Twiddling. The one aspect of my son’s natural nursing behaviour that I simply couldn’t abide! If you have never heard of it before, it is when your nursing pulls, twists, pats, yanks or pinches the opposite nipple to the one from which they are nursing. I remember the first time that he yanked my nipple with his chubby little fist. I thought it was a random one-off…and then he started regularly routing around in my top to pinch my nipple between his thumb and index finger. It made my skin crawl and I had to stop it as soon as possible.
It is worth noting that whilst annoying, twiddling is completely natural & normal behaviour. It is comforting to your nursling & serves to induce a let down & build your supply. If you don’t mind it, there’s absolutely no reason to stop it! If you do though, I hope that these tips help you too:
1. Communicate clearly, calmly & consistently - "No baby, I don't like that," "Nope, not there," and/or cover your nipple with your hand. Give yourself permission to do this even if it upsets your nursling. It's not only OK to teach them about bodily boundaries, it is really healthy.
2. Redirect your toddler's hand by holding it, kissing it or counting their fingers.
3. Talk about twiddling about it beforehand and afterwards, focusing on what they can do instead.
4. Redirect their tiny hand to your armpit, chest, face or a button or drawstring on your clothing. Just take care that they don't pull anything off which could be a choking hazard.
5. Teach your child to be gentle - it could be that having them pinching your nipple between their nails is unbearable, but having them rest their hand on your breast or chest is fine with you.
6. Offer them a toy, dummy/pacifier or bottle teat to twiddle instead. Wearing a teething necklace is another child-friendly alternative to twiddling.
These steps worked for me and even now - months after we stopped breastfeeding - my son is particularly fond of wedging his little hand into my armpit for comfort and connection. He used to do this when he was nursing too & it suited me a hell of a lot more than feeling like I was being pinched to death by his tiny pincers.
Reminder: you do not need to feel guilty about having breastfeeding boundaries. Nursing is a dyad – a relationship between two people – one of whom is you. This two-way partnership has to work for you both for as long as you want it to continue.If there comes a time when you no longer want to breastfeed and you need help stopping gently and responsively, you can read my weaning story here.