An excerpt adapted from a NEW Praeclarus Press title by Winema Wilson Lanoue.
Q: My six-month-old daughter is so distractible that sometimes nursing her is really difficult. I’m frustrated and wondering if weaning is a possibility for us. I know she is young but what can I do?
You are not alone! “Distractible” is a word that moms often use to describe their babies at about the middle of their first year. The good news is that most moms report that this stage doesn’t last long and that your daughter is right on track developmentally. Her brain is growing and she is going through very significant changes. The world is a new, exciting place for her and she is compelled to check it all out. But it can be really frustrating for mothers to try to nurse squirmy babies who are easily distracted from concentrating on a feed. You are not alone in feeling so frustrated with it that you question your desire to continue the nursing relationship. Some mothers of super distractible babies even question whether their babies want to continue, but babies rarely self-wean, especially before the age of one.
Most children will eat more seriously when they get hungry and will usually have at least a few really good nursing sessions in each 24-hour period. Sometimes, babies nurse a bit more at night, during this whirlwind time, to make up for calories they miss during the day. Again, totally normal and often necessary, and this also will pass. Additionally, babies of this age are often able to get a lot of milk in a very short time, so your daughter may be getting more than you know out of those quick, acrobatic sips.
Even when mothers understand and accept this developmental stage, they often need some help to get through it. Here are some tips that have helped moms nurse distractible babies.
- Work in something that adds some routine to nursing, as a signal to your child that you are changing direction. Some moms sing a song or a rhyme. Some use a soft toy or blanket to help their child make the transition. Remember that anything new takes some repetition to work.
- Create a more controlled environment. Not only can a special place serve as another signal in your child’s routine, but it may be easier to control distractions there. You may retreat to a bedroom, where you can draw dark curtains, put on some white noise or soft music, hold your child in a rocker or comfortable chair, and close the door to get away from the world for a bit. Some moms report that this is the only thing that has worked for them and that they had to do this every time they really needed to nurse. It’s less convenient, for sure, but, again, it doesn’t last forever!
- “Tank up”—nurse before you leave the house or are going into any situation in which your child will be even more distracted (a friend coming over, a trip to the store, etc).
- Wear a nursing necklace or hold something interesting for your child to fiddle with while you are nursing. Nursing necklaces are readily available in stores and online, and are designed to be non-toxic, unlike other jewelry.
- Don’t give up too quickly on a feeding. Sometimes mothers will put the baby down as soon as she turns away the first time. She may often want to look away (perhaps with your nipple still in her mouth). Be ready with your finger to break suction and then nurse again, over and over. If you are patient, you may be able to complete a full, if interrupted, feeding. It isn’t time, yet, to replace nutritious feedings with solid food, so it can really pay to be persistent but relaxed. Try to remain calm. If your baby senses you are upset with her, it may be even more difficult to get her to focus.
- “Dream feed.” The idea of this is that a baby who is very sleepy, just beginning to wake or is even completely asleep, will sometimes be happy to nurse seriously when they might not have done if they were awake. Some moms even find that just lying down for a feeding makes a big difference.
Remind yourself regularly that you are doing a wonderful thing for your baby, even when it seems like she isn’t appreciating it! She still loves nursing and, soon, as she becomes able to handle nursing while checking out the world, she’ll show you that she does.
Repeat: “This is normal. This will pass” and breathe!