Etiquette for Breastfeeders

by Julie Kientz Elting

Etiquette for Breastfeeders

During the early days of breastfeeding, a mom can usually count on one thing: Once her baby gets positioned and latched on, he’ll stay there, calm and contented. At about 4 months, however, an infant’s curiosity kicks in: His hands begin to wander, his head turns, his body wiggles.

“Once these behaviors become a habit, they can be difficult to change,” says Norma Jane Bumgarner, the author of Mothering Your Nursing Toddler. Here are some simple ways to fight breastfeeding fidgets:


A baby will delight in discovering that he can nurse while probing your mouth, fingering your jewelry, or pulling your hair. Remove any necklaces within his reach, and if your hair is long, wear a headband or a ponytail. To discourage nipple play, keep your bra closed on the non-nursing side. During nighttime feedings, cover the other breast with your pajama top or the bedcover. Should he get hold of an off-limits area, gently guide his hand away. Shake your head and say, “Mommy doesn’t like that,” then offer your finger or a toy for him to play with. Bumgarner recommends discouraging in private any behavior you wouldn’t want duplicated at the local mall. As soon as your blouse starts to rise, kindly but firmly state, “Mommy wants her shirt down.” Hold it in place if necessary, and redirect your baby’s hand.


While nursing, a baby can become interested in voices, sudden noises, and activity around him. But he may forget to let go of Mom’s nipple before turning his head to investigate. Ouch!

Whenever your baby seems distracted, simply remove him from the breast; he may be content to end the nursing session then and there. If he’s still hungry, find a less stimulating place to feed him, such as a dimly lit, quiet room. “If you must nurse amidst a lot of activity, hold him in a sling, which will cut down on visual distraction,” says Anne Easterday, a lactation consultant in Omaha. Or throw a small blanket over your shoulder to block his view.


Almost all nursers will bite occasionally — due to teething pain, a stuffy nose, or just plain inattentiveness — but it shouldn’t become a habit. A natural reaction from you, such as recoiling, is usually enough to teach him that when he nips, he doesn’t get to nurse.

Some babies use their teeth because they’re impatient for milk to let down. Manual stimulation of your nipple before latch-on will help hasten the flow. A desire for attention could also cause a baby to bite. Maintain eye contact throughout feedings, and end them promptly when sucking slacks off.

If your baby laughs or grins when he nips, he may be doing it just to see your reaction, not realizing he’s causing pain. When bitten, try to stay calm. Remove him from your breast, put him down, and tell him, “Don’t bite Mommy.” If you need to, take a few minutes to regain your composure before resuming feeding.