The Pains of Nursing a Toddler

I wrote the following for MamaNook, where I’m a contributing editor.

My stomach and sides are covered in tiny little scratches.

My areolas have bite marks.

Nursing my toddler is not fun right now. That’s OK to admit, and it doesn’t mean I have to stop breastfeeding.

Violet, 16 months, is my third baby. A lot of people consider third kids to be the curveball — just when you think you’re experienced and you’ve got this motherhood gig figured out, they give you challenges the first two didn’t. That’s the case for us.

She’s feisty and has a huge personality. She’s quick to lose her temper, and instead of normal tantrums, she acts violent beyond her age, courtesy of having two older siblings who’ve shown her the ropes!

That means that when she’s teething (when isn’t she teething?!), or sick, my worn-out body gets the brunt of it. I’ve been bit by my other babies plenty of times, or pinched, or had them grab the breast they weren’t nursing from… but nothing like baby Vi. She loves to nibble my nipple and knead at my skin. Clipping her fingernails is a lot like bathing a cat, so it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should.

So, what’s a mom to do? As with my other kiddos, I try to teach empathy as early as possible. I don’t overdo it, and I try my hardest not to have my reaction be seen as funny, but I make tons of sad eye contact. I tell her, “Ow! That hurt Mama. Can you show me how you can be gentle?” I actually do that with any physical acts of aggression — at 16 months, she takes that as a cue to pet whoever she’s hurt. Before she learned that, I’d take her hand and physically make her pet me a little. Depending on her ability to stop and nurse pain-free, I may end the nursing session and give her something to chew on, like a cold veggie, popsicle, or toy.

Sometimes, especially when I’m caught off-guard, I’ll yell. Not yell at her, but yelp in pain because a surprise chomp to the nipple is its own circle of hell. Leigh Anne O’Connor, a lactation consultant who’s worked in the breastfeeding field for two decades, has a hilarious and helpful article about babies who bite here. “As he is feeling those incisors pushing through his flesh,” she writes, “nothing will soothe that sensation like biting down on something nice – like a breast!  Ouch!”

She and I can both assure you, though, that this shouldn’t be taken as a signal to wean. Sure, you can wean whenever you want, for whatever reason you’d like. But don’t misconstrue this phase as a definite ending to your breastfeeding relationship. It certainly doesn’t have to be, as the phase will pass.

How can you cope with this? Honestly, talk about it. Normalize it so you and moms around you don’t think you’ve got the only bitey baby. There’s strength in knowing you’re not the only one going through something hard.

If you need to, and/or are able to, pass the kiddo off to your partner or a support person after a bite episode so you can take some time to breathe. As immature as it sounds, it’s hard for me not to hold a bit of a grudge as the soreness of the bite wears off, and some time to myself is a nice remedy for those feelings.

If you know biting is likely to happen — if teeth are about to cut through, or baby has the sniffles — try to stop it before it starts. Treat the teething (teething oil, ibuprofen, chewing on a cold wash cloth, etc) or cold (suction their nose, use some eucalyptus rub) before you nurse.

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Natural birth: Hey, no one asked you, Theresa!

I give a lot of credit to the normalizing of mediumship to Theresa Caputo of Long Island Medium.

I’m a fan. I don’t worship her, or even watch her show regularly (no cable, boo!), but I’ve seen several episodes and read her first book, There’s More To Life Than This. When she came to town, my sister and I jumped on the idea as a way to celebrate our 30th birthday.

I’d only been to one other group reading, which was about a dozen people in a retail shop, and each person got a message. Obviously, Theresa’s show was a totally different experience — there were 1,800 people crammed into chairs and bleachers in a tribal casino banquet hall. She was able to give 10 or 15 readings, and they were amazingly correct and clearly life-changing for the audience. It was emotional. Seeing these people, knee-deep in grief, getting messages tugged at everyone’s heartstrings. My sister and I even saw a middle-aged man crying before it even began. Sadly, he didn’t get a reading.

All was well, until Theresa began to read a young pregnant woman.

I should clarify: I’m a natural sort of mama. I’ve never had an epidural — in fact, two of my three babies were born at home. I breastfeed well into toddlerhood. I babywear like crazy. It’s just who I am and what I do; I know my choices differ from those of others. That’s not an issue.

The issue was when Theresa asked the woman if she had fear around giving birth. She said yes, she did. Theresa asked if she was planning an all-natural birth and the woman replied, “I’m going to try.”

It was then that Theresa, being her loud, boisterous, Italian self, joked to excess that there’s no way she should attempt that. That was for our ancestors. Now we have drugs, she said, so use them. It’s as stupid as going to the dentist and declining novocaine.

My heart sank.

This woman, pregnant with her first child, aiming for a natural childbirth, was mocked for her birth plan in front of 1,800 people.

When I was newly pregnant, my introverted self realized how much people want to talk to women who are with child. On more than one encounter, I had completely random people tell me to get an epidural. Like, we weren’t even talking about that. “Oh, you’re pregnant? GET. DRUGS. TRUST ME.”

I don’t care if other people get epidurals or elective cesareans or whatever they want. I hope their choices are educated ones and that they’re supported and not bullied, that’s all. And maybe it’s because I’m an empath who easily lets the opinions of others get to me, but in plain English: If Theresa had said that to me, in such a large setting that’s supposed to be loving and heartwarming, I would be broken. She would’ve broken my spirit. Three kids in, I would’ve given her hell. But as a newbie to the parenting world, I would’ve been shaken.

The thing is, when you’re giving a reading of any kind, be it mediumship, intuitive life coaching, astrology, whatever — you’re in a position of power. As anyone who’s seen Long Island Medium knows, she supposedly clears her mind to allow the thoughts and emotions of spirit to come through. The anti-natural birth message she gave was her own opinion to make the audience laugh; it’s not at all what the woman’s grandmother had to say. She should’ve been more kind and conscientious. One joke would’ve been plenty, but it continued on for entirely too long. I wasn’t surprised that she pushed an epidural on this stranger, but I don’t think it’s right for anyone to shove their birthing views on pregnant women. Especially when you’re a medium, and a celebrity, in the middle of a reading.

And for the sake of honesty, I will tell you: I found the woman after the reading. I, the owner of a big mouth, apologized to her for how Theresa had treated her. I told her should CAN do it. She seemed embarrassed and overwhelmed, and quietly said, “I’m fine.”

Do I think she was fine? No. Do I regret pestering her? A little, yeah. I would’ve appreciated some support if I were her, so I took a gamble and hoped my words would be well-received. I can’t say they were, but I tried.