A TikTok post in which a San Diego-based mom demonstrates how she practices boundaries when breastfeeding her toddler son has racked up more than 7 million views — and sparked a conversation on how nursing mothers can teach their children to respect their personal space.
Last week Mikaela De La Myco posted the video "Breastfeeding My Toddler: A Boundaries Conversation," which shows her guiding her son Marten, who turns 2 1/2 next month, through a feeding session. Rather than lunging forward and helping himself, the toddler first places his hands on his own body and lets his mother raise her shirt herself, resulting in a moment that gives her more control and comfort.
De La Myco tells Yahoo Life that she decided to teach her young son about respecting boundaries when breastfeeding in February after nearly reaching a breaking point because the experience started to feel uncomfortable, painful and invasive as Marten grew older and more active.
"He doesn't bite, but he would kind of yank [my breast]," she says. "He would turn his head and I'm like, 'Do you not realize I'm attached to you?'"
Because Marten had grown up being breastfed on-demand as opposed to a more rigid schedule with cut-offs, he resisted cues to self-soothe and give his mother space. Being nipped at, prodded and having her shirt pulled down made De La Myco feel "very disrespected, like my boundaries were not being regarded as sacred to me." Her partner and mother voiced their own concerns that the "breastfeeding relationship [was] unhealthy," suggesting that perhaps it was time to wean.
"I was actually feeling pretty exhausted because we didn't have this communication," she says. Though she was tempted to stop nursing completely, De La Myco — a plant medicine educator and "mushwomb" mother who offers services such as journeywork and womb healings — decided to first try teaching her son some "nursing manners." This has included designating certain areas in the home as breastfeeding areas to ward off the impulse to drop everything and nurse on the spot; if she's in the kitchen and Marten wants to feed, for instance, he has to wait until she's done and can move to the designated couch.
She also no longer nurses in the middle of the night to encourage self-soothing; after his bedtime feed, Marten can't nurse again until it's time to start the day. Limiting the length of a feed by adding a countdown has also helped create flexibility and an understanding that he can't nurse for hours on end. Manners also count. As her TikTok post shows, Marten has been taught to ask politely, and kicking and screaming for "leche" won't get the response he wants. And De La Myco has also made more of an effort to communicate her feelings to her son and give him age-appropriate cues so he can recognize when she needs space.
"I try to articulate my state of being: 'I'm feeling frustrated,' 'I'm tired,' 'Mommy needs some space,' 'give me two minutes,' and he's starting to understand that," she says. "So I'll ask for space physically and also space as in time that I'm not sharing my body with him. He's pretty quick — like he gets those things, especially if you say them over and over again. And sometimes I'll physically signal to him [by putting a hand up] so that there's a visual for him as well that I think can kind of help. I'll actually put my hands over my chest and cover my breasts for a long time [and say], 'Marten, not right now, Mommy needs space and time.' So he's seeing visually that I'm creating a boundary, because I think that word 'boundary' is relatively lost on young children. But they can see physical barriers."
Her approach has found a firm fanbase on TikTok. Many commenters praised her for introducing boundaries and consent to her young son in a way that has improved the bonding nature of their shared breastfeeding experience.
"The way he will grow up to respect touch, respect another body and learn self-control," read one comment. "This is beautiful. Well done, Momma."
"Those boundaries are absolutely beautiful," another commenter wrote.
"It's beautiful," agreed another TikTok user. "He's learning consent, and you're nourishing him."
The response has been "mostly extremely supportive," De La Myca says, but she's also heard from some "trolls" who claim her toddler is too old to nurse. Nursing beyond the age of 1 is typically considered "extended breastfeeding" in the U.S., though cultural norms vary and the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding while introducing age-appropriate foods "for up to 2 years [of age] and beyond."
Despite the critics, and having felt ready to give up nursing just a couple of months ago, De La Myca says she no longer has a set cutoff point in mind now that boundaries have helped make breastfeeding a calmer, more comfortable experience.
"Implementing just a few little changes in the way that we nurse has made all the difference in the world, and has made me want to continue and not really stop," she says. "I don't have a time where I want to."
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