If you’re a breastfeeding parent, you may have felt prepared for sore nipples as your body adjusted to breastfeeding. You may have even been mentally prepared for some potential bites when your little one started teething.

One thing that might never have crossed your mind, though, is the awkwardness of your little one flicking and playing with the nipple they aren’t sucking on!

You may be relieved to know that this habit, commonly referred to as twiddling, isn’t uncommon.

But you’re probably still curious: Why does it happen? When does it start? What should you do about it? We’ve got your answers below.

Twiddling your breasts while breastfeeding is a natural action for many older babies. No one teaches them this, so why do they do it?

Although there’s not a lot of research about twiddling, one theory is that it helps increase breast milk production and let-down speed (how quickly or slowly milk releases from your breast).

As your baby grows, they want more milk and they want it to come out faster. Because twiddling stimulates your nipples, it can help make that happen.

Additionally, twiddling may offer your little one comfort. Physical touch is extremely comforting to people of all ages, but young children especially benefit from it.

As proof of the comfort twiddling can provide, many parents note that if their child is feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or otherwise in need of some TLC, they’ll also try to twiddle the breast of a parent who’s not breastfeeding.

Frequently, twiddling starts around 6 months, but it may start earlier or later.

There’s no exact age when twiddling begins, and it may be affected by a variety of developmental and environmental factors. These include diminishing milk supply or your little one learning how to use a pincer grasp.

Your baby may even go in and out of twiddling phases as they grow!

While very young newborn babies tend to be sleepy and need to concentrate on latching and sucking, older babies tend to fidget more while they feed.

As your little one becomes more mobile and alert, they may notice your other breast is within reach and want something to do with their hands.

Some babies and toddlers will even continue twiddling after they’ve been weaned, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for your little one wanting to play with your chest even if they’re no longer being breastfed.

Just as there’s no one age to expect twiddling to begin, there’s no perfect answer for how to handle it. Some breastfeeding parents choose to ignore it, if it isn’t bothering them too much.

For others, twiddling can be painful, associated with irregular menstrual cycles, or evoke strong feelings they’d prefer to avoid. In these cases, they take action to stop it.

How to stop it

If you decide you’d like your baby to stop twiddling, you can try several tactics, including:

  • Use a piece of clothing or blanket to cover the breast your baby isn’t nursing from (out of sight, out of mind). You can also try covering the exposed nipple with your hand or finger, if that’s easier for you.
  • Wear a chunky necklace or offer something else your little one can fiddle with instead.
  • Hold and massage your baby’s hands during breastfeeding sessions.
  • Talk to your baby about gentle touch and how certain kinds of touch can be painful to you.
  • If you’re practicing side lying breastfeeding, you might consider feeding from the higher breast. This will make it harder for your baby to touch the lower one.

It’s totally fine to have different policies for twiddling in public versus at home.

No matter what you decide to do about the twiddling, you’ll need to be consistent and start sooner rather than later. After all, it’s much easier to distract and teach new behaviors before twiddling becomes a habit!

Twiddling is certainly not uncommon, so if your baby is doing it, no worries!

But if you’d like them to stop, be consistent and patient in teaching them how to treat your body during breastfeeding. You may also want to have a few toys handy to keep their little hands busy during feeding sessions.

Remember: Breastfeeding is an ever-evolving journey. Your newborn baby may have struggled to latch, and now as your child ages, keeping them relaxed and focused during feeding sessions may be the hardest part.

With some gentle guidance, your baby will learn to follow your lead.