If you’ve breastfed your child into toddlerhood, that’s a huge accomplishment. You may feel like, My two year old is breastfeeding all the time! and you honestly may not like it. If that’s the case, it’s probably time to set some gentle limits on your toddler’s nursing.
Because here’s the thing: Breastfeeding is a relationship. All relationships evolve and grow. Just like your relationship with a friend isn’t the same as when you first met, it’s okay that your breastfeeding relationship changes over time.
And beyond that, breastfeeding (like any relationship) is a two-way street. Granted, it’s pretty one-sided in the beginning when your child is a newborn and needs to nurse constantly, but as your baby grows, it’s good to gently teach patience and empathy for others’ needs.
But it’s hard to know when (or even if) to start setting boundaries, and what kind to set (especially if you think, “My toddler is obsessed with breastfeeding!”).
There’s a ton of pressure (both self-inflicted and from society) to give all of your self to your child, and it can cause a lot of internal conflict for moms.
On top of that, some people (often family) don’t understand that breastfeeding can be important to you, even if you sometimes want or need a break. Expressing those feelings may lead dear Aunt Sally to say, “Why don’t you just wean? He’s too old to be nursing anyways.”
And frankly, you’re tired of explaining all the reasons breastfeeding is important even in toddlerhood.
RELATED: Benefits of toddler breastfeeding
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So you feel stuck.
If this sounds familiar, keep reading to learn how to set limits on your toddler’s nursing while knowing you’re still doing what’s best for both of you.
When should I set boundaries on breastfeeding?
If you’re worried about how to know it’s time to set limits on toddler breastfeeding, that’s probably a good indication that now is the time.
With that said, here’s some more specific indications that it’s time to set limits on nursing.
You feel resentful
If you resent breastfeeding your child and are annoyed every time they ask, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother. That simply means that you need a break.
You feel like a victim
If you feel like you have no choice, like you have to breastfeed every time your child asks because that’s what you’re supposed to do, that’s not a good sign.
You definitely need to feel like you have agency in your life, so don’t let yourself feel like you’re backed into a corner.
You’re experiencing nursing aversion and agitation
Do you feel grossed out, disgusted, or even enraged when your child nurses? Do you feel like you just want to claw your skin off, anything to make it stop?
That’s a real thing, and it’s called nursing aversion.
So if you secretly think I hate nursing my 2 year old, let me repeat: You’re not alone, and you’re not a bad mom.
RELATED: Nursing aversion (or when breastfeeding isn’t magical)
I have an entire blog post all about nursing aversion that you can read, but long story short: You need support and you need to set some nursing boundaries.
A magnesium supplement (either magnesium oil spray or a chelated magnesium supplement) can be a lifesaver for NA, but gentle limits make a huge difference too.
Note: Nursing aversion is often worse during PMS. So if that’s what’s going on with you, give yourself a little extra grace.
RELATED: What to do when PMS drops your milk supply
You’re pregnant or tandem nursing
To be clear, there’s no reason (with a few exceptions) that you can’t continue nursing your toddler through pregnancy or even alongside your newborn (as long as your healthcare provider hasn’t recommended no sex to protect from premature labor, you should be fine nursing during pregnancy).
RELATED: Breastfeeding while pregnant – what you need to know
However, with all the demands on your body and emotions, you will likely need a little space. And let’s be honest, your newborn/infant is going to need to nurse more often than your older child.
RELATED: What tandem feeding a newborn and toddler is like
11 ways to set gentle boundaries with your nursing toddler
Fortunately, there’s several limits you can set (some easier than others) that can make nursing more pleasant for you. These are ordered from least to most drastic, so you can decide what works for you.
Help guide your child’s latch
As your toddler grows, they sometimes become lazy in their latch, which might cause them to “nipple feed” instead of breastfeed or to take your nipple in their teeth.
You can tell your child “wide mouth, please” and that can often correct a latch problem.
Don’t allow twiddling
Honestly, for me, even writing the word “twiddling” makes me shudder a little. I personally just do not like when my baby twiddles the other nipple while nursing.
You can gently hold your toddler’s hand to stop them from twiddling, or you can even get a nursing necklace with chunky beads that your baby can play with instead of your nipples. This one is super cute, comes in several designs, and is made from non-toxic silicone.
Don’t sit in the usual nursing spot
Do you often cuddle up in a particular recliner to nurse? Avoid that chair when you don’t feel like breastfeeding.
Your child associates that place with mama milk, so they’re going to expect access when you’re there. Help them not think about nursing by staying somewhere else.
Say later (not no)
While you’re allowed to nurse your toddler anywhere you’re both allowed to be, you certainly don’t have to. So if your child starts trying to pull your shirt down while sitting in the shopping cart in the middle of Target, it’s fine to say, “No milkies now. Milkies when we get home.”
Just make sure you remember to do what you say. That way your child is reminded that they can trust you.
Cut down the number of nursing sessions
If you feel like you’d be more comfortable with nursing if you have a bit more control over when, then you might want to designate specific times to nurse (before naptime and bedtime are popular choices).
You’ll want to remind your child what the expectations are. “We’re not getting nursies right now. We’ll get nursies at naptime.”
Distract your child
Have some fun activities planned for when your child asks to nurse (these are really helpful). You can simply say, “No nursies right now. Do you want to play with your blocks?”
Hopefully, your child is so excited to play that they forget all about nursing (at least for a little while).
You can offer to cuddle your child when you don’t feel like breastfeeding. They might feel a little sad, but it’s okay (and even good!) for you to comfort them through their big feelings.
RELATED: 6 steps to calm toddler tantrums
But hopefully, you can enjoy the quiet, peaceful time together.
Explain that the milkies hurt
Especially if your toddler is a little older (say, 2.5-3 years), it’s great for your child to learn empathy for others. You can explain that the na-nas hurt and need a break. Some moms even put a bandage over their nipple as a visual reminder.
By the way, this is fine for nursing aversion too. After all, the milkies hurt is much easier to understand (and less hurtful) than I want to claw my hair out when you nurse. Nursing aversion does hurt, even if it’s psychological and emotional rather than physical.
Count to ten or sing a song
Tell your child upfront that they can nurse to the count of ten (or whatever number you decide). Then, you can count as slowly or quickly as you need depending on how difficult nursing feels that day.
You can also choose a song you both like. We can nurse as long as it takes to sing Itsy Bitsy Spider.
Warning: Your child might catch onto this method and eventually ask, “Please no counting.” It’s heartbreaking. But again, you can empathize with your child and help them through their feelings.
Teaching your child to go all night without nursing may help you feel much better. In fact, nursing aversion is often helped by getting more sleep.
However, night weaning is definitely a process. I have a whole post if you want to learn more.
I also have the FREE Night Weaning Action Pack available for you. Just sign up for my email list for this fantastic resource.
If, trying all the other boundary-setting tips and tricks, you still feel like you just need nursing to be over with, that’s okay. It’s fantastic that you breastfed your child as long as you did.
I have a whole post on how to gently wean your toddler if you need more detailed info. Make sure you check it out.
Conclusions on setting limits on toddler breastfeeding
Hopefully at least a few of these ideas sound useful to you and you can start to enjoy your nursing relationship with your toddler again.
Remember, breastfeeding is a relationship, and you deserve to be happy in this relationship too.