Weaning a Toddler: Fixation on Breasts

Dr. Laura,

I wrote during my daughter Meghan's potty training and your advice really helped. I am not sure if you write on breastfeeding at all, but I need to ask someone.

I nursed Meg up until she was 2 1/2 yrs old. I was more done than she was. We ended it back in the beginning of March. Since that time, she has wanted to "touch the nurse" as she used to call it. By touch the nurse, she just wants to touch my nipple...usually just before bedtime primarily, which was part of the last nursing that we did. Since summer, with less "clothing" as in tank tops for me, etc, she seems to be more clingy and wanting to "touch the nurse" much more frequently.

How long could this last, and is it not good for her? I worry about sexuality issues from looking/wanting to touch my nipples. I think it's just remnants of nursing, and that she may not have been completely ready to wean. But my fear is that it may affect her sexual development, and be a problem if she continues to do this. It really hasn't decreased much since she weaned.

If you know where I can go, please let me know. If you have any advice, thank you so much!
Sincerely,
Lisa

Dear Lisa,

Meg is still quite young and weaning is pretty recent, so this is completely normal behavior. We don't acknowledge it in this culture, but weaning can be traumatic for little ones. It is very common for toddlers to need to touch their mother's breasts for comfort or to fall asleep for as much as a year after weaning.

Sexual orientation is innate, or at least all the research points in that direction. There is no research that I am aware of on the effect of nursing on sexual orientation, but girls all over the world are nursed, until age 3 on average, and there is no higher incidence of lesbianism in those countries.

I nursed my daughter until she was three. For several years afterwards, she was somewhat fixated on my breasts, wanting to see and touch them, and even to “try” to nurse several times over the years. (The latter consisted of a quick kiss, since she seemed not to actually remember how to nurse.) I decided to keep my breasts covered as much as possible to help her forget about my breasts, and in fact remember deciding to wear teeshirts instead of tank tops the summer after weaning. This did help, but it really did take several years before she completely lost interest. As she said, dreamily, a year or so after weaning, “I had a dream about having mimi. It was so warm and cozy.” My policy was to let her touch my breasts if she asked, as long as it never seemed like a habit (for instance, needing to stroke them so she could sleep would have been a problem for me.) But her requests were irregular, and diminished over time. I also kept it out of bed or snuggle time, so for instance, I made sure she was standing up, not all cozy, which would have made it simply too much like nursing for her.

I share all this because I joked at the time with my close friend, who happens to be gay, that my daughter would certainly become a lesbian since she was so fixated on breasts. However, my daughter has just turned 12 and seems clearly into boys. She has long since forgotten about my breasts and for years now has had zero interest in my naked body. I am happy to say she is also very comfortable in her own body, which is not always true of girls this age.

My advice would be to keep your breasts covered, but to not make a big deal about it if she wants to touch them. Please don't worry that it isn't good for her. Your breasts symbolize comfort and safety and love to her, not sexuality, and she is still very small. So if she is clingy, just give her lots of extra reassurance and realize that this is the final stage of weaning. If her requests are diminishing, then there is really nothing to worry about at all.

If it is a nightly thing that she wants to “touch the nurse,” then it has become a habit that you probably need to move toward breaking, although nothing worth traumatizing her over. The best way is to begin to step it down a bit, so for instance you can say “only once a day just before bed, through my shirt” or whatever makes it less rewarding for her a bit at a time. You can also find a way to break the pattern during which this request is made, so for instance, try to give her lots of snuggles at bedtime so that she feels so secure she doesn't need to ask.

I hope this helps.
Dr. Laura

Dear Dr. Laura,
Thank you so much for sharing your nursing experience with me! What a reassurance that was to read.

I have been worried, but I felt as though it was part of her "letting go", and lately there do seem to be days that it is diminishing and others when it is not. It does happen a lot during the old "nursing" times, especially cuddling in bed in the early morning. I have been limiting the time we're in bed. It usually is just when she awakens, or when she is really tired, like for a nap.

So I'm beefing up the cuddles and trying to minimize the skin. We just had a vacation where everyone was in swimsuits for the week. That was where I started to get more worried about it. But, I believe that it is part of her weaning process and try to relax more about it. I knew when we weaned that she wasn't ready to be done, I was. So part of all that was my fear that I pushed her, but I was getting to resenting that time and I didn't want to do that to her.

Thank you so very much!! Your support has been wonderfully comforting to me!
Lisa

Lisa-
Breastfeeding is really good for babies and toddlers. However, if you were ready to be done with it, there is no reason for you to feel guilty about weaning your daughter. You gave her a terrific gift, and it wouldn't have been good for her to have you feeling resentful. You can offer her empathy about how much she loved nursing, but still set the limit that she has grown beyond that, and make sure she feels completely loved and comforted in other ways.

I love your line about beefing up the cuddles and minimizing the skin. Luckily, the end of summer will help. You are parenting with empathy and sensitivity, and your Meg is a lucky girl.
many blessings,
Dr. Laura

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