Twiddle Me That

July 22nd, 2011 by Dionna | 19 Comments
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Compassionate Advocacy, Consensual Living, Feed with Love and Respect, Gentle/Positive Discipline, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

Welcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of The Breastfeeding Cafe’s Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today’s post is about nursing in public. Please read the other blogs in today’s carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18th through the 31st!

I stumbled across an old post the other day and decided I should share it again. Mainly as a cautionary tale (keep reading – it’s at the end of this one, and it’s one of my favorites!). The moral of the tale would be “don’t let your toddler use your nipple as a q-tip.” Or maybe something even more generic like “help your toddler develop good nursing manners, even if your nipples are tough as nails.” Here’s why:

A funny thing happened when I started breastfeeding – I found out that my nipples are conveniently insensitive. Through the never ending nipple blisters – a common ailment visited upon me in the first eight months or so of Kieran’s life due to his poor latch, to the later years of twiddling I’ve endured at Kieran’s fingers, I’ve never been excessively bothered by sensitive nipples.

I’ve even been blessed with curiously pain-free nipples in the midst of this pregnancy. Nipple pain is common in pregnant women, but I haven’t noticed much – until the past week. The pain started with my left nipple. When Kieran latches on, it feels like I’m suffering through one of those nipple blisters of old, but there’s no blister, and the pain has been working its way over to my right nipple.

So I’m left to wonder – is this the much-discussed “pregnant-mama-nipple-pain”? In Adventures in Tandem Nursing, one mother described the sensation of nursing during pregnancy “as gritty: ‘[it’s] like being licked by a cat.”1 Yee-owzer. And yep – that’s kind of what this feels like. Or maybe it’s just some strange effect of Kieran losing his latch?

Whatever the case, I’ve finally had to enforce some stricter nursing manners in my three year old. So much for having super nipples that can withstand rain, snow, sleet, and twiddling – the kid has got to stop playing with them!

So what have I been doing since I violated’s #1 rule for instilling nursing manners?2 Here’s my top six list for creating good (and discouraging bad) nursing manners in the older nursling:


1) Be gentle: Your nursling has enjoyed years of loving access to your breast, and he will not understand a sudden shift away from his normal nursing schedule. Remember to put yourself in your child’s shoes and realize how important the nursing relationship is to him.

Gently explain why you need to change the status quo. One way I’ve tried to do this is by talking to Kieran about how and why people need to respect each other’s bodies. Whenever I ask him to stop touching me in an uncomfortable way, I remind him that I’m asking him to respect my body and my needs.

2) Give firm and consistent reminders: If you’ve let your little one fall into a bad nursing habit, remind yourself that it’s going to take some time to help him form a new habit – one that doesn’t make you crawl out of your skin every nursing session. When your nursling starts doing the unwanted behavior, gently but firmly tell him to stop. I’ve had to remind Kieran on several occasions (usually when he starts crying because he has been twiddle-blocked) that those touches hurt mama now. So far, he has been sympathetic.

3) Provide an alternative: I actually got a nursing necklace and put it into use after my child turned three years old. It’s true. (You can bet I’ll have that baby on from day one with the next kidlet!) If a nursing necklace isn’t your child’s thing, encourage her to hold a favorite toy while nursing or occupy her hands in another acceptable way.3

If your child doesn’t want to hold a toy, try playing some hand games: thumb wars, pat-a-cake, this little piggy (with hands instead of toes), clap your hands together in rhythm with rhymes, etc.

4) Take away easy access: I’m a big fan of nursing tank tops, and when we cosleep/nurse at night I tend to just have both sides down so Kieran can nurse on either side without waking me up. But since he sometimes twiddles when he’s falling asleep (or waking up), I’ve had to start snapping one side into place. Removing easy access is also helpful to stop those little ones who like to stick their hands up your shirt in public, expose your other breast to the world, etc.

5) Don’t be afraid to place limits: This suggestion may seem unfathomable to mamas who are still nursing little ones who get most of their nutrition from breastmilk; but for mamas of older nurslings, setting limits can sometimes be a necessity. Right now Kieran (usually) only nurses when he’s falling asleep – he naturally eliminated other sessions as he got older. But there are still times when he may ask to nurse when it’s either inconvenient or too painful. I gently explain to him that we will nurse later. If he becomes upset, I let him know why – that my nipples are too sore to nurse right now.

I also know many pregnant nursing mamas (you know, the ones with excruciating nipple pain) who have to institute a “ten count.” Their toddler/preschooler nurses to the count of ten on one side, switches to the other side for another ten count, and then the nursing session is over. This gives the mama a light at the end of the tunnel, and it offers the child a concrete and simple time limit. And if you plan on tandem nursing, getting your older nursling into the routine of having some limits now may be helpful after you’re back to full-time nursing a newborn.

6) Get back to basics: Related to setting limits is getting back to those basics of nursing that can make a huge difference in how you feel both physically and emotionally. If your child is losing her latch (maybe because you are losing your milk), work on helping her relearn how to position her mouth correctly on the breast.4 Other children might start to relive their “nursing acrobatics” days – institute a “no wiggling” rule and “experiment with a broad range of nursing positions to which which ones steady the child and make for a comfortable latch-on.”5 The idea here is to start over. Pretend you haven’t allowed months or years of bad habits, and start anew with the good nursing manners you wish you’d instilled before. It’s never too late to start!


So. Nursing manners are a work in progress over here. And if I can emphasize that gentle part one more time, let me just put a bug in your ear: for mamas who decide to wean, whether it is because you are pregnant, your nursling is getting older, or for some other reason, remember to wean your child gently. If these are your final days of nursing, make an effort to remember them with fondness – not with frustration.

How has your nursing relationship evolved? Have you ever been bothered by a behavior later that was previously acceptable?


And now, the breastfeeding story blast from the past:

Twiddle Me This

Kieran is a twiddler. And you know what? I usually don’t care. My nipples have never been very sensitive, and breastfeeding has made them even less so. The only time it makes my skin crawl is when we haven’t clipped his nails in awhile.


Anyway. He usually twiddles when he’s sleepy. Once the twiddling stops, it’s a good indicator that he’s asleep.

One afternoon last week, I was trying to get him down for a nap. We were lying on our sides. He was nursing one side and twiddling the other.

And then he got an itch.

So without letting go of the nipple he was a-twiddlin’, he used his pointer finger to scratch his ear. I noticed, but didn’t think much of it.

He kept scratching. He also kept tugging more insistently on my nipple.

By this point, I was watching with mild interest. Was his hair in his ear? Could I move it without waking him up more than he already was? Could I help him scratch the itch so that he would calm down?

Apparently, Kieran had already planned on enlisting me:

With a sleepy – yet intense – concentration, he inched my nipple ever closer to his ear. Before I knew what was going on, he had popped the tip of my nipple into his ear and swirled it around, killing that pesky itch.

Satisfied, he relaxed his death grip on my nipple.

Somehow, I doubt Johnson & Johnson could use that story as a marketing tool.

Has your nipple ever been used for something strange?

Here are more post by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.

  1. Hilary Flower, Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond, at 39
  2. Rule Number One for curbing unwanted breastfeeding behavior: “Start early. Encourage good breastfeeding manners and discourage unwanted behavior early on. For example, many mothers start using a code word for breastfeeding long before baby is talking, and even a very young baby can learn not to bite when nursing. Be firm, clear and consistent with your expectations.” Yep. I didn’t do that.
  3. When I was a nursling, I played with the skin on my mama’s elbow. That habit stuck with me throughout childhood – I have fond memories of later rocking on my grandma’s lap and playing with her elbow skin. It’s true!
  4. has some good articles on helping with latch, see When Baby Bites and Latching and Positioning Resources.
  5. Adventures in Tandem Nursing at 43.

19 Responses to:
"Twiddle Me That"

  1. Melissa   vibreantwanderer

    Thanks for these suggestions, Dionna. The lack of nursing manners has really been showing itself around here lately, with attempts to pull my top down in public and the like, so I’m grateful for this advice now.

    I love the story of Kieran’s creative itch scratching. Hilarious!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Kieran went through a bout of trying to pull my shirt around in public. Luckily, that’s not one that stuck – but you can bet it was one I dealt with quickly ;)

  2. Cultured Mama Dawn   CulturedMama

    I’ve been finding I have to place limits on Ella’s nursing with this pregnancy. I don’t want to limit her too much, but on the other hand, I find I get touched out so much more quickly these days.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I’m in the same boat mama! Touched out is a great way to put it. I think it’s the tug of two bodies’ needs on me – KWIM? Sometimes I just want my body for ME!

  3. Amy   anktangle

    Thanks for the suggestions! I’m finding the need to set some boundaries about nursing (and teach some manners) lately, so this is very helpful.

    That’s really impressive that he got your nipple into his ear! I’m (kind of) trying to picture it…but not really. =P

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I am having trouble remembering how he maneuvered it in there myself, but I do remember trying not to wake him up with my laughter ;)

  4. Heather   xakana

    Well, a few weeks ago, Naomi nursed her last and I had no idea it would be the last time. With Lilly, I saw the end coming and we talked about it. With Naomi, she just stopped asking and since I’d rather be licked in one spot by a cat for an hour straight than nurse right now, I haven’t really offered. I did a few times when I realized that she wasn’t asking, even just took my breast without thinking out when she was snuggling, but nope. Since it felt like her mouth was full of glass, I am only sad that it ended so abruptly without us enjoying the last few sessions.

    Of course, she might pick it up again after the new baby comes, but somehow, I doubt it. Nursing was never on the top of her list of favorite things (even as a baby living on mama milk) and I always suspected she’d quit at a younger age than Lilly, but she’s only two and a half. That seems so young to me!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Oh shudder, shudder, shudder. The thought of that feeling for an hour makes me want to go screaming and running for the hills!
      Isn’t it crazy how the two of them are so different WRT bf’ing?! I know Lilly and Kieran are much more similar, and I’ve wondered what #2 will be like – if s/he will be such a mama milk fiend.

  5. LMBO @ the Nipple Q-tip story! My nipples have always been pretty tough, too, though twiddling this time around made me uncomfortable so I (thankfully) “nipped” it in the bud. Since getting pregnant, though, my sensitivity has been crazy! Off and on, anyway. It hurts a bit to nurse. And sometimes when she falls asleep, she bites down… hard! Ugh.

    Here’s the issue I brought up recently, though, on my own blog:

    She likes to run her TOES through my hair. That wouldn’t be *so* bad, except when she kicks me in the throat! UGH! So… toy in the hands just won’t do the trick here. Though I imagine if I had a necklace she’d maybe play with it instead of my hair… so that is a good thought. I may have to check into a necklace. I never wear any jewelry.

  6. Stopping the twiddling was one of the hardest things during the toddler nursing yrs. Those are some great tips; thanks for sharing!

  7. Anastasia   MotherhoodDblog

    I had been so lucky with my 2nd, Keeley, that I had nearly forgot Piper’s not-so-good nursing etiquette. Alas, Keeley has discovered that she can yank my shirt down (or pull my nipple out) and is on the way to having to learn some important manners as well. Thanks for the tips!

  8. Jemma

    This makes me feel a bit sad. My 28month old stopped breastfeeding a month or so ago. I’m 5months pregnant and feeding him was starting to get uncomfortable. I had been using the ‘count to 10’ rule for a while (which thankfully he found really funny!) but one week when I was working more than usual, he just didn’t ask for it anymore – even at bedtime (having previously been outraged by fictional characters in his books falling asleep without Mummy-milk!) I was unsurprised when he asked again a week or so later but I was surprised by how much his latch had deteriorated. I decided if we were going to carry on it needed to be fixed, but as soon as I told him that it made me sore he just would not suck anymore – he just lay there with his mouth round my nipple, gazing up at me with his big brown eyes. I asked ‘have we forgotten how to do it?’ and he burst into tears. He told me he’s going to try again when he’s older (as he does with other things he can’t do). I’m just sad it ended with tears I suppose and I do wonder if I could’ve been more gentle – I really was willing to help him relearn how to do it but the lovely boy wouldn’t even try once he knew it hurt me.

  9. My two year old likes to drive cars on the breast he’s not nursing from while breastfeeding. I much prefer that to “twiddling” (which he likes to do as he falls asleep, but which drives me insane.)

  10. Janine @ Alternative Housewife   thejaninefowler

    Ugh, this is so timely. My 10 month old is usually great but there is this one time of night, the first feed after going down for bedtime, where he insists on slipping his hands under my clothes to pinch and scratch my boobs and belly. It is NONSTOP and the most irritating sensation ever. I try to offer toys or my hand to hold but nothing seems to work yet. Hopefully it’s just a phase!

  11. Kirsten

    My 27 month old has always had horrible nursing manners, and I have been attempting to gently correct them from day one. The worst was the pinching and scratching, which I’m not sure if I stopped, or she just grew out of it, that’s how long it went on. She has since moved on to just putting her hand in my bra, but even that is annoying, since she has such restless hands (and a tendency to do it in public.) And I’ve been trying to gently correct her of this, too. But perhaps not consistently enough, just when it gets annoying.

    The only thing I have been able to successfully correct is twiddling! Thank goodness. Oh, and I suppose biting too.

  12. I can totally relate! I too have a twiddler and I too had to teach some manners when I got pregnant with baby #2. I’m so glad I read Adventures in Tandem nursing… it gave me the courage I needed to set limits and implement other changes.

    And thanks for sharing the nipple-q-tip story… it definitely had me laughing out loud :)

  13. Olivia

    My 2 yr old’s worst habit is wanting access to both breasts at every nursing session. She likes to switch back and forth. Every time I try to discourage it she starts whining and pulling at my shirt, and in public the last thing I want is more attention.

  14. Hannah

    Hi, I totally identify with this. I also let my son (now 3) twiddle as it didn’t bother me, but had to stop him doing it when I got pregnant as my nipples became sensitive. However, assuming that at some point my nipples go back to their previous non-sensitive state, I’m not sure if I’ll stop my second child from twiddling. The thing is, I’m not sure if the twiddling might actually serve a purpose? Isn’t it something they do in order to increase the milk supply/speed up the letdown? In which case, is it definitely right to prevent the behaviour? Twiddling a nursing necklace isn’t going to achieve the same outcome is it? So, although it has sometimes made things difficult in social situations and although it was a bit tricky when I eventually had to ban it, I’m not sure that I regret allowing it in the first place. Very interested in any other thoughts about this.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      You’re right Hannah – it does help stimulate a let-down reflex, which is why I wasn’t too adamant about stopping it when Kieran was younger. But once he got older, it was more habit than functional, so I don’t feel too bad about limiting it ;)

  • Grab my new badge!

    Visit Code Name: Mama

  • Visit Natural Parents Network
  • Display & participate!

    Visit Code Name: Mama

  • Carnival of Weaning

    Carnival of Weaning