4 Tips for Breastfeeding Older Babies and Beyond
It's no secret that breastfeeding an older baby is a completely different experience than nursing a tiny newborn! Here are some valuable tips that can help you continue breastfeeding through these transitions and growth spurts.
Tired of the Breastfeeding Acrobatics? Consider These Tips!
Congratulations, mama! Maybe you’ve made it to six months of breastfeeding, or maybe you’ve reached a year or longer. However long your breast milk feeding journey may be, we can all agree that breastfeeding older babies and beyond can be a completely different experience from the cozy, quiet times spent snuggling and nursing a tiny newborn. While you’ve probably adjusted to nursing your growing little mover and shaker on the fly, knowing what to expect in the weeks and months ahead – and how to continue a strong, effective breastfeeding relationship – can help you overcome any unique challenges you may encounter! Consider the following when breastfeeding older babies and beyond:
- Teach Your Little One Not to Bite
Seeing teeth start to appear in your baby’s mouth is an exciting milestone – though you may also break out into a cold sweat when thinking about nursing your baby with a mouth full (or half-full!) of brand-new teeth. Teething symptoms may begin months before your little one’s first tooth pokes through their gums, which may make him or her want to clamp down on everything in sight – including your nipple – to get some relief for their tender gums.
Consistency is key here, so be sure to gently remove your little one from your breast after a bite. Firmly tell your baby “no biting” and place him or her in a playpen or play area. He or she will quickly learn that biting equals no more nursing or closeness with mama, which will eventually dissuade them from future nibbles.
- Find Fun Ways to Keep Your Baby Still and Focused
As you have likely already discovered, your little one is much more aware of their surroundings than they were as a newborn! There’s so much to see, do, and touch – and once he or she figures out how to be mobile, whether by crawling, scooting, or even taking their first steps, your baby will be even more excited to explore their world. Of course, as your baby develops, he or she also grows – a lot! This can make some of your previous go-to nursing positions awkward and uncomfortable for both of you.
Try breastfeeding your little one in a quiet, calm space with no outside distractions, like the T.V. or lots of other family members (including pets). Bring a favorite toy for them to play with while nursing – which will also help keep their hands busy and away from your hair, face, arms, and other parts of mommy that are oh-so-fun to touch, poke, and tug as they breastfeed. Some moms even opt to wear a nursing necklace, which is essentially a long necklace with colorful beads or fun charms for your baby to play with during a breastfeeding session. Whatever works best for you and your little one – and keeps him or her effectively nursing without too many acrobatics! – is great.
- Know That Nursing Sessions May Become Shorter or Less Frequent
Because your little one is getting to know complementary foods and well on their way to a diet consisting of primarily solids, he or she may naturally begin to nurse less frequently. However, if nursing sessions still happen often, they will eventually only last for about 10 minutes or so. This could be because your baby is now getting most of their nutrition – and feeling full! – from mostly solids, they may be nursing more out of comfort than actual hunger, they have gotten the hang of nursing by now and know how to do it most efficiently, or a combination of some or all of those things. As long as your little one is gaining the appropriate amount of weight each month, having a normal amount of wet and dirty diapers each day, and appears to be satisfied and content after their nursing sessions, then he or she is most likely getting exactly the nutrition and comfort they need from breastfeeding.
Once your baby is over a year old, you should continue breastfeeding as long as desired by both you and your little one. Keep an eye out for potential signs that your growing baby may be self-weaning, though – which may include a consistent lack of interest in nursing and refusal to breastfeed. To be sure it isn’t just a temporary nursing strike, try getting your baby to nurse before mealtimes (which should include plenty of complementary foods by one year old) and see our tip above about eliminating distractions!
- Be Patient and Engage with Your Little One
Oftentimes, the acrobatics associated with breastfeeding older babies and beyond is simply a passing phase. It’s exciting once they realize all the new and different ways that they can move and wiggle while breastfeeding! Try telling your little one firmly and calmly to “be still”, or gently end the nursing session if he or she is too squirmy to effectively breastfeed. Play with them for a short time, allow them to explore their environment, and then see if your little one is interested in nursing again after a few minutes. Much like teaching your little one not to bite, consistency is important so they eventually learn their “breastfeeding manners” and understand what behavior is and is not acceptable during a nursing session.
Be sure to engage with your little one when breastfeeding, as this can help them stay focused on nursing – and you! – and may prevent new distractions from piquing their interest. Put away the phone or tablet (which might even serve as another distraction to your older baby, who will definitely want to check out what’s on your screen!) and try to be present with your little one instead. Talking quietly, reading, or telling a story to him or her is a great way to keep them engaged, interested, and maybe even still for a longer period while nursing! Stumped for a story or how to talk to them? Don’t think too hard about it – your little one mostly just loves the sound of your voice and will usually find it soothing. If nothing else, go through the alphabet and name an animal starting with each letter or do a mental walk through each room of your house and tell them about everything in it and what it’s used for. This is also a great way to help your little one continue brushing up on their developing language and vocabulary skills!
When breastfeeding older babies and beyond, many moms let their little one take the lead. After all, your breastfeeding relationship is already very well-established and you both know exactly what to do, how to do it, and what nursing methods work best for you both. By this time, your baby will let you know if they want to hang on to those last few daily nursing sessions a little bit longer and, conversely, when they are ready to begin self-weaning. Every stage of your breast milk feeding journey may have challenges or require adjustment to your previous routine, but this journey is yours and your little one’s to own – for as long as you both choose. You’re doing a great job!