My 7 month old likes to play with my mouth & hair, pinch, and hit my chest when nursing. Even in our middle of the night feedings, his little hand is reaching up. Any suggestions for occupying that free hand during our sessions?

Congratulations on breastfeeding your 7 month old! Your baby’s behavior is very common among breastfed babies. Around this age, most babies love to use their hands to bang toys together, reach for objects while sitting and, of course, they love to explore and play. Also, the majority of babies around this age will start teething and want to breastfeed more frequently. They will pull at the mother’s shirt and will even try to unbutton it. Babies may hold the breast with one or both hands while nursing.

Things you can do to keep your baby from pinching and hitting you are:

– Hold your baby’s free hand while nursing as a way to keep it away from your body. Kiss it, play with his fingers, count them, etc as a way to redirect his/her attention to something else besides your body.
– Give him/her a soft toy to have in his hands while breastfeeding. Many mothers have found that the use of a small cloth or blanket will do the trick. If these don’t work, perhaps find another toy with a different texture, size or color.
– Nursing necklaces are very popular among mothers. A nursing necklace has big beads with different shapes and colors that will divert your child’s attention to the necklace instead of your body. They can be bought online and at some maternity stores. Some crafty mothers make the necklaces themselves. Either way, please make sure they are made from non toxic materials.
– Let your baby know that his/her behavior hurts you and he/she needs to stop. Use a gentle but firm tone of voice (at his age, babies can recognize different tones in your voice). If he/she doesn’t stop the unwanted behavior, consider stopping the nursing session all together and explain why you stopped. Nurse her/him after a few minutes have passed or when she/he asks you again.

Remember that changes take time and consistency. Your baby’s behavior will not change from one day to another, but be patient…it will improve with practice and eventually the night time behavior will subside. Congratulations again on your wonderful breastfeeding relationship!