Tips for Comfort Nursing Your Older Baby

Nursing evolves as your baby grows - especially once they reach their first birthday! Comfort nursing may ebb and flow during this time. Here's what you should know and some tips that can help. 

Little One Still Desiring Comfort Nursing and Not Ready to Wean?

Though your baby may already be well on his or her way to a diet of primarily solids and complementary foods, nursing is much more than simply feeding your little one with breast milk. While that may be its primary function, nursing evolves as your baby grows – especially once he or she has reached their first birthday and beyond! As long as you and your little one are both happy and able to continue breastfeeding, there’s no reason to stop now. This is particularly true as your older baby may begin nursing out of comfort rather than out of a need for nourishment once they begin getting most of their calories and nutrients from complimentary foods. Your little one may go through stretches where he or she desires more comfort nursing than other times, usually if there’s a change in their routine or environment (such as your return to work or the arrival of a new sibling), if they are experiencing a growth spurt, or even if they’re simply feeling tired or a little under the weather. Here are a few important things to know about comfort nursing and what it means to your baby:

  • This could be your little one’s way of saying “I need my mama”.
    Comfort nursing is exactly that – Your baby’s desire for your familiar scent, voice, and touch. Skin to skin contact can reduce cortisol, or stress hormones, after just 20 minutes while increasing oxytocin – all of which works together to lower blood pressure and stress. When your little one seeks comfort from you and you respond consistently and with love, this reinforces his or her trust in you – and lets them know that you’re still their “safe place”.

    Though a sudden uptick in your baby’s desire for comfort nursing due to something out of their control, such as an environmental change or minor cold, can be demanding on you and your body, remember that this is temporary and that an older baby’s desire to nurse may ebb and flow as they continue to grow. Once he or she is fully weaned and increasingly independent, you may miss these opportunities for close bonding time!
  • Be sure to stock up on the nursing essentials you need.
    By now, you probably know exactly what nursing and pumping products have been especially helpful along your breast milk feeding journey. Whether that includes nursing pads to protect your clothing and sheets from leakage, lanolin to soothe dry or chapped nipples, or even breast milk removal soap to get rid of stubborn residue up to 3 days old, it’s always good to stay ahead by having your personal nursing essentials stocked at home so you’re ready if your little one goes through a spurt of comfort nursing or simply isn’t ready to wean completely. Your breasts produce milk on a supply and demand basis – which means that even if you’ve pared down to just a few comfort nursing sessions per day, you are continuing to lactate and will likely need some essentials to support your breast milk feeding journey for as long as you choose.

    Finally, if your little one uses pacifiers then it may make sense to have some clean pacifiers easily accessible and ready for use. Pacifiers can help your little one self-soothe and satisifies their natural desire to suckle, especially after he or she has nursed but still wishes to suckle.
  • Consider your little one’s sleep routines.
    By the time your baby has passed his or her first birthday, you may want to take a fresh look at their sleep routine. Do you nurse them to sleep and/or let them fall asleep on the breast? If so, you may wish to begin encouraging self-soothing – rather than a reliance on comfort nursing to sleep. Instead, try nursing him or her at the beginning of their bedtime routine to discourage the association between breastfeeding and sleep. This will help him or her learn to self-soothe, while saving your comfort nursing sessions for other times during the day when reconnecting may be beneficial (such as before leaving for work or after returning from work).
  • Know when it could be something more.
    By now, you know your baby better than anyone, mama! Comfort nursing is perfectly normal, whether in spurts or as regular, daily bonding time. With that in mind, it’s important to keep an eye out for any signs that may indicate what you think is a sudden desire for comfort nursing is actually something else. Signs to look out for include:
    • Your baby seems consistently upset, frustrated, or unsatisfied after a nursing session.
    • He or she is suddenly not meeting their weight gain goals or is under the average weight range for babies their age, height, and/or gender.
    • Your baby is spending significantly more time than usual at the breast (note that older babies are typically very efficient when it comes to nursing and usually finish after about 5 – 10 minutes on each side).

If your little one is displaying any of the above, it may indicate that he or she is having trouble getting enough milk. It could also indicate that something else may be bothering your baby that is causing him or her to seek you out for comfort, and then become frustrated when it doesn’t resolve whatever the problem is – such as a cold, tummy ache, or teething pain. If you notice behavioral or physical changes, call your pediatrician right away. It’s always better to err on the side of caution!

We get it, mama – Comfort nursing can be exhausting at times, as well as both physically and mentally demanding! Persevering through your nursing challenges can help you meet your unique breast milk feeding goals, though the decision to wean is one that is solely between you and your little one. If your older baby is comfort nursing, join the conversation on Facebook and talk it through with other moms who are in your shoes right now. As always, Medela is here to support you through every phase of your breast milk feeding journey.

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