When my second little boy was born, my wild and spirited toddler added a whole new dimension to the already great responsibility of breastfeeding a newborn. I was surprised by how difficult it was to create personal space to nurse, free from curious hands and exuberant limbs. I often felt frustrated and disappointed, craving peace during the many nursing intervals woven throughout every day.
Perhaps you can relate.
Your toddler may be curious about breastfeeding, interested in the new baby, or vying for your undivided attention. He is likely to explore and test his limits when your attention is directed to the new baby. He may interpret your sitting down to nurse as his cue to try out some new tricks, wedge himself behind your back, or stretch out on top of little sister.
Juggling the demands of a nursing newborn and the emotional needs of an active toddler may test your patience and your breastfeeding resolve but you can plan ahead to work with your toddler and make the best of your family’s transition.
Create a safe environment that works for you and your toddler: Set up a comfortable nursing station with everything you need within arms reach: burp cloths, a nursing pillow, a water bottle, easy to eat snacks, and your phone. Orient your nursing station in close proximity to the area in which your toddler plays, or bring your toddlers play toys near to your nursing station. Baby proof the designated space so that your child can explore freely, and consider creating a closed space with a baby gate or a locked door to keep your little one within sight.
Talk to your toddler about babies: Share stories about what he was like as a newborn and how you cared for him. Talk about what newborns look like, how they spend their time, and what makes them happy. Newborns nurse a lot, they sleep, and they cry. Babies love to be held, they enjoy silly voices and funny faces, they like to explore with their mouths and hands. Talk about the ways that your older child can help you to care for their little brother or sister. We love the book Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, a celebration of babies and the many ways they are cared for. Talk openly about breastfeeding and explain it in simple terms that your toddler will understand.
Engage your toddler with special activities: Identify toddler-friendly activities that don’t require a lot of setup like puzzles, cars, and blocks, or activities that can be done independently like coloring, play dough, and water colors. Foster a sense of novelty by rotating toys or offering activities that are only available when the baby is nursing. Check out the When Baby is Nursing: Activities for Toddlers Pinterest board for lots of fun and inspiring age appropriate activities for toddlers and preschoolers.
Invite your toddler to get to know the new baby: You can facilitate your children’s special sibling relationship by encouraging affection and intimacy. Help big brother to practice using gentle hands to count toes and fingers, identify body parts, stroke hair and skin, and investigate tiny fingernails, earlobes, and belly buttons while baby quietly nurses.
Encourage your toddler to join in on the fun: Gather a baby doll, blanket, diapers, and other newborn essentials to foster your older child’s sense of responsibility and to include them in your daily routines. Toddlers mimic what they see and experience in real life, it is a normal response for children to pretend to nurse their baby dolls or pretend to pump milk.
Work with your toddler’s natural curiosity: Children are naturally curious about breastfeeding. It is normal and healthy for a toddler to observe a sibling nursing. He may have questions about breastfeeding, feel free to answer them honestly and accurately. If your child has already weaned and shows a renewed interest in breastfeeding it’s up to you if you want to offer the opportunity to nurse. Many toddlers may not remember how to nurse, or may satisfy their own curiosity with just one attempt. Another alternative can be to express milk into a cup and offer your toddler a taste. For information about tandem nursing (breastfeeding two or more children concurrently) you may like Adventures in Tandem Nursing: breastfeeding during pregnancy and beyond.
Designate the older sibling as your big helper: Give him small tasks that he can carry out to build confidence and help him to feel important in his new role of big brother. Ask him to retrieve diapers or blankets, and offer your appreciation and recognition for his efforts to pitch in.
Enjoy hanging out with your toddler: Eat a snack or meal together, listen to music, cuddle, read a book, play Eye Spy or Go Fish! Depending on your values around screen time you may consider watching a show together or offering the opportunity to play a game on your phone or computer.
Wear your baby when nursing: Check out these video tutorials to learn more about how to nurse your baby while wearing her in different carrier styles. Once you get the hang of it you will be able to nurse on the move and take advantage of the added mobility to play with and care for your older child.
Change the scenery: If the usual nursing chair isn’t working out try changing it up: nurse in bed, on the couch, at the dining room table, or join your toddler on the floor. Take it outside, to the library, or to a play space like the Children’s Museum or Splash Park. If the weather is nice throw out a blanket in the backyard or in a nearby park to get some fresh air and let your little guy or gal enjoy the sunshine with room to roam.
Coordinate help when available: If a co-parent or other helper is available, create a special ritual around time spent with another attachment when you are nursing the baby. Swap time with a neighbor or friend; your toddler will enjoy his special time away, and it will free you up to savor some one-on-one time with your baby.
Find your Rhythm and Routine: Treat nursing sessions as you would other aspects of your daily routine and help your toddler to know what’s upcoming while also communicating your expectations. With time your toddler will learn what to expect when baby is nursing. As your new baby grows she will settle into a predictable nursing routine and you will find a daily rhythm that meets your needs and the needs of your little ones. Make the extra effort to stay connected with your toddler during nursing sessions and other times when you have your hands full: use eye contact to communicate your full attention, give back rubs and high fives to communicate your love and appreciation. As often as you can, build in to your routine Special Time with your toddler to reconnect and strengthen your growing relationship.