I thought twice about writing on this topic– it seemed almost indecent– but many moms have nervously asked me to address this this embarrassing and annoying problem. Breastfeeding babies often twiddle the other nipple while nursing, and breaking them of the habit is no easy task. Many babies and toddlers continue nipple twiddling after weaning. When you and your little one are ready, there are gentle ways to to stop the tweeks and give your nipples a break.
I must admit that I’ve lived this reality: two of my five children were nipple twiddlers.
Some moms don’t mind nipple twiddling– it can be good for your milk supply. Nipple stimulation causes mom’s brain to release a neuro hormone called oxytocin which promotes milk production. So the more your baby twiddles, the more more milk he or she gets, and the healthier mom’s milk supply. Twiddling can also be very comforting and may help your baby nurse well.
And then you realize that your almost-toddler won’t get his hand out of your shirt, especially when he’s nervous in public. All that nipple pinching can hurt, too.
The oxytocin released during nipple twiddling can also affect mom’s menstrual cycle and fertility. If your baby is still twiddling after weaning, the oxytocin release from twiddling can cause irregular menstrual periods.
Ready to stop the twiddling? Here’s how:
- Give your baby something besides your nipple to play with: There are many varieties of nursing necklaces– all designed to give baby something to play with while still looking fashionable on mom. Most are made of large beads with a variety of textures to keep baby’s fingers interested, some are made of braided fabrics. It’s best to have a few different ones so that baby doesn’t get bored and mom has something for every outfit. A quick online image search will show you many examples. You can also keep a toy in your pocket or purse and pull it out each time baby nurses. This is a good option if you forgot to put on a nursing necklace.
- Hold hands: hold your baby’s twiddling hand, make eye contact, and talk or sing to your baby. The distraction will keep the hand away from the nipple.
- Get a tricky bra: A good sports bra or tight camisole can keep those hands out of your shirt. Be ready to distract and redirect when they start to get frustrated that the breast is out-of-reach.
- Hold your nipple: Sometimes the only way to keep that little hand off your nipple is to hold your nipple yourself, either inside your clothing or from the outside. Your little nursling will likely be annoyed that you are clearly inhibiting access to the nipple, but in a few moments he or she will be quieted by nursing.
Is it time to wean? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 4-6 months of age and a diet of breast milk and food until at least 12 months. Once your baby is a year old it is safe to start cow milk or a variety of other milk options, but be aware that too much milk can cause anemia in toddlers and older children.
Need help weaning? My colleague Dr. Lee shares her thoughts on weaning your toddler here.