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.


The Art of Namesnobbery

Do you know me? Do you have a child? If so, I’ve probably judged the heck out of you for what you named them.

I’ve met many parents who feel the need to have a boy name and a girl name picked out by the time they find out the baby’s sex, and then announce it with the gender reveal. Not only do I not understand the urgency, I don’t know how they can pick something and stick to it for so long before even meeting the baby.

The naming process became longer and messier with each child. With our first, we found out she was a girl and chose one of the two girl names I’d fallen in love with, though we didn’t announce it until she was born. The one downfall was that Kourtney Kardashian had her daughter Penelope just days before we how our Penelope — before that, the name was relatively obscure. Familiar, but uncommon. Thanks, Kourt.

With our second baby, the pressure was on. We wanted the name to mesh with Penelope’s. Members of the baby name community (yes, it exists) call that a sibset. We had tons of girl name ideas and almost no boy names we could agree on. Surprise surprise, he was a boy! We spent the time between the 20-week ultrasound and his birth kicking around names, frustrated and unable to commit. When he was born, I asked my husband if he looks like a Malcolm, and he said yes, and Malcolm he was.

Our third baby was the only baby with a surprise gender. We had exactly one boy name chosen at her birth and several girl names, and none of them fit her. We chose a first name that we’d never considered for any of our children, and a “word name” middle name, which I’m usually against.

It was that third naming experience that really changed my mind and my heart about striving to find the perfect name before you meet your baby.

We held her, snuggled her, and looked into her little blue eyes for four days before she had her name. We truly felt like she told us what she should be. Friends and family were anxious for updates — they couldn’t stand the fact that she was a No Name McGee — but we didn’t rush it, and we’re so grateful. I’ll always love the names we had planned for her, they just didn’t fit her personality.

And good news: her name only broke two of my babynaming rules. That’s right, I have rules. They are as follows.

  • Can’t end in an s/x/z because our last name starts with S and ends in Z. We’ve already set a lispy kid up for a rough go.
  • Can’t have a long A sound, because it would then rhyme with our last name.
  • Can’t have obnoxious initials.
  • Must have an easy enough nickname.
  • Shouldn’t be in the top 100 for popularity. (Violet was 47 at the time of her birth. Whoopsies!)
  • I must never have met anyone else, ever, with that name. (The only other Violet I’d ever met was an elderly lady, a friend of a friend, so I didn’t have any real association with her name.)

Have I sucked all the fun out of naming our children? Probably. Will I silently judge you for breaking any of my useless, imaginary rules? Uh-huh. But will I politely tell you your child’s name is wonderful and perfect? Yes. Because I know I’m neurotic, and the names of other people’s children aren’t my business, but they entertain me to no end.