When breastfeeding is used ─ not as food ─ but as a pacifier to calm toddler tantrums or to soothe him to sleep, that is known as comfort nursing.
The heart of this “technique” lies in its ability to indulge the child’s enjoyment of sucking. It puts a whole new spin to what is normally understood as breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is primarily required to provide the necessary nutrients for a newborn up to six months old, after which he should be weaned to begin solids to get nutrition from other sources. Breastmilk alone at this point is insufficient to support the needs of the rapidly growing child. However, new research says a woman can continue to complement solid food with breastfeeding until the child is one year old, if she and the child agree with the arrangement.
When Breastfeeding gets Extreme
When breastfeeding goes beyond this point, it is then known as extended breastfeeding or extreme breastfeeding as the BBC would put it.
Much has also been said about the benefits of extended breastfeeding. Sure, you confer the benefits of breastmilk long after it is not really required (after all, the child is already getting nutrition from other food sources) and sure, there is anecdotal evidence that says extended breastfed children grow up healthier.
However, some psychologists ask: Are these mothers creating a child who will forever be dependent on their breasts for comfort and security? Some go further to say that this will create narcissistic children. “It’s not the breastfeeding that’s wrong, it is the indulgence“.
It seems extended breastfeeding has many drawbacks on the daily front, especially for mum who gets torn between the need to find her own space away from the child, and the satisfaction she gets from continuing to give that space.
In Malaysia, it seems a lot of mothers breastfeed their children until well past the age of one. In fact, many continue to breastfeed until their children reach the ages of two-plus to even four. Some continue to provide suckling comfort long after the milk has dried up. Nursing at this stage is more to gratify the child who simply needs to latch on in order to be soothed to go to sleep.
If mum is the only one who can provide comfort to the child through her breasts, then life becomes difficult for her, especially if she is a working mum and/or has other children to see to. Plus, she needs rest and sleep too.
A lot of the drawbacks of extended breastfeeding revolve around sleep. The child cannot fall asleep without comfort nursing and will wake many times a night demanding to be nursed back to sleep. This will create sleep deprivation for both mother and child.
One mum complained: “My toddler just wants to nurse all night long. He won’t let my breasts off. The moment I move, he will wake up, look for me and freak out if he finds I am not there.”
Another one said: “I’m stuck on the couch 22 hours a day because my baby constantly wants to nurse. When he’s not nursing he wants to be held and I’m left to sleep sitting up every night. I try to lay him down but he wants to comfort nurse until he falls back asleep.”
Yet one more said: “I nurse my 20 month-old to sleep. We co-sleep, but she’ll wake usually about two hours after she initially falls asleep and she’ll want to be nursed back to sleep again. Sometimes, it will take 20 minutes of essentially just sucking, not drinking, to make her fall asleep again. The waking happens sometimes three to four times a night. I am so tired of just being used as a pacifier.”
Malaysian Mums have their Complaints too
The moment I arrive back from work, my son rushes at me and cries for nen nen nen nen. He will be pulling at me to latch on. He is already three-plus. I have dried off months ago. I breastfed until he was three. I tried telling him he’s a big boy already, he can’t go on breastfeeding but he doesn’t understand. He will scream and cry and plead. I am so tired. I don’t even have time to change out of my office clothes and I have to lie there and let him nurse. How can I get him to wean off?”
The Longer You Breastfeed, the Longer it will take to Wean Off
Some studies show that children who breastfeed beyond one year are harder to wean off than average. If you think about it, it makes sense. It’s the law of habit. The longer you do something, the harder it is to stop. Therefore, the longer you breastfeed, that harder it will be to wean off.
How to Stop Being Used as a Human Pacifier?
Here’s how to handle a child who never wants to be off your breast:
- Think before you give In: Does he just need a cuddle? If he does then give him the closeness that he craves without the need to unbutton your blouse. Hold him close, talk to him, read him a story, tell him everything is alright.
- Try a pacifier: Babies love to nurse, but after a while, when it’s just non-nutritive sucking, it is just a habit. If he wants to suck, offer a pacifier but you can still lay close to him while he self-soothes on the pacifier.
- Create an effective sleeping environment: Creating an effective sleeping environment will help get your child to sleep without the need to nurse. It helps build his or her circadian rhythm. To do this, simply dim the lights and create a quiet environment whenever it is time for sleeping. Try adding in lullabies, gentle rocking, reading or white noise.
- Wean off the nipple-sleep association: Slowly wean your child off your nipple in order to stop the association between nursing and sleeping. This will involve releasing your nipple when your baby is just about to fall asleep while nursing, and then closing your baby’s mouth. Your baby will start to wake up again each time and search for your nipple. You can let her suckle for a moment and then remove your nipple. (This method will also work with bottle nipples). It’ll take time to overcome the suckle-sleep association, but it does work for many. If your baby is older than eight months, breaking the suckle-sleep association will make it easier for them to sleep through the night.
Weaning Off Comfort Nursing for an Older Child
An older child demanding to suckle when you don’t feel like getting pinned down and couch-strapped can turn the act of breastfeeding into an ugly power struggle. Moreover, older children have teeth and do use them to bite, whether accidentally or intentionally. If you have had enough of being assaulted, chased around or clawed on the chest by your toddler who simply wants to latch on regardless, here are tips you can try:
- Put something safe but distasteful on your nipples. Try: Wintermelon Frost Mouth Medicine (for ulcers), or Ho Yan Hor Bitter tea. Some people have even suggested Chili powder or chili sauce or ginger powder. But that might cause a reaction on your own breasts. Some people think it’s cruel to do that but sometimes, desperate times calls for desperate measures.
- Put a plaster on your nipples. Explain you have pain in your breasts, and if he continues to suckle, it will cause mummy to be in terrible agony. Tell him the plaster has to remain. If he wants to suck, he will have to suck with the plaster on. Most children wouldn’t like the feeling of the plaster in their mouth. The idea is to cut his enjoyment of sucking and using you as a pacifier. You must also act out as if in pain every time he tries to sucks. After a while of showing him how much pain you are in, he will realise that he shouldn’t hurt you further and will stop demanding to latch on. Yes, it involves lying to the child but when you have no other means of telling him enough is enough, you may have to resort to this. No guarantees that it will work though.
- Finally, if all else fails, be firm. Let him scream it out. He will have to learn to take no for an answer at some point in his life.