Sunday, June 24, 2018

4 Reasons Breastfeeding with Boundaries Teaches Toddlers Consent

Breastfeeding has turned out to be a fantastic tool for teaching my toddler about body autonomy, boundaries, and consent.

Honestly, it took me two years of breastfeeding to get to the point where I wasn't down with demand feeding. I never expected to feel ambivalent about breastfeeding since I totally loved it from the start. On one hand, I still love it. On the other hand, I NEED SOME SPACE. Since both my toddler and I want to continue breastfeeding, I knew we needed to set boundaries so our breastfeeding relationship could continue to be a mutually positive experience.

Without clear boundaries in place, it's easy for momma to feel like nothing more than a touched out pair of milkies on tap. Resentment builds. And the lack of boundaries isn't healthy for the child either because they need to learn as soon as possible that every person is in charge of their own body. This not only helps children respect other people, but it empowers them and keeps them safe from potential abusers. 

Here are four reasons breastfeeding is the ultimate tool for teaching toddlers consent.


Toddlerhood is an important time for gaining a sense of self and independence. Toddlers suddenly realize they have their own mind, body, and feelings. Mix that with the inability to delay gratification or regulate emotions, and that's why they really really (extra) really want they things they want and aren't afraid to express that with gusto. What an opportunity to gently explain that no matter how much we want something, if it involves another person's body, and that person says no, no means no. Boys and girls both need to learn this important life lesson. I'll say, "I'm happy to share my body with you, but milkies are part of my body, so if I say no, you need to respect that. We can have milkies later."

2. Strong possessive feelings. 

This lesson can be taught with hugs, kisses, personal space, etc. too, but a child who literally grows on the breast feels a special attachment to the breast even to the point of feeling territorial and possessive over them. Because of that strong attachment, the message of respecting boundaries is so much clearer. Empathize with those big feelings, but make a clear boundary. I'll say, "I can see you really want milkies. I understand how hard it is when you can't have what you want. Right now, my boundary is no milkies. It's okay to feel sad about that."  

3. Toddlers form their own boundaries. 

You can use those boundaries to form connections and understanding. For example, my toddler doesn't like it when I brush his hair. So since tangled hair isn't life or death, I let it go as long as possible and I'll say, "You don't want me to brush your hair. That's your boundary. I respect your boundary, so I won't brush your hair." And then later if I need some space from breastfeeding, I'll say, "I don't want to do milkies right now. That's my boundary, and I need you to respect it." See, the language is the same. He can empathize and understand because he's felt the same way even if it's a different boundary. Teach respect by respecting.      

4. Blossoming communication.

Whether your child signs or speaks, communication explodes in the toddler years! There are so many ways to express the want and need for milkies too. For my son, he leans down toward my breast and smacks his lips together like he wants to eat. It's funny and unconventional, but hey...communication is communication. That's his way of asking and waiting for my okay. There are plenty of times he still tries to just yank down my shirt, but I always stop him and say, "You need to ask first before you share my body." Asking permission to share another person's body is consent, and that's something they need to learn and use their whole life.

You don't need to feign boundaries to teach these lessons. If you want to breastfeed on demand, do it. If you want some space, you have the right to your own space. You're a mom who makes precious milkies for your little one; you're not a milk machine. Your breastfeeding relationship is just that...a relationship (and a fantastic teaching tool).

Read here why breastfeeding without a cover fights rape culture and objectification of women,

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