every five minutes? Yes, yes there is.
Believe me… I’ve bitten the pillow and the back of my hand out of pure frustration. I’ve had visions of throwing my poor little one off of me… I had had enough! I thought I was going to have to wean because I just couldn’t handle it anymore! I was resenting the fact that my breastfeeding toddler.JUST.WOULD.NOT.STOP.
Even though all the gentle parent pages out there say it’s normal for a toddler to breastfeed constantly and it won’t last forever, and that toddlers need to feed for comfort… I was 100% over it. I wasn’t comfortable anymore! I KNEW the situation wouldn’t last forever… but it didn’t make the boob crazy toddler any easier to deal with in that moment!
Luckily, I learned some things early on that saved and prolonged my breastfeeding relationship. My kids are 4 and nearly 2 and both still on the boob. We’ve reached a very happy equilibrium where everyone’s needs (including mine) are met. Unmet needs of a mother is a real thing and something that you don’t want to ignore. So before you’re ready to throw in the towel on breastfeeding a boob crazy toddler, consider a few things.
Offer Comfort in Other Ways
Often, a toddler who comes to you screaming for boobs, like, ripping your shirt off, (even though they just had boob half an hour ago), is probably after some connection time. No child is trying to misbehave, manipulate you or do anything to betray you when they come crying for boobie. They are simply acting out their frustrations and needs in any way that they know how. They know that asking for boob will get them some sort of connection time with you. If you know that they’re not hungry or thirsty and have just had boobs, here are some ideas that I have found to be the absolute most useful for creating some very powerful connection time.
- Play silly games that will make them laugh (not laughing at them). Peek-a-boo always makes a child laugh and they will love that you have stopped what you are doing to give them some meaningful connection time. Hide and seek, chasing, etc. You can try other nonsense games like, “Where’s the teddy’s boobies? Does the dinosaur have boobies? What if we have daddy’s boobies? etc.” There are so many ways you can play with them to create connection. You can also use the silly game thing for when they try to shove their hand down your shirt (personally, I can’t stand that!). Instead of saying, “No, gentle hands.” (for the millionth time) you can gently hold their arm and say, “Oh, I’ve got your arm!” They’ll most likely laugh and you can make a little game of it. This won’t make them think it’s ok to rip your shirt off, rather it will give them that meaningful connection and laughter to help release some tension. Plus, when they laugh, you probably will too, and then you’ll both be feeling better. There is a fantastic book that I read called “Attachment Play” by Aletha Solter, which goes over ways you can incorporate play into your lives. (they may also cry when you say it’s time to stop playing, more on that in a second).
- Go for a walk using a baby carrier (if they grab your boobs and you have a carrier that allows it, put them on your back!). The closeness will give a great feeling of connection.
- Have a pillow fight and really let them pretend to knock you down, exaggerate a little here so that they laugh. This will let them feel like they get to ‘boss you around‘ for once.
- Other ways of connecting like reading books, and playing blocks, will work, but it will probably take a long time of you sitting there and you may start feeling resentful about this too! You can do these things too, but do them in a silly way! Then, they will get a really high dose of connection that is hard to beat.
Consider Age-Appropriate Night Weaning
When my kids were night weaned, between the ages of 20-22 months, they slept considerably better at night. I’ve heard the same from many other mothers. It was a gentle and gradual night weaning that happened over many many months. We’re co-sleepers in our house, so night weaning only meant that we offered shortened feeds and cuddles instead of boob at night, or maybe a sip of water. And, night weaning is not something I rigidly enforce. Actually, sometimes, if my toddler has been on a daytime feeding strike or if I’m at work, I’ll give ONE drowsy feed at night just to make sure my supply stays up and they’re getting enough milk. If you don’t find the night wakings to be a problem, then maybe you don’t feel the need to night wean. But, if your toddler is waking a billion times a night and you’re considering weaning all together because of it… it could be a sign that they are addicted to boob… which leads us to the next topic.
Won’t They Cry?
Yes! They will absolutely cry. Up until this point, they’ve probably been offered boob whenever they were upset about anything, so not offering the boob will actually allow them to get a good cry out… Which might seem weird and unusual! But then, we have to look at how we look at crying in our society in the first place. Crying is looked at as something that should be avoided. But, in reality, it’s a natural mechanism that helps children heal from stress and trauma (imagine how you feel after you’ve had a good cry). People have actually studied the chemicals in human tears and found that quite a bit of stress and toxins are released through tears. So, if your toddler is looking for boobs that they just had five minutes ago and then they cry… maybe it’s a cry of frustration that needed to come out anyway? Just something to think about.
When they cry, try holding them or stay near and let them know that you are there for them. Try not to walk away or do anything else other than to let them have their tantrum and support it in a loving way. By allowing them to have a good cry, rather than offering the boob, it can help them, especially if they have been acting out or acting aggressively. You can look up cry-in-arms for more information on the benefits of lovingly allowing a child to release their emotions.
A well known scenario in my house goes like this: If my toddler has just had boobies and comes over sticking a hand down my shirt and whining, “BOOOOOOBIE!!!“, I look them in the eye while giving a cuddle and say, “No sweetheart, not now, you’ve just had boobies.” Often times, this will initiate full blown crying! Our first reaction is to do anything to stop the crying… but I don’t. Instead, I think about why she might be crying (maybe she’s tired, upset, frustrated, etc.) and then, I say something like, “Yes, I know you’re upset” and that may even intensify the cry. It’s exactly what happens to us adults… you know when you’re feeling upset about something and you’re on the verge of tears and then all of a sudden, somebody lovingly pays attention to you? Bam, instant tears because all of a sudden your feelings are acknowledged and those feelings want to find a way to release themselves! And then, we often feel much better afterwards.
Should You Distract Them?
It’s better not to distract them, rather deal with the emotions and situation directly. In a pinch, distractions might be great, (even things like using a dummy (pacifier) are considered distractions) but in the long run, when you distract a child from their need to connect with you, it will only bubble up later as some other undesirable behavior.
Won’t I Confuse Them?
A lot of woman are concerned that you will end up confusing your toddler if you say “No” sometimes to boob and “Yes” other times. But, again, it just comes down to awareness of the child’s need. It can take some time to really start to differentiate between when they really need boob and when they’re just asking for it out of habit or asking for it repress any painful emotions or feelings. Also, if you’re resenting the non-stop breastfeeding, it’s pretty hard to hide these feelings for too long! Even if you’re really good at hiding it from one child for a couple years, you might have a second child and find that you’ve exhausted all of your patience and you’re totally over it! There is nothing confusing about listening to the true needs of you and your child.
Nursing aversion often rears is ugly head the most when you’re ovulating, have your period or are pregnant. I used to always think it was my toddler’s latch that was off and that she was hurting me, but really, it was my sore nipples that was driving me nuts! So, if you suspect or know that any of these things are the cause of your annoyance, keep in mind that the aversion may only last for a couple days. I usually reduce the number and duration of feeds during these days and then we pick back up again when the hormonal days are over.
In the End
Only you know how much you can tolerate from a boob obsessed toddler. But, you need to take your needs into consideration too. You also have to consider if a toddler is coming for boob when really they are looking for something else. Unmet needs of a mother can lead to desperate feelings of anger, resentment and despair, and those feelings don’t benefit anyone. Of course, we need to take our children’s needs into consideration, but that’s something you already know if you’ve read this far!
Don’t forget to be creative and have fun! I was at the height of my nursing aversion when my older daughter was 2 1/2 and just for fun, I gave her rice milk in a bottle and pretended to hold her like a baby. She thought it was a riot because she never actually drank from a bottle! In the end, if you’ve tried cutting back on feeds, tried night weaning and everything else and if it STILL doesn’t feel right, then maybe it is time for you to wean if you’re not enjoying it. No matter what you end up doing, remember that you are not alone and there are many MANY other breastfeeding mothers out there who are experiencing exactly the same thing as you!