Guest Author - Nicki Heskin
Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to connect with your baby, but also requires a large amount of time each day when there is a newborn literally attached to the mother's body. With a first baby, this can be a blessing – it makes the mother sit down and rest and take time with her bundle of joy.
But with an older sibling running around, especially a toddler or preschooler, it can seem overwhelming to nurse and care for the older child at the same time. While mothers may have complained about the need to sit so many hours for breastfeeding the first time around, it now seems like a glorious luxury! Here are some tips and ideas to handle breastfeeding and still stay connected and present for older children.
Breastfeeding Activities for Older Children
There are lots of things that older children can do to connect with Mommy while the baby is breastfeeding. In the early days, they'll simply want to watch. Explain how the breastfeeding works and show them how the milk comes out for the baby. Let them snuggle close and gently stroke the baby's head or arms or legs and be a part of those moments – young children may feel left out of the connection between mother and baby and will want to feel included. Until the baby is closer to 4 months, he or she is unlikely to be distracted by this and it may even help keep a sleepy baby awake and nursing.
When the breastfeeding, and the baby, stops being such a novelty, this is a great time to read to an older child or let them read to Mommy and baby if they are early or practiced readers. There are great books for older siblings about having nursing babies that can be included in the repertoire – I have included links to two of my favorites below and reviews of both in related links at the end of the article.
Kids can color pictures close by for mommy and baby. If they are too young to reliably handle crayons or markers independently, try a magnetic drawing tablet. Invite them to sing the baby a song, or make up songs together (my older daughter and I used to make up verses of "My Little AliKat," the baby's nickname, to the tune of "My Little Buttercup"). They may like to put on dress up and do a show. Really anything they can do nearby and receive attention from Mommy will make them happy.
Involve Children in Nursing
Young children may want to play a more active role in something that is taking up so much of Mommy's day. Place water bottles or a dispenser and cups in a place where children can bring Mommy water during nursing sessions. Both girls and boys may want to sit by Mommy and nurse baby dolls. (Cut off the bottom of a child's T-shirt for an inexpensive baby doll sling.) Pumping or hand expressing breast milk for older children can make them feel included and offer health benefits at the same time.
Breastfeed on the Go
The reality is that it is not realistic to expect young children to always be patient and wait for their own needs to be met while Mommy is nursing. Try placing the baby in a sling when sitting down and nursing and once the baby is latched on, it is easy to get up and move around the house to be with or assist older children. Slings aren't exactly "hands-free" but certainly add support and free up at least the hand opposite the nursing breast.
Get comfortable nursing in public, so that after the first weeks it's easy to be out and about on playdates or outings for your older child – get a nursing cover if it makes it less overwhelming in the early months. Nurse on cue when possible, so the family is not locked into a nursing schedule that restricts movement. Try to limit too many consecutive activities with fixed start times and have reasonable expectations on what can be accomplished in a day. This way, nursing breaks can happen to support the baby's needs without stressing out Mom and older children.
While the early days of breastfeeding a baby and caring for older children can seem overwhelming at first, it is surprising how quickly everyone adjusts, especially once breastfeeding is established and past any early challenges. The ease and mobility of exclusive breastfeeding will quickly surpass the time consuming or challenging first weeks and actually make life easier as the months go on. Treasure the too-short time when older children and babies are home together. Making use of the tips above, time spent nursing can easily be an asset in creating connection rather than an impediment.