Pinching: What to do if your nursing baby pinches your nipples

My toddler can't stay still to nurse. Not only does he twist and turn, but he pulls on my shirt, grabs my ear and nose and pinches my other nipple. I don't feel he's really ready to wean yet, but some days I'm tempted! He's impossible to nurse lately -- what should I do?


Kathy Kuhn

Kathy Kuhn is a registered nurse who has been working with breastfeeding families since 1981. She has been an International Board Certified... Read more

This is relatively common with nursing toddlers but at this age he's ready to learn some reasonable limits.

You may want to begin by holding your baby's hand to prevent him from pinching or playing with your clothes. You could also play with his hand or kiss it to provide a more acceptable activity while also acting as a gentle physically restraint.

Some mothers find that talking to their baby, or singing, helps to hold his attention and lessens the fidgeting. Others use special necklaces that are made just for the nosy or distracted nursing toddler. The necklaces are made with a sturdy string or cord and large colorful or toy-shaped beads that the baby can play with during nursing, instead of playing with mom's nipple or other body parts. If you opt to try the necklace, make sure it is made with non-toxic and safe materials.

Some have also had success with giving their baby an object to hold on to, and play with, such as a small stuffed animal or blanket. One advantage there is that it can be used as a transitional item to help the baby settle when you are not available, since your baby will associate the special breastfeeding toy with being comforted.

You may also have success by nursing in a quieter environment, when you can, and wearing a bra that does not give easy access to your other nipple.

If the distraction techniques don't work, you can also begin to teach your toddler not to do these behaviors by gently, quickly, and matter of factly removing him from the breast as soon as any of the behaviors start. Try to nurture him some other way for at least a few minutes and then you can resume the breastfeeding if he still needs it. You will be surprised how quickly your toddler will learn that when he is twisting around or pinching your nipple he gets removed from the breast. This can be a very effective way to stop this behavior if you are consistent. Don't be afraid to very gently admonish him with descriptive words, like "ouch", " hurts" or" no." Try to make it clear to your baby that it is the pinching not the breastfeeding that is causing you discomfort.

Usually toddlers start the type of behavior you describe toward the end of a feeding or during feedings that are less important to them. When the toddler is serious about breastfeeding he tends to "get down to business" and nurse very effectively and calmly. You may find that he doesn't really "need' the nursings during which he seems particularly distracted.That may be his signal he is ready to give up a particular feeding or needs some other type of attention at this time.

Most toddlers are easily distracted and have a hard time sitting still, but you may also want to consider other things that may be increasing his distractibility, such as an overstimulating environment. Maybe he needs more quiet time in his "schedule", or maybe he has a playmate or sibling that is getting him particularly excited. Make sure you are not consuming excessive caffeine and that the baby is not getting it directly by drinking cola or tea. Most babies can tolerate a little caffeine in mom's diet but some, like many adults, are super sensitive to it. Certainly if his distractibility and excitability seems extremely excessive compared to other babies his age please be sure to discuss it to his doctor.

Need Advice?
Get answers from iVillage experts and other moms just like you!
Question Details
  1. Pick a subject:
Connect with 1,039,394 members just like you
Share your knowledge, ask questions.