Q&A: discouraging a child from nursing in public

Sweet Coalminer writes:

"My daughter is 9 months old, and I would say she's "spirited".  She's headstrong, physically strong, and strong-willed.  She's also a sweet and (mostly, with some a-hole thrown in occasionally) happy.  She's not shy.  She's happy to approach kids on the playground.  And their parents.  And coo and talk with strangers at the store, the bank, the street....  She loves attention.

I was de-employed during my maternity leave.  Since then I worked for 6 weeks and have done some contract work here and there while staying home with my girl and exclusively breastfeeding, which occasionally required me taking my daughter to an office to drop off a file or a bill (we haven't had a lot of spare $$ for babysitters).  She has always been happy and sweet and smiley until the last week or so. When my client addresses me, she starts tearing at my blouse and trying to eat my boobs.  She has also started engaging in this mortifying behavior on playdates.  Clearly, it's time for me to leave her at home when popping into an office, but what is this about?  She used to be so distracted when we were out that she didn't even think about nursing. She wouldn't even latch on when I'd offer her the breast unless we were in a relatively quiet place and she was sure she wasn't really missing anything.  Her new desire for all breast, all the time, surprises me. And I don't know what to do.

One complication is that she has multiple food allergies. She's creeping up an a year, and neither cow's milk, rice milk, nor soy milk are real options for her, so I'd like to keep her on breastmilk as long as I can.

In addition, it's time for me to go back to work.  I'm going to have to pump, even though I'm not a productive pumper and I'm kind of embarassed pumping for an older infant (and eventually toddler), and hope I get enough milk for her.

But I want her to continue to breastfeed when I'm with her, and I want to encourage her to continue to nurse as often as she wants (she's pretty small for her age).

I guess in short, I want to curb her inappropriate behavior in public without discouraging her from breastfeeding at a time when I'm going to start offering her the bottle for the first time in months (haven't started her back on the bottle yet).  It's fine if she needs comfort from me in strange situations. I'm happy to give it.  But I prefer not having to constantly whip out the girls for her everytime I'm talking to someone.  At the same time, I want to encourage her to nurse but to also accept the bottle.

Moxie, how do I do this?"

There's a lot going on here! So let me just take each thing as it comes to me.

First, I want to make it clear that I'm a huge proponent of nursing in public for any child who's still nursing. A kid's gotta eat, and the more people who nurse in public the more normal it will become and the more support society will give women to nurse. But we each have to find a balance with our child that makes us both comfortable, so if you don't want to nurse in public, don't feel you have to do so just for the public good. I also feel there's a huge distinction between sitting at a restaurant or in the park and nursing your child, and being in the office talking to your client and nursing your child! So this is just about Sweet Coalminer's situation, not nursing in public in general.

I think your daughter is nursing more now because she's right in the middle of the separation anxiety phase. She may or may not be exhibiting other clingy symptoms, because she may be managing her need for closeness by nursing so much (nursing constantly may be what enables her to be smiley and outgoing with everyone else). This also explains why she wants to nurse when you're talking to someone else--she wants you to herself and wants to stake her claim on you. This stage is going to pass and she won't need you constantly all the time in a month or two.

In the meantime, you could leave her at home (with a babysitter) when you have to go in to talk to clients. Or, you could take advantage of the fact that she's so cute, and let the people who coo at her when you walk into the office entertain her for the time it takes you to talk to your client. Of course that's a little dicey in the middle of this separation anxiety phase, but you could always try it.

It sounds like you're at the phase in which you want to start setting some boundaries on nursing. That happens for different people at different ages, and, in general, it's a little easier to establish boundaries when kids are older and can understand a little better. For example, "We don't nurse outside because it makes Mama's nipples cold" or "We only nurse when it's light outside" or whatever rule you're trying to establish. A toddler can understand that, even if it doesn't go over that well initially.

For a baby your daughter's age, though, you're probably going to use the same strategies you use to get her to stop doing anything else you don't want her to do--distraction and redirection. I would definitely tell her the rule you're trying to establish, but then if she tries to do it anyway, redirect her to something else. I've found that if you're establishing a "no nursing in x situation" rule, it helps a lot to reinforce when the child will be allowed to nurse. So, for instance, you say "We don't nurse during playgroup, but we'll nurse in the car as soon as we leave." That way she knows she will be able to nurse in the future, just not in the immediate situation. (I don't get the playgroup thing, though. If you can't nurse during a playgroup, when can you nurse?) Just being consistent and firm about the rule, and then nursing as soon as the situation is over, will get her used to it.

Don't feel bad or squirrelly or odd or even the tinest bit sheepish about pumping for a baby of any age. In your particular case, you need to keep up your supply and have enough for her to drink because of her allergies (and if your new job gives you any pushback whatsoever about pumping, you should get a note from your daughter's pediatrician stating that it's a health issue and that you need to pump several times a day). But even if she didn't have allergies, she's a baby. She needs milk. No one would dare to say anything to a smoker for taking breaks to have a butt, and smoking doesn't help anyone. Pumping increases your productivity (by reducing "sick kid" days) and is a benefit to society in general, so it's really to everyone's benefit to make pumping as easy as possible for working moms.

Don't be surprised if you're not able to pump much at this point, though. 9-10 months is a time when lots of women seem to have problems pumping, even if they have plenty when their baby is actually nursing. I mentioned it in this post, and 5 commenters said it had happened to them, too. (If anyone knows why this is, please let me know. I haven't read anything about it anywhere, and have some theories, but haven't seen discussion of this elsewhere. If anyone's looking for a Master's thesis topic...) So you may end up with rice milk or oat milk or even just plain water for her to drink while you're at work. If she's eating other foods while you're gone, she'll be full enough, and can nurse enough whe you're home to have all her bases covered.

I don't think you'll have a problem switching from bottle to breast once you're back at work. She's old enough now that nursing isn't just for food, so she'll likely want to nurse when you're home to reconnect with you. And she's old enough to figure out that to get milk when you're not there she can drink it from a different container. She may not be crazy about the bottle, but at this age it doesn't matter--you can use a sippy or the Nuby cup or a straw cup instead. She may not want to take it from you (if you're there she'll probably want to nurse straight from the source), but your childcare provider will be able to get her to take a cup of milk once you're back at work. Basically, providing the milk is your job (whether it's pumped breastmilk or some other beverage), and getting her to drink while you're at work it is someone else's job.

In short, try to leave her at least in another room when yo have client meetings, and use distraction in other situations to stop her clawing at you to nurse. Figure out what the rules are, rehearse them with her, and then let her nurse in appropriate situations.

Transition times are rough, but I predict that once you're back at work things will go more smoothly than you anticipate.