How to Teach Your Baby Nursing Manners

Welcome to the biggest Carnival of Breastfeeding to date! Many mothers submitted posts to share their “how to” knowledge, from how to wean from a nipple shield to how to get a spouse to help with breastfeeding. After I discuss how to teach your baby nursing manners, take a look at the links to the other participants. You might also wish to enter to win a free baby carrier, sling, or wrap of your choice (contest ends Friday, April 24, 2009).

Photo courtesy of zweettooth

Photo courtesy of zweettooth

If you breastfeed for the recommended year or more, you might experience some occasional unwanted behavior from your nursling. I share some tips on how to teach your little angel some nursing manners!

First, Some Caveats

Please keep in mind:

~ Not all babies do any or all of these behaviors!
~ Such behavior does not mean the baby wants to wean. As says, “True SELF-weaning before a baby is a year old is very uncommon. In fact, it is unusual for a baby to wean before 18-24 months unless mom is encouraging weaning.”
~ No matter what your aunt/grandma/nosy neighbor says, such behavior does not mean your baby is “too old to nurse.”
~ These behaviors are fleeting, do not have to be tolerated, and can be corrected gently!

Second, Some Do’s and Don’ts

~ Do use a calm and gentle voice when talking to your baby about nursing manners.
~ Don’t shout or yelp (hard as that might be) because such a scare to the baby can trigger a nursing strike.
~ Do talk to your baby as if she or he understands your every word. Just because the baby cannot communicate with words does not mean that he or she cannot understand your meaning. As you calmly repeat gentle admonishments and distractions, even the youngest baby will get the idea!

Third, The Scenarios

I say these names in jest! For ease of discussion, I also refer to the nursling as a “he.”

1. The Scratcher. My mom describes how as a baby I would tickle her sides with my fingers, which just happened to have those razor-sharp baby fingernails! If your baby idly scratches your side or breast as he nurses, try starting out the nursing session by tucking that hand underneath the baby or under your arm. You don’t want to restrain the baby (who will only get mad and disrupt the nursing) but you do want to remove the opportunity and the idea. If it happens anyway, gently move the offending hand and give him your finger or hand to occupy him.

2. The Dentist. My first-born loved to reach her hand up to my mouth and give me a “dental exam” while she nursed. I tried the same techniques as for The Scratcher above, plus used the time to teach her how to be gentle. A simple, repeated request to “be gentle” along with my hand guiding her hand to stroke my face taught her a more comfortable way for her to touch me. My current 9-month-old now knows when I ask her to “be gentle” it means she is supposed to point her finger and stroke my face (or the cat, or the china figurine)!

3. The Biter. Oh, this is a tough one for moms. When babies start teething they sometimes like to soothe their sore gums or try out those new teeth by clamping down on mom. It’s not malicious, and as I said above, it does not mean that the baby does not want to nurse ever again. It simply means the baby is experimenting and needs some reminders that it’s not okay. It can be near impossible not to yelp, but do your best. Then work on anticipating and preventing any clamping down. Babies usually reserve biting for the end of a feed and when the sucking slows down, you can break the latch with your pinky finger in the corner of the baby’s mouth. If the baby was truly at the end of a nursing session, he won’t fuss. If he needs to nurse, he’ll ask.

If the baby does manage to bite, break the latch immediately and as calmly as you can, remind the baby “no biting.” Generally this brings about one of two reactions: the baby laughs or the baby cries. You don’t want to encourage the laughing with a big reaction of your own. If the baby cries, usually 30 seconds or less off the breast teaches him that he will not get to nurse if he bites. You can even say, “If you want to nurse, you cannot bite. Open wide” and demonstrate how to open wide to latch on again. If you are not up to nursing again, try offering your finger (pad side up) or a teether. In my experience babies rarely break the skin, but if it happens to you, check out “How Do I Heal a Bite Mark on My Nipple?

4. The Lookie-loo. As babies get older they start to get more and more interested in the world around them. You might find that your nursling is attempting to look around the room as he is still latched on, stretching your nipple with his wandering gaze! If possible, find a quiet place to nurse away from other distractions. Talk to your baby to keep his focus on you. Consider wearing a nursing necklace to distract him from the distractions!

5. The Sipper. Like the Lookie-loo, the Sipper might be so excited by the world around him that he can only sit still long enough for a sip or two here and there, off and on the breast again. This is one of the times to remind yourself, “This too will pass.” If you find yourself annoyed by this behavior, use his excitement about the world to divert him from wanting to nurse again. Sometimes babies like to check in with mom for some reassurance after each activity. Provide another transition to the next activity and you can prevent the sipping behavior.

6. The Twiddler. Some moms can tolerate when the baby plays with one nipple while nursing the other. If you’re not one of them (and I don’t blame you!), a nursing necklace can really come in handy. You might also have to try repeated warnings, “If you want to nurse, you cannot play with the other hand.” Repeat that phrase or the phrase of your choosing while you guide your child’s hand away. If needed, you can break the latch for a few seconds as a reminder that he will not get to nurse if he does that. Keep in mind too that some babies fiddle and twiddle because they are trying to encourage the milk to let down for the first or even a second time. Babies are smart! You can help by doing breast compressions, and offering more frequent nursing sessions during the day.

7. The Gymnast. Some babies can’t sit still for a nursing session and like to move their bodies around. It can help to learn how to breastfeed while baby-wearing. A sling or wrap can help keep the baby on the task at hand!

8. The Self-server. At some point your baby might try to lift up your shirt to help himself! In addition to reminding your baby about the rules, you can get creative with your clothing so you remain covered until you are ready to nurse. That might mean wearing a tank top underneath another shirt, or wearing a pregnancy or nursing belly band.

Your Experience

Have you had to teach your baby nursing manners? Are you dealing with a problematic behavior? Leave a comment!

Other Carnival Entries

Stay tuned as more entries are added throughout the day!

How to help your baby kick the nipple shield habit – Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog
How to get a spouse to help with breastfeeding – Mama Knows Breast
How to wean a breastfed toddler – BreastfeedingMums
How to treat a cold while breastfeeding – Blacktating
How to tandem nurse without driving yourself and your nurslings crazy – Tiny Grass
How to deal with family members who are not supportive of breastfeeding – Happy Bambino
How to pump successfully at work – The Marketing Mama
How to get baby to take a bottle – BabyREADY
How to breastfeed hands-free – Baby Carriers Downunder
How to get breastfeeding off to a good start – Amber at
How to become a breastfeeding support professional – Breastfeeding Moms Unite!
How to care for a sick nursling – Milk Act
How to be comfortable around breastfeeding – It’s All about the Hat
How to improve milk supply through nutrition – Natural Birth and Baby Care
How to increase breastmilk supply using supplements – Maher Family Grows
How to (naturally) increase your breast milk supply with seaweed – MoBoleez
How to use YouTube to stop nosy questions – Zen Mommy
How to breastfeed (or just look like you know what you are doing) – Mama Saga

Share This Post:
    • Amber

      Oh, I have an 8-month-old Lookie-loo right now! In addition to minimizing distractions, I do the gentle removing from breast. If you want to nurse, fine. If you want to look around, fine. But you can’t do both at the same time, so sorry little guy!

      Luckily both of my nurslings have been pretty well-mannered, and have responded to my ‘etiquette lessons’ pretty well. They love to nurse, so they really do have a great incentive to get it right. ;)

    • Angela White, J.D., breastfeeding counselor

      LOL Amber — I had been planning to write this post already when I read on your blog about your Lookie-loo and named that category after him. Sounds like you’ve got some good tricks for dealing with it! I totally agree with you that babies have a great incentive to get it right, and that helps resolve any issues quickly!

    • Krista

      This post made me smile. I think my baby has done all of these things at one time or is trying to do them now.
      One tip I have for a biter is pushing their face (gently) into your breast. They won’t be able to breathe and they will let go. Faster and easier than trying to get them to unlatch.

    • TopHat

      My daughter is a dentist and twiddler and sometimes a sipper. With the “dentist” I used to play bite her hand because she thought that was funny, but I’ve since stopped because I don’t want her to think biting is ok. Now whenever she puts her hand near/in my mouth I give her hand a little kiss. I usually don’t mind the other two habits. Twiddling will start to get to me if I’ve had a bad day and I just hand her off to her dad until I feel better. Sipping doesn’t bother me at all and I just let her come for sips whenever she wants.

    • Steph

      Thanks for this post! I’ve got a dental-scratcher-biter who’s looking everywhere- and a self-serving preschooler. This post has really hit the mark for me!

    • Melodie

      I have a twiddler, who was starting to inspire me to write a post about it. If I do I will definetely link to yours. This was such a great article! She is also a gymnast and a self-server, which is now getting old and as to stop now that she is two. I am so glad she and her older sister were never biters. Really, I think I have had it good.

    • Lea

      This post cracked me up! The Lookie-loo. LOL

    • Lara

      A good manners story for you!

      Inigo is now 16 months old, last weekend he came to me and said “more” (his all purpose word). I did the sign for milk, and asked if he wanted milk. he said yes, and I put him on my lap for a feed.

      He latched on, had a little drink, then unlatched, looked me in the eye, did the sign for milk, and said “ta” (thank you).

      Unfortunately he is also a dentist, a biter, and a sipper….

    • Elisa @ blissfulE

      I’ve seen all of these behaviours as well, as I’ve been nursing for the past 2.5 years, and tandem feeding for 14 months of that.

      For biting, which I especially can’t tolerate with tender pregnancy nipples, I have used a few approaches.

      For my daughter, I broke the latch with my pinkie. Then I broke the latch and set her on the ground. Then I held her face up against my breast so she’d have to break the latch herself to breathe (like Krista suggested in her comment). Then even that wasn’t working, so I finally resorted to a friend’s suggestion of flicking her cheek with my index finger (I tried it on myself first so I would know it wasn’t dangerous – it was just a little sting). Did the flicking three times one nursing session and she hasn’t bitten since!

      For my son, I’ve only had to break the latch and set him on the ground to let him know that wasn’t the way to get ‘numnums.’ Then I picked him back up immediately when he cried, and he hasn’t bitten since.

    • kara

      What a great resource! I am nursing a 10-month-old Sipping Dentist. It is great to hear that these are common behaviors and to read of positive ways of changing them or distracting!

    • Layla

      It’s NEVER too early to start teaching our children manners!


      Great post!

    • Elita @ Blacktating

      The best cure for twiddling is to give your baby his or her foot to play with! My son is a notorious twiddler but if I stick his foot in his hand, he will happily pull at it and kick it and forget all about the other boob.

      I didn’t realize the “dentist” was such a common experience. I, too, pretend to nibble on his fingers when he does this and he cracks up.

    • Vanderbilt Wife

      Glad to know I’m not the only one with a Gymnast! She is only 6 months old but flaps her free arm around like a bird. Blankets as cover? HA. She also likes to do the Lookie-Loo, giving passerbys a lookie-loo at mommy’s feeding mechanism!!

    • Jake Aryeh Marcus

      I was so nervous when I read your title! I was afraid it was going to be about what others see when you are breastfeeding. I’ve never thought of these as “manners” before but that is a much nicer way of looking at it than I did – “the things that make you scream.”

      My nursing years were over before there were nursing necklaces. Nipple twiddling was very difficult for me (and I had literally years of it). My solution was to wear nursing tops that allowed me to secure the clothing over one breast. There was often a bit of “paddy-cake” keeping the little hand from working past the covering. Other times I put a cloth diaper over the breast or layered a closed nursing bra and other covering. Glad to hear nursing necklaces work for people.

      My name for the Gymnast was “Olympic Freestyle Nursing.” Seeing toddlers do it still makes me laugh. :)

    • Jennifer Clark

      Oh my gosh – my almost-16-month-old daughter is EVERY one of those except a twiddler. Seriously. I am a die-hard advocate of breastfeeding, but even I have been getting tired lately of her antics. I have little scabs all over my breasts and rib cage from her scratches (and she did not care for the nursing necklace idea, unfortunately). I often have teeth impressions in my nipple – not from actual biting, but just b/c every time she gets a new tooth, her latch seems to change. But if I let her nurse too long, she will occasionally chomp down. She practically does gymnastics on my lap while nursing – I swear she would nurse upside down if she could. She has bad reflux, triggered by food allergies, which contributes to her “sipping.” I never knew how far my nipple could stretch, but she tries to take it with her every time anything catches her eye. And since she has a twin…well, there’s always something catching her eye. Oh yes, and her fingers…when they’re not digging into my skin, they’re poking into my mouth. :) She really does have bad manners!! ;)

      Love the article!!! Gave me a great laugh and now I don’t feel so alone!

    • Kristina

      Thank you for such an amusing and understanding article. I have experienced most of these and it does help to know that other babies and toddlers do these things too! My brother in law referred to his son twiddling as “the safe cracker” and that image always makes me laugh. LOL

    • Angela White, J.D., breastfeeding counselor

      I’ve enjoyed everyone’s stories and suggestions! Love the Olympic Freestyle Nursing and the Safe Cracker LOL! Keep them coming!

    • Katrina

      My little guy will turn three tomorrow and is still going strong on the nursing. He has gone through many of the types you mentioned – he is still a twiddler in the morning (I keep an arm clamped over the unused breast) and a pretty good gymnast. He used to scratch or pinch or even try to pull my fingernails up, but thank goodness all that has stopped! He is a big touch person though and usually is pushing my clothes away so he can gently run his hand over my skin or worm his hand up through my bra. This is fine with me at home, but for nursing out in public (which I generally discourage now that he’s older), he knows that he only gets to nurse if he doesn’t push my shirt up so the world can see everything. I just have to remind him now and again and he’s very good about it.

    • Lauren @ HoboMama

      Oh, my, I think my son’s run through the list. That was too funny.

      My problem is that I can’t.stand.twiddling, but if I even touch his hand to move it away, he immediately insists on switching to the breast I’ve moved his hand away from. So we switch sides A LOT. Sometimes every few seconds. And he’s heavy, so when he’s lying on my lap, it’s a haul to swirl him around to the other side over and over. So if I’m trying to get him to sleep, I have to make the tough choice: ignore the twiddling, or have him jolt himself back awake by wanting to switch sides. Decisions, decisions. ;)

      Anyway, thanks for naming them all, and I’ve appreciated the hilarious comments as well!

    • Jessica Barnes

      My baby is 11 months old and is a biter for sure. I am 4 months pregnant and my nipples are too tender to deal with the pain. Everytime she bites i smack her hand and say no biting mommy, she just laughs at me and bites again. She has never taken a bottle or cup and i am so frustrated and dont know what to do!!!

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    • Mia

      I breastfed my girl for 11 months, AFTER she had 6 teeth in her little mouth.
      She only tried to bite me once, I pushed her face against my breast and she never did it again.
      Worked for us.

    • Shawnna

      “Olympic Freestyle Nursing” That’s hailarious!!

    • Angela White, J.D., breastfeeding counselor

      Katrina, happy birthday to your nursling! That’s great that you have worked on the nursing manners with him and that that has allowed you to continue happily to three and beyond!