Touching After Weaning

by Cindy MacDougall
Cindy and Eddie

The author and her son.

 

My youngest child, four-year-old Eddie, likes my breasts. He likes to hug them, and he will sneak a hand down my shirt occasionally. The family joke is that E. is a boob man.

Eddie loved to breastfeed, and continued to do so until his fourth birthday. When we finally weaned, it was a long and gentle process, which I wrote about in my parenting column here.

After weaning, Eddie still showed a need to touch the “babas” that far outweighed my patience for being touched. I had given him four solid years of nursing, and had been breastfeeding for a total of about nine and a half years over four kids. I was more than ready to have my body to myself.

What I hadn’t counted on was that Eddie and my breasts seemed to have a relationship entirely independent form me – at least in his mind.

“The babas are nice and soft,” he explained once. “I love them. I want to hug them, please.”

“But I don’t want you to touch me right now, Eddie,” I said.

“Oh, I’m not going to touch you, Mama,” he reassured me. “Just the babas.”

Another time, I explained to him that he was a big boy who had been weaned, and that meant no more touching my babas. He erupted in floods of tears.

“But mama, I gave up drinking the babas like a big boy,” he sobbed (taking the opportunity to lay his head on my chest.) “I didn’t know I had to give up touching them. I have to touch them, Mama, sometimes.”

We know from childhood development experts that children need touch in order to properly grow physically, mentally and emotionally. I touch and hug my kids often, as does their dad.

But I had never thought about my children’s needs to touch me back, and especially about a former nursling’s need to occasionally reconnect with the breast as they continue to grow away from being a member of a breastfeeding dyad.

I know Eddie is not alone in this need, as my other children liked to touch my breasts after weaning (though not nearly as much) and I had watched friends go through this same struggle. But I didn’t know how common this need is amongst children, so I did a bit of Googling to find out.

The La Leche League International message board has several long threads of posts about toddler and pre-schoolers touching breasts after weaning. One mother there described her child as “boob-obsessed,” and others described patting, rubbing, pinching and touching. Some kids were sneaky about it; others outright asked; some needed to touch the breasts to fall asleep.

Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and founder of the parenting web site Aha! Parenting, wrote about weaned children touching the breast in her “Ask the Doctor” feature.

“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,” she wrote to a concerned mother. “Your breasts symbolize comfort and safety and love to her…. So if she is clingy, just give her lots of extra reassurance and realize that this is the final stage of weaning.”

It’s good to know Eddie is normal, if enthusiastic, in his need to have some cuddle time with his, ahem, my, “babas.” And the closer we move to his fifth birthday, the less often he seems to need to touch them.

If you’re dealing with a similar situation, there’s no need to change or challenge the habit if you’re both happy and comfortable.

However, if it’s driving you bananas, think of this as an excellent opportunity to teach your child about body autonomy. Your breasts are yours, after all, and it’s important to teach kids that each of us own our own bodies, and no one can touch us, or them, without consent (barring medical necessity, safety, etc.) That gives permission to set the same limits with their own bodies, to be able to say “no” to unwanted touch.

With Eddie, I made rules: no touching the “babas” unless he asked, only at home, and only a hug or cuddle. He seems to be approaching the end of this “final stage of weaning” and hasn’t asked in a while.

Despite what our society tells us, touching each other, with permission, is generally healthy. For small children, the breasts are about love and nutrition, not sexuality. If we are comfortable with that and allow them healthy touch, it teaches them good things about the body and physical forms of affection.

 _________________________

Cindy MacDougall is a writer, a mother of four children, a public relations professional, and a former parenting columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. She covered health issues for CBC North Radio One for seven years, and is a recipient of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada’s 2004 Journalism Award for Excellence in Women’s Health Reporting for her radio series “Into the Mouths of Babes: Breastfeeding in the Northwest Territories.”
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Comments

  1. This is really sweet. I realize that sometimes you just want your body to be yours again, but this is such a precious time that someday you will wish you had back! Let your son have his baba time. I think your rules are perfect. What a great Mom you are!

  2. This is my son to a tee. we weaned at 27 months, by my choice/supply level. he loves and misses” Oobies” and still asks for them or to hug them. He’s even approached me with a sippy cup of cow’s milk and asked me to put some in oobie so he could drink it. i’m pretty over it, but i know if he is really sleepy, letting him touch the side will make him pass out in a second.

  3. My son is 6, he’s been weaned for almost 4 years, he will still hug me & cop a feel. Most times I don’t even realize he’s doing it, but I think it has to do with the fact that I’m still nursing his sister (2years 2 months), so I’m used to having the girls touched constantly, LOL.
    My sister (now 21 & hates being reminded of this) was nicknamed “la niña toca tetas” (the boob touching girl) because even after she weaned at 3.5yo, she still touched them to sleep & for comfort, the kicker was… She didn’t just touch mom’s boobs, she touched mine too if we were sleeping in the same bed (I was 13, almost 14 when she weaned). She did this in her sleep til she was 7-8 years old!

    Some kids suck their thumbs when they sleep, some tweak other people’s nipples! It’s all pretty normal, I guess!

  4. What a sweet article!

  5. Mountain Mamma says:

    THANK YOU for this article. I’m going through the same sort of thing with my son, he just hit 4 1/2.
    We all of a sudden weaned, it just kind of stopped. Which was okay, it was only a few months ago and it was only bedtime nursing for the longest time, about a year. He will come up to me and do this weird kissing thing to my chest, Mommy Nummies, and kind of kiss/shake/vibrate, but he does this same thing to my hand, arm, tummy, etc. He’s stopped, as I told him before that it wasn’t okay. Now I feel kind of bad, and really get it now that I’ve read the article. If he does it again, I will explain that it’s only if he asks, and only at home. Then again, maybe he’s reached the final stage. Thank you again.

  6. I found that with successive babies the older ones became more interested in my ‘booas’ and play at nursing. Which is ok except when you have 3 mouths trying to manipulate 2 breasts. So I settled the older ones into helping the baby nurse and now have 6 hands on me instead. Oi

  7. I’m going through this too – my son is 4.5 – and I worry that he’ll be scarred when he looks back on this as a teen. But then I worry about scarring him now when he loves them so much. Help?

  8. Hahhaaaa! I laughed at this, because this IS my daughter, except she is not weaned. She would happily have one hand down my bra all day, and likes to scoop out a boob to pat and look at, usually in a queue or on the bus. They are known in our house as her boobies, not mine. She’s three now, and shows no sign of weaning, but it is very good to know in advance that, even when she does, I won’t have ‘her’ boobies back!

  9. Kristen says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been struggling with this with my now almost 3 yr old for a while. He weaned over a year ago and still wants to suck his thumb and touch my breasts at the same time. It’s getting to me but he doesn’t understand. I constantly ask him to stop and that they are mine and don’t touch but it’s not working. 🙁 It’s more difficult now on me I think though since I lost a baby 5 months ago. I should be breastfeeding a 2 mo old little one right now and it’s hard because it reminds me of that sometimes. Anyway, thanks. It’s good to know it’s normal and not as weird as it feels sometimes haha

  10. Julia Mary says:

    With my 2 year old, he started putting his hands in my sleeves (by the cuff) during feedings, so I used that form of touching to wean and comfort.

  11. Rebbecca says:

    I am so happy that I stumbled across this article this evening. I was looking for reasons or needs for a child to continue to touch after weaning. My 3.5 year old (self-weaned a year ago) still has an incessant need to touch my breasts when he has trouble falling asleep, has a nightmare or if he is ill. He knows he has to ask as they are part of my “private areas” and he simply runs his hand over them and feels them or squeezes my nipple (which I admit always felt strange) and then removes his hand. Simple, quick, and almost a personal reassurance that they are still there. My husband nor I see it as sexual but simply a comfort to him. Thank you for the reassurance that I am not allowing something that I shouldn’t.

  12. Thank you for this.

  13. My almost 4 year old daughter is fascinated with my bellybutton! She has an outtie, Mommy, Daddy and big brother have innies. When she’s teasing her brother she lifts up his shirt and wiggles her finger in his bellybutton. When she’s going to bed at night she puts her finger in mommy’s bellybutton and falls asleep that way, her Daddy says she’s trying to go back to where she came from, it’s warm and snuggly in Mommy’s tummy, she’s trying to get as close to in there as she can ! 🙂

    • Awww that’s so sweet!! My lil girl (almost 20mo) used to always point at a freckle between my boobs & belly button when I was bf’ing her. And I have a mole on my cheek & she points at it a lot & says “mommy’s got a mole!” Lol It’s cute the things kids get fixated on.

  14. I weaned my almost 20mo old around 15mo old to try to ovulate again (I am 40 & Dr said I needed to since older & don’t have much time to wait around.) I was really stressed about it but surprisingly it only took 1 day to wean her. Lately she’s been going through some phase where she’s been very clingy to me & wants me to pick her up/hold her a lot. And she has begun feeling on my boobs & say “nipple” or “boobies”. She sometimes would pinch them or mash them in & I’d tell her that hurts & to be gentle, & now she says ” don’t mash em, don’t mash em”, lol. I don’t mind her doing it (feeling them) b/c she needs the comfort I guess. She usually does it at night when we’re trying to go to sleep, but she did reach down my shirt at he library the other day, & my friend who works there was like “did you lose something down in there?” Lol! These moments will pass one day & it’ll be sad in a way b/c of the sweet innocence & connection between a mother & child. <3

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