Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When To Wait to Nurse

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting advice!

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we're writing letters to ask our readers for help with a current parenting issue. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


I have no hang ups about breastfeeding in public. I nurse my 19 month old anywhere and everywhere - indoors, outdoors, in shops, cafes, museums, parks, supermarkets or wherever we happen to be when she asks for a feed. But I must admit that I sometimes tire of my breasts being permanently available. It tends to happen on those velcro days when my daughter puts her hand down my bra every fifteen minutes.

I accept frequent feedings as part and parcel of the toddler nursing experience, and when we're at home I just put up with them. But I can get sick of them really quickly when we're out. Actually it's worst when we're at tots groups, and it is not because of embarrassment.

The thing is that the minute you get your breasts out to feed a toddler, you make it pretty obvious to everyone around that you are a fairly keen supporter of breastfeeding. I feel like a bit of a breastfeeding ambassador and the last thing I want to do is turn other mothers off breastfeeding because they think it will make their child needy like mine. In reality she is just a normal toddler, but we are not used to seeing children of her age nursing so any requests to nurse in public tend to be seen as over-demanding.

I was at just such a tots group recently and Cave Baby, having one of her velcro days, was on and off my boobs every few minutes. I was feeling a bit annoyed about this, but not so much that I would deny a request to nurse. Anyway, I happened to be talking to a lady who is extremely supportive of breastfeeding and had nursed her youngest child for three years. But I think she sensed my discomfort because at one point in our conversation she said, "Soon, you'll be able tell her to wait until later to nurse".

This comment sent my brain into one of its customary tailspins. Had she been trying to suggest that my daughter was too old to be nursing so often? Was she giving me a hint that it was time to start telling her to wait until we get home? Was she just saying what she thought I wanted to hear because I was annoyed with my daughter? Did she think that I was uncomfortable with the idea of nursing her in public? Did she think I was in need of permission to refuse to nurse?

Later I wondered when is the right time to ask a child to wait to nurse. I don't want to refuse my daughter, but sometimes it would be nice to say "Wait until we get in the car" or "Wait until we get home". Again, this is not out of embarrassment but rather convenience. I don't want to have to rearrange my clothing in the middle of the supermarket. Breastfeeding is a two-way relationship that has to work for both mother and child, so I have to get things my way occasionally.

Kellymom says that delaying nursing works for children over the age of 18 months or so. Reading other people's experiences (like Hobo Mama's here), I think it takes many toddlers a bit longer to learn to wait. I don't believe my daughter is ready yet.

So, dear readers, I need your help. What I want to know is whether you ever delayed nursing your child, and at what age you felt they were able to understand that they had to wait a few minutes. Please give me the benefit of your wealth of toddler nursing experience. I'll be so grateful!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by the end of the day April 13 with all the carnival links.)


Earth Mama said...

Hi Cave Mama!
I gave birth to my second when my eldest was 16 months. He was still BF but it just naturally happened that the baby nursed first and he had to wait. I didn't deny him - he just had to wait. I would gently say 'honey you have to wait for a bit' and that was it. It was a very natural transistion.

If you observe animals who are able to nurse their young long term, before there offspring is taken away to rehome; cows, dogs, cats etc. there always comes time when the mother pushes them away because she is too busy or not in the mood to feed them at that moment.

I think it is natural for mama to say - when the child is old enough to understand- 'just wait a bit'.

Best of luck!

Cave Mother said...

Earth Mama - I'd never thought about the analogy with nursing animals. As you'll know if you've read some of my other posts, I love learning about animal behaviour in relation to birth and childcare. So what you said really makes sense to me. Thanks!

Dionna @Code Name: Mama said...

That's a toughie, because it's so kid-dependent. Kieran wouldn't have been able to handle not having access to mama's milk at 18 months. He *still* gets upset a lot when I ask him to wait, and he's 28 months old. I think it's probably something you can work at in stages: "can you wait just a few seconds until I finish washing this dish?" "Can you give mama just a minute to find my book?" "Mama needs a few minutes to get a snack. Please give me a little bit of time." Do it at home and make it seem like no big deal, maybe that will help pave the way for when you need to wait for your own comfort while you're out.

Rambling Rachel said...

The concept of "wait" can be taught at 2. I use the word when I ask my daughter to wait for something she has requested (and she can see it will be coming soon -- lunch, snack, etc.). Of course, she does not always wait patiently and she has protested "wait" while in the car a few times ("no wait!").

She wanted to breastfeed while on a hike and I didn't feel like it. So I talked about "we don't have na-nas outside! We have na-nas at home!" I think she understood and seemed to accept it as she's learning the rules of what we do where and what goes where.

Cave Mother said...

Dionne - Actually, I think what you are suggesting is kind of what I do already. Which means my instincts are in there somewhere, intact, guiding me. It's always nice to hear from someone who sympathises and has been in a similar position herself!

Danielle said...

I do not, yet, have a nursing toddler. So, I'm not sure that I can be of much help.

All I can offer, is to say follow your instincts. I believe, strongly, that mama's know best. You know yourself. You know your little one. If you feel like your little one can start to wait, a bit, to nurse, give it a whirl. If you think that isn't possible yet, keep going as you will.

Your nursing relationship with your little one won't last forever, so you want to be sure it is fulfilling and satisfying to both of you.

Best of luck!

Betsy B. Honest said...

Of course I've delayed and declined feeding my toddlers on demand. They wouldn't have had such long and healthy nursing relationships if I didn't respect that bristling feeling at the back of my neck I'd sometimes get when they'd "demand."

I recall sitting on a sofa at a kid's birthday party with a couple of mom's nursing their newborns. When my 2.5 year old saw me there with nobody on my lap she walked up and asked for "boobies." When I said, "maybe later," (I really didn't feel like) she stomped her foot and yelled, "boobies NOW Mommy!" I told her to go to the kitchen and ask the hostess for a popsicle instead. She came back about five minutes later very proud of herself and her popsicle and a good time was had by all.

There's nothing wrong with not wanting to lift up your shirt to feed a demanding toddler in every social situation. We are social creatures and our needs to feel respected by our peers AND our toddlers is normal and healhty.

Kris said...

Asking a toddler who is 18 months or older to wait to nurse is perfectly reasonable. Once they can articulate a request to you, and can also respond to verbal "directions" or "cues" from you in other areas (go get this for mommy, pick up your toy, etc.), then they can be taught the concept of waiting. I agree with another poster - try small steps at home - wait just a minute while mommy gets a drink, wait while I finish this chore, etc. Gradually, she will come to understand that "wait" doesn't mean "no", it just means not right now, in a moment, etc. You can also start explaining "inappropriate" times to nurse, if you have such a place or time. At 18 months, babies are leaving the stage where the world revolves completely around them, and moving into the stage where they are learning that other people have needs also. It's our job as parents to read our kids and guide them gently to tne next phase (I am the mother of 5, from ages 20 down to 5, and have nursed all mine).

michelle said...

I think you've gotten some good advice here from mamas that are more experienced with nursing toddlers than I am.

If you're getting the instinct that you'd like to start waiting to nurse then it's probably the right time for you to start introducing the concept with your toddler. You won't know if it's the right time for your child until you try it out.

Good luck!

Lisa C said...

My son has never been one to nurse every 15 minutes. But he does sometimes ask to nurse when it's really inconvenient. I hated asking him to wait until he was somewhere between 18 and 20 months. He was usually able to wait before that age, but I didn't feel right asking him to. Now I usually feel okay having him wait a bit, I'd say up to 10 minutes--any longer and I just feel I am denying him. If I'm just plain nursed out, I offer him food and drink to see if that will work. Still age his current age of 21 months, I try to nurse him as soon as I can. You'll probably know when she's ready to wait a bit.

SaRAW said...

Well, I only have an 11 month old, so I'm not experienced with this, but I can say that you are the best judge of your child. If you don't feel your toddler is ready, then wait it out a little. Or, maybe try "asking" her if she can wait until you get to the car, etc... She may just say okay. Also, just out of curiosity, do you think she's nursing for comfort, or because she's thirsty? Maybe offering her some water when she asks to nurse would be an idea? Like I said, I'm clueless, but that is just my two cents! You're doing awesome, keep up the good work. We need more bfing advocates!

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

Now that I wrote that post, of course things have changed! :) Not dramatically, just that now, at 34 months old, Mikko can wait, sometimes, to nurse. It often actually works better if we're out in a busy place, because there's more to distract him. For instance, the other day I was trying to accommodate him in the home-improvement store, with burly men going past with 2x4s, and it just wasn't working well — we both had heavy clothes on, and he was getting frustrated that my shirt wouldn't stay open, and I just said, Let's wait till we get in the car. And he actually was fine with that.

But with your mention of tots groups — that's actually where I have the most problems, too. Not tots groups specifically, but any small social groups. He often is bored and feeling a little clingy in the midst of other kids and adults and wants to comfort nurse — off and on, the whole time we're there. I do feel conspicuous, but I'm trying to get over that feeling rather than making a big deal of it. Because in those situations still, it doesn't at all work to ask him to wait. It's too long a time to wait (several-hour-long meetings), and he's feeling uncomfortable as it is.

My suggestion, if you want to ask her to wait to nurse, is to try it out gradually and with specific details: like, "We're going to pay and go outside to the car, and I'll nurse you then." If she resists strongly, then you know it's too soon! If not, then you can experiment with what works for you both. I don't think it's wrong to ask an older nursling to wait when it's mutually agreeable.

Alexandra said...

When I wanted to wait to nurse my son, I did the "3 distractions thing". When he would ask and I was hoping to nurse him a little later, I would try to get him to do something else. If he asked a second time I tried to distract him again. If he asked a third time I nursed him. I would say we almost never got to him asking a thrid time and I was able to nurse him later. I felt that if he did get to the third time he really needed it for some reason. hope that helps!

BluebirdMama said...

The concept of wait can be difficult in some ways because your toddler doesn't really understand time. The concept of later is especially nebulous. I like Dionna's suggestions that are concrete: after I get a drink, etc. These are things your toddler can see and sort of relate to.

I've definitely asked both my kids to wait starting around that age. I tended to start with distraction techniques first and as they got more verbal, sometimes I just said "Not right now." Every child is going to be ready at a different time.

I think the most important thing is recognizing when they CAN wait. Sometimes my daughter is fine with no or waiting and other times she REALLY is not. Those times, I reserve the right to change my mind and respond to her needs over my own.

Zoey @ Good Goog said...

I stopped breastfeeding at 12 months but I have slowly managed to teach my toddler (now 2) to wait for short periods of time.

It helps to incorporate a sign as well as words. I hold up one finger to indicate that she needs to wait. When I started, I made sure I was only gone for a really short time so that she got the idea that I would be right back.

cathy said...

mine is 22 months and has understood 'later' since about 18 months. i have also taught her to be very polite - she says 'num num, please mummy'. she still has her hands stuck down my top but at least she is being courteous!

she now understands things like 'you can have num num after i finish doing this' and knows that there are special times like going to sleep and first thing in the morning when she has a big feed.

i felt guilty about delaying her for the first month or so but now it is fine. i figure it becomes a more mutual thing as she gets older, and i am not refusing, just arranging a convenient time with her.

Sarah @ OneStarryNight said...

When DS1 (he is now 8yrs old, self weaned at 4yrs old) wanted to nurse as a toddler, the only times I would ask him to wait was if I was doing something that made it physically impossible for me to nurse him.

If in public the only times I asked him to wait was if I was driving or say in the checkout lane at the store.

I think a lot of it depends on the situation, WHY they want to nurse, is it because of hunger/thirst? Comfort? Reconnecting? Boredom? Then go from there.

Cave Mother said...

Thanks for all the advice.

Now I think about it, what Hobo Mama says about small group situations being difficult is true for me as well. That is when the nursing is every few minutes. In stimulating environments such as a shop she is fairly easily distractible; it is when I am sitting down talking that she wants to jump on my knee and nurse.

Reading the reponses has made me reflect on what I already say to her, and I already make concrete statements such as "Wait until I have finished the washing up" or "Get dressed first, then we will have juice." (juice is our word for nursing). She understands the concept of "a then b". So at home, we have things sorted quite well. But I'm comforted to read that lots of mamas feel it is OK to nurse when they sense their children really do need it.

I'm feeling a lot more informed on this issue. Thanks everyone!

Erin said...

My daughter is just 12 months old and we're still nursing quite a bit. There are times that she gets cranky in public and wants to nurse, but if it isn't going to work for me at that exact moment I will give her a small snack, like a pretzel or two to tide her over until we can get to a more appropriate space. (And, just to clear things up, I am like you in that I will nurse anywhere. It's not an issue of embarrassment, more of convenience.)

Melodie said...

I started asking my daughter to wait when she was about 2 1/2. Pretty late for most. I think for us long term bf'ers it is more common to ask them to wait around 18 months-2 years. It's up to your own comfort level in the end. Do what feels best for you!

Candace said...

My daughter self-weaned at 18 months' but my son is still going strong at 19 months'. I think you may be right that it isn't going to "take" immediately but rather that you can start planting the idea of delayed gratification at 18 months'.

It is like anything else with a kid this age. Just like if he wants a toy in a store when he has the exact same toy at home or he wants to go swimming and you don't have a swim diaper with you or what have you.

Distraction works well with my son and, from what I gather, most toddlers...in that it works if he's in the right mood a significant enough percentage of the time to make it a worthwhile "tool".

So, I offer him something else. Sometimes I realize he's just thirsty if he's been running around a lot and water will keep him happy. Sometimes he's bored or overwhelmed and mama is kind of the "default". So I redirect his attention to something interesting or find a quiet place to cuddle for a moment.

If it works, great. If not, then I just nurse him. I don't want to refuse him if he really wants it, but I am ready for him to become less reliant on it, gradually, when it works.

Cave Mother said...

Candace - you're right about mama being the default! Sometimes I just nurse her, and then I realise that actually she is hungry or thirsty or tired. It's easy to get lazy and just go for the boob!

Pickle said...

I have no advice about the subject since my ds is only 10 mon but I'm learning a lot!
I don't really like it when people say things like that to me. It seems like while the comments aren't offensive in any way, they make me question what I do a little bit. It rocks my confidence a little bit. I think you'l know when it's right to ask to wait, your daughter could just need you a lot now :)

the grumbles said...

Still in the first year here so no magical advice. I loved what Rambling Rachel and the thoughts about animals nursing their young though. Feel it out how she responds when you ask her to wait just a few minutes. Does she usually wait while you sit down, get a pillow, anything like that? you could build on those times and stretch it out a little longer to test her readiness.

Since you described the woman as pro-toddler breastfeeding I doubt she was trying to hint anything to you. Maybe she just saw a kindred spirit with a familiar problem.

pchanner said...

Thanks for the post. My son is only 7 months now but I hope to continue to breastfeed as long as possible. I have been concerned about what I will do when the time comes and he is toddler feeding for comfort not so much as food and when/where he does it. I've learned a lot reading their responses.

Isabelle said...

My son recently turned two, and the recent language development seems to have made it much easier to negotiate brief delays. References to time ("in 10 minutes") don't work very well yet, but references to activities ("when we get back to the car") are often understood and accepted. I'm then careful to honour our agreement--I'll at least offer, even if he appears to have forgotten about his original request. This has seemed like a natural part of growing up; nursing is still an important part of our relationship, and like all the other parts, it's benefiting from his growing language skills and understanding.

Of course, this all works mainly when he's nursing for "minor" (more to do with his assessment than mine) reasons. Sometimes he really feels that he needs to nurse right now, and in those cases I do generally try to give him what he needs. There's still a lot of baby left in a two-year-old ;-)

Olivia said...

I love this advice!

My daughter is 12 months, and I have just had a couple of times recently when I wish I could have delayed her nursing. I don't mind nursing in public, but the popping on and off repeatedly can drive me a little crazy. If she would settle down and nurse for a long period I wouldn't mind at at all.(side note: my breasts are huge and it's not easy to wrangle them in and out of a bra)

Liz said...

My son is also 19 months and he's gotten to the point where he can wait awhile, provided that he's not in an emotionally delicate state of mind (tired, already cranky, etc.)! I would start by delaying just a minute or two - "just a minute, let me finish this." Today while I was eating lunch my son asked to nurse, and I told him "not right now, I am eating." Once I'm done and free to nurse, I either offer right away or (if he's run off to do something else) I will nurse him as soon as he asks again. He seems to get it. I've been doing this for about a month or so. I really have to do this for my own sanity - you may have more patience than I do!

Marcela Beatty said...

I am going trough the same thing with my 22 month old.

What Liz said before me in her comment is so true. They tend to be able to wait a little longer if they are are not in a bad or tired state of mood.

It's hard to stay positive sometimes and not feel frustrated about them always wanting the "boobie". We can be pretty much anywhere and she starts putting her hand down my shirt or tugging at it.

Thanks for writing this.

Just what I needed. Support.

Amanda said...

I found that during those moments when my son was looking for comfort and not really milk, refusing made the requests more insistant. Plus, it always felt like pushing him away during a moment when he needed me the most.

My 3-1/2-year-old nursling and I just had an interesting conversation the other day that kind of surprised me. He asked to nurse outside and I refused, making me wonder why exactly I refused! Just wrote about it over at MmmmMama....

Ingrid said...

Greetings from Norway!

love your blog! Ill try to answer in my poor english! :)
I think that its right to learn kids that mommy has got her own personal boundaries. That will make the child grow up to think that it is okay to have her own personal boundaries. The important thing is not to lay the guilt on the child when mommy is not in the mood. By saing: Mommy would like to do this or that before you breastfeed. Or: mommy dont want you to breasfeed right now. Not saying: you are too big for nursing so often or similar answers.
The child will sense it when you are not in the mood for breastfeeding every 5 minutes, and maybe it will be confused that you dont say no. So i think its better to be honest with the child.

at what age one should start with it..im not sure. My kid is only 9 months so its still a long time untill ill start telling her about my own boundaries.

OMG my english sucks..

Keep up the good work on spreading the natural mommy-work! I love it