But how much intense parenting they need, possibly including frequent nursing, in the second year depends for the most part on their inborn timetable for emotional development. As parents we can slow down emotional growth by leaving needs unmet. But there is nothing extra we can do to speed it up. …your investment in your toddler who seems to be ‘always attached’ will pay off when the time for independence does come.
— Norma Jane Bumgarner in “Mothering Your Nursing Toddler”
Older babies and toddlers can get really clingy at times. Sometimes it seems as if your child has been nursing all day (or all night), or has been clinging to your leg all day long (even when you go to the bathroom) and you really just need a break.
These “velcro days” usually have a cause (even if we only know after the fact): teething, illness, a developmental advance. But even when you know the reason behind a clingy episode, it can still be very frustrating, particularly if you had something you expected to get done or if you were simply anticipating some time to yourself.
Do know that each of us gets overwhelmed from time to time. Remember – these moments pass, even though it may seem like forever when you’re in the middle of one of these days.
I’ve gathered a few tips for dealing with these “velcro” days, but I’d like to get your suggestions and experiences, too. Please e-mail me with your comments, and I’ll include them here.
- If your child is being particularly clingy and you’re having a hard time dealing with it, take her outside for a while (or to the park, to the store, etc.). The change of scene will do both of you good.
- If you feel that your child is under your feet all the time when you’re trying to get things done around the house, have her help out. Toddlers love to help, and they can do things like fold small towels or diapers, dry dishes, sweep with a small broom, help set the table, wipe the counter, etc. It might take a little more time, but it can make things less frustrating for both of you and it’s also a learning experience for your toddler.
- Referencing some books on child development can help you figure out expectations for your child at each particular age. I like the Barron’s Educational Series Keys to Parenting titles and the classic series by Ames and Ilg, Your x Year Old. Just look around wherever you see parents and children together and you’ll see so many active misconceptions about what children are capable of doing and what they need to be doing at each stage. Where have our ideas come from? What are our assumptions? Are they reasonable? My oldest son was fully 2 years old before he ever sat still and played by himself. After more than a year of waiting, wishing, wanting 20 minutes to myself, when he finally sat and played for one hour nonstop I was so stunned that I “wasted” the entire hour watching him! – Anita
- Some children will kick, move around, grab at your face, and so on, while nursing. This can get old, especially if they are nursing very often, and can also hurt mom. Most older babies can understand (and accept) it when you tell her that she needs to be still if she wants to nurse. See this article for more on nursing manners.
- If your child is having a major clingy day and it’s driving you crazy, plan to get some time to yourself after your partner gets home. Have him take over with the kids, and either go out for a bit (take a walk, go shopping, work out) or take a child-free break at home (take a nap, read a book, take a bath).
- Many parents have bedtime struggles. As far as bedtime, we’ve never tried to institute anything formal with our babies. As with nursing, eating, using the potty, etc., we pretty much let them regulate their own needs. My toddler always tells me when he is tired and ready to climb into bed – and he hasn’t skipped a night yet! This is stress free for all parties and works for us. Because of kindergarten, my older son does have a pretty regular routine of bath, story/backrub, bed, but the sequence is more important than the hour. With him, we have found that playtime or TV between bath and bed is not a good idea because it energizes his body and imagination. – Anita
- Be good to yourself. Eat well, drink your water, get physical outside and aim for more R&R when the going is especially rough. Find some time in your day – even if it is just for a few minutes, even if you have a baby at the breast – to practice some relaxation breathing.
Then count your blessings and try to get a mental picture of what you want your relationship with your children to look like in the long run. Often our own childhood stuff keeps playing in our head. I recommend Harville Hendrix’ Giving the Love That Heals for some thought-provoking reading on conscious parenting. Anyways, get a picture and then you can begin to decide what you want to do. No one else can do that for you. – Anita
- Those around us – spouse, family, friends – are usually influencing our relationship with our children by their support or lack thereof. Is our stress with our children really rooted in one of our other relationships? Are we getting the physical and emotional support we need/want to handle our mothering responsibilities? Are we getting the respect and warm fuzzies we feel we deserve? Are we putting too much on our to-do list? Are we giving ourselves over to others who have great needs? Has our stay-at-home status diminished our self-esteem or increased our financial burden? Have economics or the demands of attachment parenting lead us to give up social activities or contacts?
If we trust that our baby – not us, not the doctor, grandma, neighbor, friend, but the baby – is the only one that knows how much they need from us, then it’s important to look at these other factors. – Anita
- Only you can determine what your limits are and what you want/need to do for your children and yourself. When we are pushed past our personal limits, many of us experience resentment and anger. I think our children pick up on this and feel threatened. During these times, my children turn all of their energy toward keeping my attention on them. Many moms have found that this sort of thing can happen (for example) during phone calls and when they are attempting weaning. When I stop, take a deep breath and totally surrender my whole self, body and soul, to my boys, they’re usually pretty quick to let go and get on with their business. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter because by that time I am totally relaxed and focused on them and not on the stressful stuff outside our relationship. — Anita
- From a post to ParentsPlace.com (now iVillage) on nursing clingy toddlers:
I have a 2.5-year-old son that just can’t get enough. There are days that he will nurse every five minutes. Thank God there are other days that he will not nurse for eight to ten hours. He eats like a horse and drinks more water than I do. His requirements are just enormous.
There are times when I just can’t stand it anymore. Like today, he has been nursing all day! Everytime I sit down there he is there sucking away. I had to have a break for a bit so I came into the lovely gated computer room for a bit. There are other times though when it doesn’t bother me at all. Then there are times that I am incredibly thankful for all the time that he nurses. My point is that I have discovered that these are my hang ups and my feelings not his. I am the adult and I should be the one with impulse control and the ability to be patient so that my son can have what he needs. He is the one who is the most important in the equation. This does not mean that I neglect myself. What this means is that I really try to follow his rhythm. If he needs to nurse, we nurse. When he is in the stages of not needing to nurse as much I take full advantage and do many of the things that I need to do to revitalize myself. He really does wax and wane and that’s what I try to remember whenever I am feeling suffocated.
The other thing that I try to remind myself of is that he will be this way for a very short time. In a few short years he’ll be embarrassed to have me around. This is such a special time with him and I want to take full advantage. We all want to seem to wish it away, make it go faster and then when it passes we are sad.
Hang in there it will get better. If you have never been to a LLL meeting you may try it. It is extraordinarily helpful to be in the presence of moms that are nursing toddlers when you are. It is great to have someone to vent to because I think that we have all probably felt the way that you are feeling now. – Amy
- From a post to ParentsPlace.com, some thoughts for anyone in the Breastfeeding-a-Toddler-Barracuda Boat:
Feeling stuck? It’s hard to believe toddlers grow out of this, but they do! I’ve met some breastfeeding toddlers who are content to nurse just at bedtimes or other limited situations. Mine was definitely not one of them! Especially as she approached two years of age, I could only describe her breastfeeding pattern as voracious!
Sometimes (often) I would feel overwhelmed; mostly, I became worried that I had “created a monster,” that she would never, never wean. I would be forever at the mercy of this tantruming, guzzling beastie. Well, I was wrong.
Amazingly, and without me changing a blessed thing, my daughter began a serious trend to weaning at about two-and-a-half. She began sleeping through the night without “help.” She accepted negotiation re: breastfeeding times and places pretty calmly. And the length of her feedings shortened dramatically. She’s still breastfeeding at almost-4, but it’s so minimal that it’s no problem; in fact, it’s now just a lovely and easy connection that I’m often relieved to call on (when she’s heading for meltdown).
I have two thoughts for anyone in the Breastfeeding-a-Toddler-Barracuda Boat:
- Try, try, try to believe that your child will actually grow up. I know, you look at her and see that gaping mouth growing bigger and bigger and you wonder how you’re going to practice”don’t offer, don’t refuse” with a teenager. Look hard at the little independencies your child is accomplishing and tell yourself (out loud helps) that she will grow up. Because she will; it’s guaranteed.
- Try to discern the one thing that drives you the farthest up the wall right now. If it’s lo-o-o-o-o-ong feedings, try counting to twenty to time the sessions (count slow on good days, fast on stressful days). If it’s waking at night, go hog-wild on daytime nursings as you try to limit nighttime feeds. If it’s breastfeeding in public, have a round at home before you hit the mall. You get the idea … Once you know what your particular hot-spot is, ask for suggestions from other mums. They’ve been there. Breastfeeding a walking, talking demanding little person can be very overwhelming and I’ve found that when mums of breastfeeding toddlers get stressed (myself most definitely included) we tend to blame the breastfeeding. After all, our doctors, relatives, and neighbors think it’s downright weird, so it must be the problem, eh? Then we formulate a plan: “That’s it. I can’t take this anymore. I’m weaning. Today.” Sometimes all we need is to pinpoint the one thing that will give us a leeeetle respite. Amazingly, with just a little room to breathe, we often rediscover the joy of these special times.
Of course, the decision to continue or to wean involves two people. And if mum is feeling resentful or at the mercy of her child even after trying to make smaller changes, maybe weaning is the best choice.
For myself, I made the decision to continue because the very intensity of my daughter’s attachment convinced me that she needed this very much; more than I needed my space. I also thought that if I wasn’t nurturing with breastfeeding, I’d still be doing it some other way. And I really didn’t want this lovely relationship to end with struggles and tears.
I remember the moment when my daughter asked for her own bed and I finally felt, in my gut, that she really would grow up. I wish I could bottle that feeling and pass it out to every mother breastfeeding a toddler. – Sydney
Additional links on parenting older babies and toddlers:
- Breastfeeding and Tooth Decay @
- Nutrition for Nursing Toddlers @
- Nursing Manners (links) @
- Thinking about weaning because your child is very clingy?
- Listen with Your Heart by Elizabeth Pantley
- When the Going Gets Tough… A Little Self-Care Goes A Long Way by Karen Walant, Ph.D.
- So Many Needs, So Little Time: A Delicate Balance by Isabelle Fox, Ph.D.
- Who’s in Control? by Jean Liedloff. A different take on things. This article made me think!
Collections of Articles
- Child Development from Babycenter.com
- Discipline and Behavior articles from AskDrSears.com
- Living With Children articles from the Natural Child Project
- Naomi Aldort Library from The Natural Child Project. There are some wonderful articles about parenting toddlers here, including “Surviving the Toddler Years” and “Toddlers: To Tame or to Trust.” Naomi Aldort is a family counselor who works with parents and educators in many countries.