Setting Boundaries when Nursing an Older Baby

RachelMS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS

Read time: 3 minutes

What to know about breastfeeding an older baby

  • What types of behaviors to expect from an older nursing baby

  • What type of boundaries you may need to set to help keep breastfeeding comfortable and productive for you and your baby

If you’re still nursing your baby as they approach their first birthday and beyond, great! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding until at least 12 months of age, while the World Health Organization encourages up to 2 years of age and beyond.1,2

Breastfeeding may serve many purposes when nursing an older baby or toddler. Breastmilk is nutritious for older children and has all the benefits that it did when your baby was younger.3,4 Since your older baby or toddler is likely eating a good amount of solid foods, nursing is also done for comfort and security, especially during an upsetting situation or when your child is sick.5,6

Read more: What are the Benefits of Breastmilk?

How does breastfeeding change as baby gets older?

No matter how long you choose to breastfeed your little one, you’ll notice that nursing sessions will change as your baby develops, grows, and becomes more aware of their surroundings. While smaller babies may simply nurse without many distractions, older ones may start “playing” with your breasts, grabbing your nose, pulling at your shirt, twirling your hair, or performing acrobatics when breastfeeding.4,7

All of these behaviors are completely normal for more mobile babies. Your older baby is more interested in exploring the world around them, and your body is no exception.8 While some of these tricks may be funny or adorable, others may be uncomfortable, painful, or just plain annoying. Tackling these issues will require patience, but if you are firm and consistent, you’ll be able to set boundaries that you and your not-so-little one can live with.4,7

If you want help brainstorming setting breastfeeding limits for your child or just want some support, reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am – 6pm (ET), and Saturday – Sunday 8am – 2pm (ET). Chat Now!

6 Tips for setting limits when nursing an older baby

#1 Correct unwanted behaviors early

Give a gentle “no” and correct unwanted breastfeeding behavior right when it occurs. The earlier you make it clear that something is inappropriate, the more likely your baby will discontinue that behavior. Be consistent and clear from the beginning.7

#2 Be firm

While you don’t want to be mean or scare your baby (which may bring on a nursing strike!), you’ll certainly want to use a firm tone to make sure your little one knows you mean business.8

Try direct commands like “be still” and/or give a consequence like “keep doing that and nursing time is over.”

Be sure to speak in simple terms that your child can understand. If the behavior continues, give a short explanation for why feeding time is over and then try again in a few minutes once your child has settled and if they would like to continue.7

Read more:

Biting and Teething During Breastfeeding

How to Deal with Nursing Strikes while Breastfeeding

#3 Be patient

Improving your baby’s nursing manners will take time, so do your best to be patient. Older babies are capable of listening and understanding more and more each day, so give short, simple explanations and be consistent.

You may sound like a broken record, but your kiddo will comprehend and comply soon.

For nursing antics that are just a little annoying (like blowing raspberries), it may even be worth it to wait and see if the novelty wears off without giving it attention. But for bigger issues (like shirt lifting or hair pulling), tackling the unwanted behavior as soon as possible will keep it from becoming a problem.4,7

#4 Distract and redirect

Give those little hands something else to do when nursing! You can offer your toddler a small toy to play with, have them explore their own body (where’s your nose? Ears? Toes?), clap their hands or play finger games. You can even distract your child with a story or a song.

Special nursing necklaces, bracelets, and scarves are also available to entertain your baby as they feed. Think of anything that can keep your little one’s attention without preventing them from actually feeding.7,8

#5 Keep your attention on your child

Focus on your baby when breastfeeding so they don’t feel compelled to demand your attention with unwanted behavior. They may be acting out if you’re talking on the phone, watching TV, or chatting with a pal while nursing. Turning your gaze to your babe may be all that’s needed to settle them.4

#6 Find a quiet spot

If your baby tends to pull off the breast and squeal at every passing distraction (squirrel running in the park or wailing fire engine), find a quiet setting to feed. Do your best to limit external distractions.4,8

Breastfeeding in public may be more difficult for older babies who are distracted easily, can’t stay still, or insist on pulling your shirt up and down. It’s often simpler to nurse before leaving home and offer a snack while you’re out and about.4

Bottom line

With the above tips, you and your little one can continue to enjoy your nursing relationship for as long as is desired.

Remember that as your child grows older, these boundaries may need to change and flex to help adjust for new behaviors, new sentiments toward breastfeed, as well as adjustments to your ever-changing schedule and environment. As long as you keep firm boundaries and an open mind, you and your child can continue to bond over breastfeeding.

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We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am - 6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am - 2pm (ET).Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Weaning Your Baby or Toddler From Breastmilk

How to Tandem Nurse Your Newborn and Your Older Child

Breastfeeding While Pregnant