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Picture this: Your baby wants to nurse. So you find a comfortable position, get settled in, and start breastfeeding. Your baby nurses, happy as a little lark. And if his hands get bored, he plays with your shirt, a toy, or pats your skin. What he doesn’t do is pinch, twist, pull, grab, or scratch your other nipple. There is no twiddling at all! You breastfeed in peace and without pain, just like that serene mother in the parenting magazine. (You know, the one you secretly hate.)
Sound too good to be true? It’s completely possible, mama.
But first. Why nipple twiddling happens.
Twiddling is when your baby messes with your other nipple (or your nose, lips, hair, ear, etc.) while breastfeeding. It can be sweet and endearing if you have a gentle baby.
But if your little one is rough, it feels like a baby lobster is practicing his grip strength on your nipple!
Just let me stress this: you are not being attacked by your baby. Maybe that sounds weird to you. But some of us have felt victimized and helpless at the hands of a brutal, insistent youngster.
Rest assured, your baby isn’t out to hurt you — no matter how much it may seem like he is.
The reason babies twiddle is three-fold.
First, it’s biological. Playing with your other nipple stimulates your milk supply by causing your body to produce more oxytocin. Using your free nipple, your baby can coax your breasts to letdown – or letdown again. (Yeah, letdown can happen more than once in a nursing session! Cool, right?) Your baby can get more milk from you when he twiddles. Which in turn, makes your milk supply stronger. So yes, there’s actually a physiological reason your baby wants to play with your breast.
Related Post: How to increase milk supply quickly
Second, it’s psychological. The act of twiddling is very calming and comforting for a lot of babies. Just as it stimulates oxytocin in you, it also stimulates oxytocin – a stress-reducing hormone that helps with emotional bonding – in your baby. So twiddling actually reduces stress for your baby and helps him bond with you! (Don’t let that little fact guilt you into allowing your baby to keep this up if you hate it. There are other ways to bond.)
Third, it’s physical. Twiddling keeps a baby’s hands busy and gives them something to focus on. With a focus object for their fingers, they can calm their mind and stay on task. While they have to be still and stay put while nursing, it gives them the energy and focus outlet they need to keep their active little bodies in place for a full feeding.
Pros of twiddling
- Comforts babies and relieves their stress
- Promotes emotional bonding
- Helps babies nurse better and get more milk from the breast
- Stimulates milk production
- Encourages additional letdowns
- Gives babies a focus object while nursing
Cons of twiddling
- Can get extremely irritating for moms
- Is sometimes painful
- Can raise a mother’s stress level
- Potentially embarrassing if your baby flashes your nips in public or reaches into another woman’s shirt
The common mistake
As moms, we want the best for our babies. Obviously. We’re certainly not breastfeeding for fun. So sometimes we get into a martyr mindset of making a sacrifice for the benefit of our precious tyke. Once we’re in that mindset, we tend to allow babies to do whatever they want – because, after all, this is our sacrifice.
It doesn’t have to be that way! You do NOT have to allow your baby to do anything that hurts or annoys you. Especially if it hurts or irritates you to the point where you dread breastfeeding.
Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that “tough love” is a bad thing. Like it will damage our child, bruise their emotions, or make them sad. Yeah, saying no might make your baby sad for a minute. But if twiddling is upsetting to you, there’s no reason why your child’s emotions are more valid than yours.
Breastfeeding should be enjoyable for both of you.
So if you’ve made the mistake of letting your little one dictate what happens while breastfeeding, let me empower you now. You have the authority and the right to make it stop.
You wouldn’t allow your significant other, your friend, or a stranger to hurt you. Don’t let your baby hurt you.
Proven Hacks to make it stop
If you’re nursling twiddles so much that it’s painful or distressing to you, rest easy that it IS possible to make it stop. Even if it’s been happening for a long time. Older children may actually be easier to redirect than young children.
Make access complicated. I’ll admit, if you have an insistent toddler, this won’t be an easy task. But for younger babies, a snug or complicated bra like this one will keep them from being able to reach your other nipple. They may get frustrated, but if you’re ready with a distraction, this can work beautifully.
Take the boob away. Get your other breast off the proverbial table by changing your position. Position yourself and your baby in such a way that reaching it isn’t even possible. Options include covering your nipple with your arm, laying your little one’s tummy across it, or laying turned slightly on your side and feeding from the high breast while you keep the low breast tucked under you.
Related Post: 8 Steps to get ready for breastfeeding
Cover your nipple with your hand. When you cover your nipple with your hand, you protect that tender nub while still giving your youngster some fingers to play with. Win-win! Note: this might infuriate an insistent toddler. Don’t get into a battle of wills – if it doesn’t work easily, try another option.
Wear a nursing necklace. If all your little one wants
Get a twiddle toy. It’s really helpful to get a tactile toy your baby can play with while he nurses. If you have a nursing station, keep the toy right there so it’s always handy when you need it! The key to making this work is that the only time you allow him to have the toy is while nursing. You may have to experiment with textures: smooth, bumpy, fluffy, crinkly, rough, soft, etc. to find one he’s crazy about. I really like the OgoBolli rattle and teether toy for this! It’s soft, stretchy, and super easy for a baby to grasp.
Provide a distraction. A really effective tactic that I like is to distract twiddling babies with something fascinating. Options for this include finger games (like Little Bunny Foo Foo, This Little Piggy, Where is Thumbkin, finger wrestling, or counting), telling a story, singing silly songs, talking, playing mild games like peek-a-boo, and making silly faces.
Train your baby to be gentle. Training takes time and consistency, but it’s a really great step in the direction of teaching your baby boundaries. Come up with a phrase you use every time he starts twiddling. (“Ouch that hurts,” “Stop,” “That’s a no-no,” “Leave it alone,” and “We don’t do that” all work well) Then redirect them to gentle touch. Every time, mama. Do this every single time twiddling starts. It’ll take several days, maybe even a few weeks, but your baby will learn what’s okay and what’s not.
I only recommend doing this if you’re not feeling desperate and your baby is old enough to understand.
Stop nursing when twiddling starts. This goes along with training your child to stop twiddling, and only works for babies at least 6 months old. When twiddling starts, firmly tell them no and move their hand away. If they start again, unlatch them and say “if you do that, you’re done nursing.” When they take their hand away, you can start nursing again. Note: you have to be consistent here. If you don’t do it every single time, you’re wasting your time.
Cover your nipple with a bottle nipple. This is an act of desperation for some, but it’s effective. Simply take a bottle nipple and cover your own nipple with it. It doesn’t stop twiddling, but it does give them something to tweak besides your poor nipple. If your kiddo will tweak through your clothes, then you can stick it in place under your bra and enjoy the relief. If not, you’ll have to hold it in place the whole time. Which is still preferable to that painful lobster grip.
Get silicone pasties to cover your nipple. I’d do this as a final resort. But if your baby is insistent and the other things haven’t helped, you can get silicone nipple covers on Amazon. They fit right in place over your breast and make your nipple disappear. Another option is to get pasties with an interesting texture. That way, their hand is in the right place, but there’s something new to play with.
It’s in your hands (not your baby’s hand)
Babies don’t twiddle for no reason. They have valid biological, psychological, and physical reasons for doing it. And twiddling benefits you and your milk supply as well! But if it’s driving you nuts, or if it’s painful, you need to put a stop to
You’re the parent and you get to decide what is and is not acceptable for your body. You can take away their access to your other breast. Or you can use gentle training and distractions to teach them appropriate boundaries. Even though your youngster may be insistent, you absolutely have the power to change their behavior!
Did you get your baby to stop twiddling? What technique helped the most? I’d love to know! Please comment below and share.
(2014, September 15). Nipple Twiddling While Nursing – How To Stop The Tweaks. Retrieved from https://childrensmd.org/browse-by-age-group/newborn-infants/nipple-twiddling-nursing-stop-tweeks/