The Doula Manda

- make informed choices

This is a blog post from my series of ‘parenting ideas’. It does not constitute professional advice but I hope it inspires you to find the solutions that work for your family! Originally posted July 22

"Waiting Hands"

I get asked about “waiting hands” a lot, specifically with regards to older nurslings who are grabbing at clothes or potentially helping themselves to an ‘all-you-can-eat-boobffet’ when this isn’t comfortable or appropriate for the nursing adult. Waiting Hands is a technique that supports communication, body autonomy, consent and mutual respect and can help replace these unwanted and sometimes overwhelming behaviours with something more comfortable for you.

I can’t honestly take credit for the idea. I am a second language sign-language user myself and have seen many variants of this kind of technique, but I am happy to take a few minutes to explain
what ‘Waiting Hands’ are, when you might want to start using them, how you can introduce Waiting Hands to your child, why it works and how they can potentially help you and your older baby or toddler continue your nursing relationship comfortably and respectfully. 

What are Waiting Hands?
Waiting Hands is just a fancy name for the position my daughter is adopting in the picture accompanying this blog! Hands loosely held together in front of the body. This gesture can follow any other request but we started using it following the sign for “milk” as an alternative to her pulling at my clothes in order to try and access the breast. In this picture she is waiting while her nephew has first go on the bubble machine!

When can you start using Waiting Hands?
We started as soon as the unwanted behaviour of clothes pulling began in earnest, around 14/15 months but I firmly believe it is never too early to introduce your child to these concepts as long as you have age appropriate expectations of when they will manage to perform and understand them. 

How do I introduce Waiting Hands to my child?
This is what worked for us. 

Step 1. Introduce the Idea.
When the unwanted behaviour is occurring e.g. clothes pulling or grabbing, gently remove your child’s hands and fold them into the ‘waiting hands’ position. Smile and say “waiting hands!”. Barely pause a beat before letting go and offering a feed. Continue this for a day or two.

Step 2. Let them get the hang of it.
When the unwanted behaviour is occurring don’t correct their movements but enthusiastically say “waiting hands!” If your child responds by removing their hands and waiting of their own accord great! Go ahead and feed!
If your child doesn’t stop the grabbing/pulling then, as per step one, just gently put their hands into position, say “waiting hands!” again cheerfully and then continue on to the feed.

Step 3. Build the trust.
Once they start going straight to ‘Waiting Hands’ and aren’t pulling at your clothes at all you can start to pause between them showing you waiting hands and offering the feed. You want to acknowledge them perhaps by saying something like “I see you have Waiting Hands! I will just be a moment and then you can have some milk”! The aim is to delay them just one or two seconds at first. If they move their hands and go to grab you, gently remind them and if necessary help them find the sign again.

Step 4. Build the time. 
Gradually start to create longer gaps between the original request and the feed. At 18 months we can tolerate a good 3-4 mins of waiting hands and it isn’t just used for breastfeeding now as the picture shows.

Why it works.
All behaviour is communication. If your nursling is pulling at your clothes they are communicating a need and simply telling them to ‘stop it!’ won’t work because they really do need a way to communicate with you. By teaching my daughter how to ask for milk and then put her hands into a waiting position I have given her an alternative way to communicate the same thing that is more acceptable to me than her previous communication method. Vitally, I have also ensured it is as effective (if not more effective!) than her previous method so both she and I get our needs met and frustration is hopefully reduced on both sides. 

A word of advice.. 
Never intentionally ignore waiting hands. This is an act of connection and trust between you both. Always acknowledge that they are waiting and if you cannot provide what they are waiting for at that moment (e.g. Waiting for milk while you are driving and they are in the car seat) explain that you see them and will address their need as soon as you are able.

If you give this a go please do let me know if it works for you! You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as @TheDoulaManda!