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Toddler Tips

A Balancing Act

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 3, May-June 2000, pp. 100-103

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

My toddler is the youngest of three children and I find that she is interested in nursing more frequently than my older children did at her age. She sometimes asks to nurse almost immediately after she finished her last nursing session. I think that she may be craving more attention from me and nursing is one of the few things we do which is one-on-one. How do mothers of several children find ways to meet their nursing toddlers' needs while keeping up with older children?

Response

The baby in our family is Emma, the youngest of four. Frequently we find her on the outside of the group, amidst yells of "She's taking our toys!" "She messed up my puzzle" and "Get her out of here! We're playing cards!" These are the same older children who were delighted to have this little person join our family just two years ago. Unfortunately for them, she's no longer the cute little baby in my sling; she's the looming terror of the playroom!

We have a puzzle box that includes many puzzles that are appropriate for a two-year-old. When the other children are working on their jigsaw puzzle, we pull out the rubber or wood puzzles and Emma's very own chair. It seems to give her a feeling of playing the same game as her older siblings, which she really enjoys. We also have a set of discarded trading cards for Emma. They look the same to her and it keeps her from playing with her siblings' treasured collections. When the older children are using the bead loom with the tiny beads, I pull out the shoestrings and macaroni. She loves to be a part of the action, but reasonably, the older children need time off too.

We also do "fun" things, just the two of us. Emma is the best sock sorter in this house. We have a huge box of unmatched socks that comes in handy! She is also adept at pulling napkins out of the laundry basket to be folded. She can get washcloths out of the diaper pile as well. Emma also can pour flour in the bowl without dumping it on the floor. She likes to play with clay at the kitchen table while I fix dinner.

With all the commotion of a busy household, I really enjoy her company. She's my constant reminder to slow down and watch the bubbles in the washing machine.

Heather "Sam" Doak
Marietta OH USA

Response

You are right in suspecting that your toddler is probably asking for attention if she is asking to nurse much more frequently than feels right, especially if there are no unusual circumstances going on in your family and your toddler is healthy and well-nourished. Try offering a drink from a cup, a special snack (finger foods), or a cuddle and story when she asks to nurse very soon after a nursing session. These substitutes for nursing also take time and interaction with you, so if attention is what she needs, she will be getting it! And that's wonderful!

At one point, I had two school-age homeschooling children and a toddler. During our first year of homeschooling, we added an adopted infant to our family. That was a juggling act! Keeping my toddler busy while working with my older children was a challenge! The baby was in a backpack or on my lap a good share of the time. When we were working on projects that dictated no toddler hands involved, I had special toys and puzzles that he could use in a large playpen. These toys were only available in the playpen. Although in general I am not a playpen advocate, circumstances dictated this option, and it worked for us (but we didn't use it more than twice daily for short periods). We also tried to have "duplicate" projects for the toddler. If my older boys were working on an art project, we had non-toxic versions of their art supplies and similar materials available whenever possible. Toddlers usually like to be a part of whatever is going on, and including them whenever practical is a wonderful solution. When reading to your older ones, or watching a video together, you can nurse your toddler.

Use your heart as well as your head when suggesting distractions and alternatives to nursing, as there is really no substitute for "nummies"!

Marsha J. Ransom
South Haven MI USA

Response

I also have three children, ages eight, six, and 16 months. In my case, it was the oldest son who nursed most frequently as a toddler. I can think of a few tips to share that helped me cope, but the truly most helpful thing was when I threw out the notion that he would "soon" start to cut down on nursing and just accepted his individual needs.

I thought that there would be a steady drop in nursing frequency after the age of a year or at least 18 months. When it didn't seem to happen, I felt frustrated and even a little resentful. Once I dropped that expectation and stopped feeling stressed about it, I felt calm and fulfilled. After that, I was able to feel good about meeting my toddler's nursing needs.

My current toddler doesn't seem to ask to nurse so often, partly because his personality is different, partly because I meet his need for attention in other ways. I use a sling to carry him while I walk my older boys to and from school and do my errands. Often he nurses in the sling while I'm walking so I barely realize it. Since I wear a loose parka over the sling, no one else realizes it either!

Some tips that help me to deal with toddler (and older children's) needs: set the stage for autonomy by having snacks and drinks even the toddler can get for himself. Anticipate toddlers' needs by offering cuddling or nursing time, food, outings, or games before they ask. Have water available near the bed in a convenient non-leaking container (like a bike water bottle) for extra-thirsty times at night. Have toddlers "help" with household tasks. Things are done more slowly, but at least they get done and the little one is occupied! Invite or go to visit another family—little ones enjoy playing with friends and the toddler is distracted so you may even be able to drink a cup of tea!

Meeting three children's needs is a big job. The most useful thing for me has been accepting the needs they have now and realizing that things will get easier as time passes.

Carla Holm
Brussels Belgium

Response

Being the mother of three children is a challenge, isn't it? Tending to the needs of the older children can monopolize much of a mother's attention, and yet your toddler often needs the warmth of your lap and the comfort of your milk as much as when she was an infant. How can you do justice to all of your motherly responsibilities, and meet all of your children's needs?

When my youngest child was a toddler, she behaved much as the child you describe. Whenever I sat down, she wanted to nurse, even if she had just finished nursing a few minutes before! I remember feeling as if I was a bad mother, not being attentive to my sons with a big nursing toddler in my lap or else not being attentive to the needs of my youngest, when I was busy with the two "big guys." Looking back on those times, I realize that I was really busy. My toddler was growing in her abilities and independence, walking and talking and exploring the world away from the familiar environment of my lap or her baby sling. Increasingly, our only times together were spent nursing. Finally, one day when it seemed that we had nursed 20 times before lunch and she was asking to nurse again, I responded, "Do you really want to nurse, or would you rather I play with you?" She happily responded, "Play!"

That moment was a revelation for me. My daughter didn't need to breastfeed 20 times every day but she did need to have my attention 20 times, 50 times, or 100 times a day. I had been so concerned about all my other responsibilities, the only sure way she could get my attention was to ask to nurse. I started to make a conscious effort to include her more in all of my activities. When the older children read books and did art projects, I made toddler-friendly books and crayons available to her. As the older boys learned to read, I asked them to practice by reading to her. She was thrilled! My daughter became my special helper around the house as I did my daily tasks. Even washing dishes and matching socks is fun "work" for a toddler. Letting an 18-month-old help mix bread dough can make a mess, but little ones are so excited to be included in the "big people's" activities. And it is easier to get that bread mixed and baked with your child by your side instead of in your lap.

And yes, even after making a concerted effort to include the toddler in the big people's work, she still did genuinely need to nurse often. But we were able to diminish the frequency a great deal, just by keeping her occupied with the activities that kept me so busy around the house all day. And having a toddler tell you that "It's time to nurse again, Mama," also reminds you that it's time for you to take a break and replenish yourself. I found that reading and re-reading Norma Jane Bumgarner's MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER (available from the LLLI Online Store) was a great way to reassure myself that my toddler's behavior (and my own reactions to it) were normal. If your La Leche League Group has Toddler Meetings, that is another great place to get that same support and encouragement for your loving breastfeeding relationship with your toddler.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin
Des Moines IA USA

Response

I have three children and my youngest is 19 months old. I try to nurse Kirsten right when I wake up even before I get out of bed. Otherwise, she will want to nurse when we get downstairs and I'm trying to make breakfast for the two older ones. I nurse her a lot through the night too. it seems as if she nurses as often at night now as she did when she was first born. There have been a few nights where she was satisfied from more frequent daily nursings to go without nursing all night but most of the time she still nurses about four or five times during the night.

I share a big jug of water with Kirsten throughout the day. We both need to have plenty of liquids. I keep nutritious snacks on hand for my children and myself.

I also nurse Kirsten right after lunch when the boys go to school. The house is much quieter then and she usually will nap once her tummy is full from lunch and nursing. If one of the older children is home from school, I ask him to be quiet after lunch for 20-30 minutes while I nurse Kirsten. Usually he will because he knows I will have time to be alone with him if she is asleep.

After I nurse her at bedtime, my husband, Tim, takes her down to the living room and rocks her to sleep where it is dark and quiet. She is just so stimulated by her siblings' activity that she can't fall asleep when they are around. And this way, she gets time with her father, too.

Jennifer Nordland
West Lafayette IN USA

Response

I'm a mother of three also and I just found myself commenting to my husband on this very subject! As we discussed it, I realized that there were many differences in our family now compared to when we just had one or two children. With my first child, I remember long nursing sessions in bed or on the couch. With my second, I remember curling up in a big chair for hours with the younger child nursing and the older child looking at a book at my side, both of them drifting off to sleep. With my third child, I am a mother always on the go. The minute my youngest lets go of my breast, I pop up out of the chair to do something. She may nurse more frequently, but I don't think her total nursing time is any greater, because she doesn't get those long, leisurely nursing sessions my older two children got. Once I realized that, I stopped seeing her as demanding, but rather as flexible and accommodating to the other children and me, letting us get things done "in the middle" of her nursing time. Perhaps that's what's happening with your toddler, too.

Response

It is always a challenge to meet the needs of various aged children. My own were 18, 13, 10, and three when their little sister was born. It did seem as if the poor baby spent most of her time in her car seat while I chauffeured her older siblings! While her siblings loved her dearly, paid attention to her needs, and enjoyed playing with her, reading to her, and rocking her, she still needed her mother. You may find it helpful to schedule one on one time with your toddler. Maybe you two could get up just a bit earlier than the rest of the family and spend time cuddling and nursing before the rush of the day. Or perhaps you could enjoy a bath together in the evening. Of course, co-sleeping often fills in the gaps for many busy toddlers and their parents. How wonderful to be right next to mother all night. Is she still little enough for a backpack or a sling? Just a few days of being right on mother might do wonders! Even a few days of being able to focus on her will make a big difference.

Take a moment to look at her diet, too. Is she nursing because she is truly hungry? Often, with so many schedules and practices and lessons to attend our meal times go right out the window. My older children tend to bring home some of their favorite food from their lunches to share with little ones. Offering nutritious snacks throughout the day helps keep hunger at bay, too. THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING (available from the LLLI Online Store) has some good nutrition ideas. Would one of the older children be willing to make a project of making healthy snacks for the baby? You know the kind—cute sandwiches with faces and "ants on a log" and small goodies in a muffin tin. All those cute things you may have time to do for the first child but never seem to find time for once you have more than one child.

Is it possible your daughter is just bored? Yes, yours is a busy house but are there things for her to do? Maybe it is time for her own new box of crayons, time to let her help you make a big batch of play dough. Many toddlers do nurse out of boredom; they need more stimulating activities as they grow older. I found that sometimes I was the one with the habit of nursing. It sometimes seemed easier after a busy, tiring day to sit quietly and nurse than to find something fun to do.

On the other hand, perhaps your toddler is actually over stimulated. Siblings and their activities may just be too much some days! Try car pooling, having your husband do the driving or actually taking a whole day off from everything once in awhile so you can stay home and "baby the baby." Childhood goes by very fast. The days sometimes seem so long but looking back, it's amazing how fast our little ones grow.

Judy Hain
Cape May Courthouse NJ USA

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