The “red chair trick”: How to set boundaries for a breastfeeding toddler

Posted in Toddler Essentials.

There’s plenty of advice out there on the internet about how to breastfeed your newborn baby. But tiny babies eventually grow up into rambunctious toddlers, and over time, your breastfeeding relationship completely changes and evolves. You go from demand-feeding a small baby wholly reliant on you for nourishment and nutrition, to feeding a small dictator who seems intent on claiming your boobs as her own.

Breastfeeding boundaries

The benefits to breastfeeding into toddlerhood have been well documented. Along with being an instant boo-boo fixer, it’s also the best way to nourish an unwell toddler. But there doesn’t seem to be much literature on the actual logistics of wrangling a toddler around your boobs, especially on how to set respectful, gentle limits around breastfeeding. It is a two-way street after all, and in order for it to work, both the mother and toddler need some sort of mutual agreement. Because having a two-year-old screaming, “Boobie! Boobie!” at you in the supermarket isn’t fun for any mother, and neither is having a ravenous 18-month-old clawing at your chest. 

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An easier way?

I remember the days I felt I couldn’t sit down because as soon as I did, my toddler would be on my lap helping herself to the milk bar. I became touched-out quite quickly, and it made me dread feeding her – even though I really wanted to continue breastfeeding for all the added benefits. But the tantrums I had to help her navigate every time I said no to “boobie” were exhausting. We all know how much toddlers love being told “no”, don’t we?

The red chair trick

Through trial and error, while breastfeeding my four daughters, I found a simple method that helped me set respectful, consensual limits. This trick made my relationship with breastfeeding my toddlers a lot more bearable, and even enjoyable. And it’s all about using a “conditional yes”, making sure your breastfeeding relationship works for both you and your child.

It’s called the “red chair trick”, and here’s how you do it.

  1. Find a red chair (note: make sure it’s one that you find comfortable to breastfeed in).
  2. Only sit in the red chair when you’re happy to breastfeed your toddler.
  3. Don’t sit in the red chair if you’re not happy to breastfeed your toddler.

It’s that simple!

Be consistent

Through setting boundaries where and when breastfeeding is acceptable for you, your toddler knows the limit, making it easier for you to answer and redirect their demands for the boob without inciting rage. When your toddler asks you to breastfeed, but you aren’t in the red chair, avoid saying the word no. Instead, you can answer her by asking if you’re in the red chair. If you aren’t, you can give her a conditional yes, saying, “Yes, we can breastfeed, when I’m sitting in the red chair.” The answer isn’t “no” – it’s just “not right now”. 

This trick works best if you’re consistent. Be warned; there will be whining as your toddler gets used to this new boundary. Her feelings are completely valid, and understandable, so let her express her frustration at not being able to have boob right now, and allow her to work through her emotions. It’s completely normal.

Now, when you decide to sit in the red chair, you can relax and enjoy this special time together on your terms – not your toddlers. Because even though your toddler may feel like your body belongs to her, it actually belongs to you – and breastfeeding a toddler doesn’t have to happen at the detriment of the mother’s mental or emotional health. It’s okay to say “not right now” or even “no”, period. So hopefully this simple trick helps set some boundaries when breastfeeding a toddler. 


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