Mama, it's okay to set boundaries
By Chandler Williams Cartozzo, Ashley Heren, Courtney C, and Frances Brent
I am so lucky to have a large group of friends who share my parenting style. It’s so beautiful to be surrounded by mothers who know we can gently raise kind, empowered people by treating them with the respect and kindness every person is owed.
Our kids are all around the same age and we are advocates for normalizing breastfeeding and full-term feeding. Parenting is hard and I wouldn’t be the mother I am without these powerful women mothering alongside me.
When we raise kids gently and respectfully, we must also model that with our own selves by setting appropriate boundaries to show our children and ourselves what a healthy relationship looks like.
My almost five year old son nurses sporadically these days, often going weeks between asking for mama milk. When he was younger, he was more insistent on mama milk all day every day. I turned to my friends for support in times when I was touched out and I knew I could find solidarity when I felt I couldn’t go on (while simultaneously knowing I didn’t want to forcibly wean him).
My friends shared what worked for them when it came to setting boundaries. The support I have had and the nursing boundaries I set helped me get to this point in our journey. My son will decide when he is done and whenever he chooses, I know I will be ready too.
Because my friends have always been so helpful, I’ve compiled their wonderful advice and stories into this post. Let my village help you when it comes to setting boundaries with your older nursling, learn ways to hold these boundaries and how to gently continue your journey in a way that is respectful to both you and your child.
“I’ve nursed my first child until they were 18months, and I’m still having morning milkies and snuggles with my 27 month-old.
Two things came to mind when I was asked to share any tips for setting boundaries or avoiding burnout when body feeding my toddlers: The first is prioritizing activities that help both of us reset, and the second is my actively supportive spouse.
My oldest was two when my second was born and I learned quickly that it was easier to survive a rough phase outside in water than inside on the couch. We loved our back kiddie pool and soaking my feet in the water while I nursed, or played with my toddler while the baby slept in a portable bassinet was as restorative for me as it was for my kids.
Being outside regularly with friends fills my emotional and social cup, and its easier to nurse my teething 18 month old with my feet in cool water while my 4 year old finds bugs with his friends. Last summer, my toddler was happy to nap in a lifejacket in a carrier while I watched her sibling at the splash pad. Having friends who want you to come outside with them on your toughest days makes a difference.
My spouse helps when I need to pee and get a drink before feeding in the middle of the night or in the morning, and I can always ask him to snuggle our child while I take time for myself. When he gets home from work, he’s willing to read books and hold the kids while I take a 20 minute “nap” before returning to normal parenting.
This has made a huge impact on my interest in bodyfeeding and being able to wean at my own pace.
Right now, I have a 27month old and we only nurse first thing in the morning. They share a room with their sibling and have an Ok-to-Wake alarm that turns green at 6:15am. When I have a busy day, I get up early to have my coffee before they wake up, then I snuggle both my kids and nurse my little one. Other times, they run into my room for snuggles in bed.”
“I nursed my first kid until she was almost three. I had always planned to nurse until she self-weaned.
When her first birthday came and went, though, I realized that most of the people I had talked to about it, had kids who self-weaned around a year but my kid was clearly still going strong.
As she grew into a full-blown toddler, she didn’t need to nurse on a schedule for nutrition, so it became even more a source of pure comfort for my girl.
Soon I heard “nurf!” at any skinned knee, “nurf!” if she was cold, “nurf!” if she saw any of our friends nursing, “nurf!” if she walked in on me changing.
I didn’t mind. I loved the closeness, the quiet, the oxytocin. And nothing quite settled her as quickly and completely after a big scare or a big boo-boo as putting her to the breast.
As she grew older, though, I wanted more structure in our nursing routine again; I didn’t want to whip it out on demand anymore. So we worked on establishing boundaries around when we nursed.
I went from whipping it out to saying “In just a little bit” or “it’s not quite time yet.” And the really magical part? We read a book instead. We found that reading a book together checked so many of the boxes: snuggles, one-on-one attention, peaceful time together, enjoying each other’s company.
Reading together became a cherished time for us, and a consistent way for my daughter to get me to slow down and enjoy her, and leave the dishes in the sink and the laundry unfolded on the couch. Now that she’s four, reading a book is still one of her favorite things to do, and the first thing she asks of any guest in our house: “read me dis bookt.”
She has a remarkable attention span for a four-year-old, as long as we have a good book. I love to read too, and I am thrilled to get to share some of my favorites with her now, like the Ramona Quimby series. It all started with our snuggly nursing journey, and now it can continue for the rest of our lives.”
“I have been chestfeeding for 5+ years. That’s nearly 2,000 days of having a small human on my body… multiple times a day!
Boundaries become essential for everyone when your kids are physically using your body that often.
Admittedly, I am in my 30s and just now learning about boundaries in all aspects of my life, and nursing has provided a consistent practice in setting and keeping them. Because without them, nursing would be completely overwhelming! One of the most difficult times in this journey for me was my intense battle with nursing aversion during my second pregnancy.
I’m sure it was the hormones, but nursing my first born while pregnant with my second was mentally and physically excruciating. I had to come up with ways to allow my son to keep getting what he needed from nursing, but also take care of myself.
The thing that helped the most during that time was setting a time limit. Kids don’t really understand time, though, so I found that singing a few familiar songs and saying we’re done at the end of a certain song was an extremely helpful and doable compromise for both of us. My second child is now 3 and still wants milkies. Like, a lot. At the most inconvenient times. And when she’s tired. And when she’s overstimulated. Or she’s sad. Or she’s bored. And I want her to know that I’m here for her, but also that we can be together in different ways.
Boundaries are good for her, too. I think if she had her way, we’d just lay in bed all day having milkies! Along those lines, nursing has also helped foster communication skills and empathy with my children.
Lately, if I just absolutely cannot handle nursing at the moment, I tell my 3 year old that my “milkies are hurting right now” and she accepts that and will settle for cuddles instead. (Don’t get me wrong… sometimes there is a lot of crying during the no-milkies cuddling, but she’s still getting mama time without crossing the boundary I’ve expressed). It might be cliché, but breastfeeding has been one of the best and one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. Communicating my needs and prioritizing myself in my nursing relationship with my children has made a big difference in my life as a whole.”