Breastfeeding changes drastically from day to day, week to week, and month to month. No matter how many kids a person has, there are phases parents will find in common. You can both detest and love the times you spend holding and nourishing that bundled up baby. How can breastfeeding incite both pain and pleasure? How can one week bring depression and one bring joy? It's all about timing.
Recently, I had my fifth baby. As I started breastfeeding, I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel cause I'd done it before. I'd found my body "bounced back" around 8 weeks and that breastfeeding came to feel somewhat normal around 3 months. However, with my first baby, I didn't have that advantage. I had no idea how long the difficult phase would last. Exhausted, I said to my husband, "Can I just stop doing this and bottle feed? It seems easier." He offered me wisdom and replied, "If after 2 more weeks you don't see an improvement, you can quit and never look back." That gave me the opt out I needed. All I had to do was hang on for 2 more weeks and then I could quit. I was utterly wrong!
If only I'd known the process of how breastfeeding changes as the baby grows up! There are 15 ways breastfeeding changed during my journey in breastfeeding. I made it because I knew these 15 changes were coming. And, you can too!
15 Vaccinated Baby
As soon as your baby tries to nurse for the first time, it feels like nothing is coming out. The lactation consultant notified me that the baby was getting a yellowish substance called colostrum, and that it was everything he needed until my milk came in. Colostrum nourishes your baby for the first few days following birth and contains mostly carbohydrates, proteins and antibodies to keep the baby healthy.
According to the La Leche League, colostrum acts as a 100% safe vaccine! It helps protect the gastrointestinal system as well as the mucous membranes. What does this mean? Well think of all the times that people touch your sweet baby's face (other kids, impolite strangers, relatives) and remember that what you are feeding your baby helps protect them from many of the germs that are completely new to his body. So take a deep breath and believe your baby is getting what they need that first week or so.I felt like a pro those first couple of days and figured I was good to go! But like all things related to children, as soon as you think you've got it figured out, it changes on you.
14 Full Baby
Yeah, no one prepared me for how I'd gain 3-4 breast sizes in the first couple of weeks. I had to buy all new bras, and for the first few weeks I honestly did not feel like wearing them. But research says that skin to skin contact is important! Even knowing that, I think this is the worst part of breastfeeding, but it doesn't last long, only a couple days to a week! That is, if you keep massaging, expressing, putting heat on your breasts and feeding your baby often.
Over the next couple of weeks colostrum slowly goes away and your milk comes in. With some the milk comes in so rapidly that your breasts may become engorged. You'll know you are dealing with this when they feel hard as rocks, and it feels more painful to nurse. Occasionally women will develop mastitis, an infection that will need medication if expression, cabbage leaves and frequent nursing does not resolve the problem within a few days.
If you develop a fever please see a medical authority. During this phase, being counter intuitive pays off. Nurse as often as your baby wants (usually 1-2 hours apart), resist using a rigid nursing schedule, keep a towel handy and let your breasts leak. I've heard some moms say you should pump the extra to save for later. Feel free to do that, but if you do you will keep your milk supply high and you will delay the next phase.Your husband may enjoy the look, but it's a hands-off season. Hang in there and realize that it is normal and you can do anything that you know will end. Only a couple more weeks until the next change.
13 Milky Baby
This is good news after what you just went through. It's amazing what a few weeks can resolve. I remember after about a month of feedings, the pain was only present for the first several seconds. Biting my tongue, I latched the baby on and then a sigh of relief washed over me as I felt normal again. Why does this happen? Oxytocin. The same hormone that naturally starts contractions, and the same one that is released during sex actually creates the "let down" or the somewhat painful process of the muscles contracting and the milk coming in for that feeding. Oxytocin is also responsible for changing your emotions. Feelings of trust, stability and relaxation are associated with its release. Picture your little baby girl in your arms, looking up at you, a sweet trust growing between you. And what about the pain that once plagued you? Slowly and steadily, the pain decreases.
12 Regulation Baby
Now you are finally entering the stage that feels more normal. For some it may be several months. Over time your body will realize how much milk your baby needs and will begin to regulate. Think about how amazing this instinct is! We are not machines that have the same output each time, each day until the baby is weaned. Our bodies know how much the baby needs as we pay attention to them. When a baby cries there is a need. Sometimes it's the need to nurse. So many moms have had the fear, "How can I know I'm giving my baby enough milk?" That's a valid concern and very common fear. If your baby has wet diapers, saliva and tears he is getting "enough."
Each baby eats a different amount just like each adult eats a different amount.For example, when I feed my baby, I listen to their swallowing. I can tell when she isn't drinking anymore, but is just suckling because she enjoys it. Babies love to be close to their moms, and rightly so. I could take her off and get back to whatever important task I have lined up, or I could allow her to suckle for a bit. The truth is that the baby tells your body how much she needs from one day to the next. Within a 24 hour period, she signals to your body to produce more for next time and our bodies respond. WOW! So we don't have to worry or face the anxiety of feeding our babies enough. Our bodies naturally regulate, and it's baby led.
11 Breast Pads Baby
For the first couple months, when "let down" occurs, I would feed the baby. Trouble was, the opposite breast wanted to feed the baby too, simultaneously. Well I didn't have twins, so what should I do? Finally. I kept breast pads in my purse, diaper bag, car, and pocket for a while just in case. I'd wear them everywhere, like the grocery store, coffee shop or just around. Who wants to be caught out with two wet spots right where your breasts are. The trick is to just hold your baby when that happens until you can get to a private place to feed. At least they cover up the mess and you can discretely excuse yourself. But now I'm free to wear normal clothes. No more wet clothes because the next phase has begun. When you begin to anticipate your baby's feedings or decide to opt for a scheduled feeding system, you can stop worrying and start relaxing. You can wear nicer shirts. And a side benefit: less laundry!
10 Smiley Baby
Around 5-6 weeks your baby may smile for the first time. Yes, they have probably smiled before that due to gas. The sleeping smile is the best! I count it as a real smile and so should you. However, there is something altogether different and rewarding about a baby who smiles at you because of joy.You can see it on their face. They recognize you and reward you with a smile. That's all it takes for a mom, really.
Breastfeeding changes significantly for me once my baby smiles at me during the feeding. I'll be a few seconds in and then she will come off just to connect with me, smile adorably, and then continue her meal. Now breastfeeding is more than a task to sustain their life. It's more than a duty. Now it is a shared experience. It has become an opportunity for play. You can hold hands, pretend to eat her hands, talk to him, read a book together. The options are only limited by your imagination. Now you can use breastfeeding to promote your relationship with your baby. It's a two-way street that begins while he's in your arms.
9 Public Baby
No way would I ever breastfeed in public for the first month or two. I wasn't embarrassed, but I just couldn't do it with my shirt on. Now it's legal to breastfeed anywhere you want, but it's a choice to make the change to feeding in public. Do it when you feel ready. Sometimes the struggle is real when the baby throws off the blanket, or you realize you wore the wrong shirt to do it easily. That's when you can always car feed. It's technically still in public, but a little more like home than the public restroom.
Feeding in public has its advantages. You don't have to be tied to the house for feedings, naps etc and running errands can be completed without having to hurry. It's a wonderful transition that build confidence. The one thing I have to remind myself when embracing this change is that no one wants to see me latch the baby on, and it's important to put my baby's need for food over my need for approval. If you find you're not ready to feed in public, perhaps try a friend's house. That still counts!
8 Sharp-Nailed Baby
Everyone knows how precious little baby fingers are. I'd like to point out that little baby fingers are precious...except when they have swords on the ends of them. Breast tissue is tender and nothing motivates me to clip those baby nails as feeding my baby.As I hold him in my arms, my first baby would swipe his fingers softly on my side, under my arm. It came to be a comforting little habit he developed. I loved it! It was the kind of motion made when a child plays with a special blanket ruffle in their crib. But then came the day that same motion sent chills down my spine.Ouch! Feeding the baby was not pleasant, but oh his nails. It's time to buck up and cut those baby nails, for your sake and for theirs.
7 Heavy Baby
Up to this point the baby has been easy to hold. Your traps (the muscles on the sides of your neck and tops of shoulder area) are getting very strong from all that breastfeeding. But now, after several months he is getting heavy! My baby got so heavy that I pulled a muscle in my neck. So here's the deal: You need to get your abs back so you don't hurt another part of your body as the baby puts on the chub.There are several simple ab workouts you can do in your home on your bed after you wake up. Be sure to look up at least 3 different exercises because you want to make sure you're getting the upper, lower and sides. My favorites are the supine bicycle, the plank and the back extension with a read leg raise.
None of these need equipment. Just you, your weak abs and something to lay on will do the trick. The real challenge is starting. But remember, if you don't do something, that baby will keep getting more and more heavy. So to prevent other injuries, it would be wise to invest 3-5 minutes so that breastfeeding becomes a joy, rather than a workout.
6 Distracted Baby
Feeding in public became a major milestone for you, but now you have to master the distracted baby syndrome. The blanket, or nursing cover will no longer be easy to use. How can you sit somewhere in public and feed your baby when she keeps pushing away the one thing that protects your dignity?!I registered for a nursing cover and realized that I only used it once or twice. By the time I felt comfortable nursing in public, my baby became easily distracted and kept pushing it off. Music, people talking, or startling noises can jerk the baby off and cause them to look around.
It's not just noise. It's their vision too. Babies continue to improve their ability to see at a greater and greater distance. So really it's a fantastic ability they are coming into. It may be a slight inconvenience to have a distracted baby, Having children is not the convenient road, but the contemplative one. Use these opportunities to think of the positive elements at play. Healthy development is something to be grateful for!
5 Active Baby
As your baby learns to sit up, play with toys and can see most of the world around her, she doesn't want to spend all her time snuggling and eating anymore. It's something to mourn, but exemplifies another one of those milestones. You're proud of her new abilities and with them comes faster feedings. Who wants to spend time eating and laying down when you can be up and learning new things.It's a testament to the human spirit. Humanity, we weren't made to sit around all day and eat. Being active is an inborn desire. Once they are able, you can't hold a baby back from exploring the world around them. And a feeding won't hold them back for long.
Do you remember when your baby used to fall asleep in your arms? This doesn't happen much these days. You may get the chance to experience that late at night for what they call a "sleep feeding" but that's about it. Enjoy this phase as one of learning and know that her brain is making a variety of connections to her world. You can transition from the person she comes to only for food, to the most natural teacher she'll ever have.
4 Toothy Baby
Okay so you've probably mastered feeding in public and have cherished all those tiny toothless smiles. Now it's time to buckle up for your baby's adorable yet sharp first teeth. The two at the bottom in front are the best! That two-toothed smile can't be beat.The average time a baby gets their first tooth is around 6 months but it can take up a year. It's common to want to stop nursing as soon as your see their first tooth, but you can get through this change too. You've been through so much more up to this point, and this one is a simple fix.
When darling baby bites down, pull her off immediately and frown. You might even say "ouch" in an alarmed voice. This usually startles the baby and makes them avoid that experience after a few trials. If you stay the course, this too shall pass.
3 Sleeping Baby
That most common question to new mothers, "Is he sleeping through the night?" Seriously, what the heck does that even mean? If it's not a feeding, it's a diaper change, or a bad dream or potty training. I really don't know why "sleeping through the night" is the Holy Grail of parenting a baby. I mean, you're a parent. You are going to have some sleepless nights. Some days you'll be rested, and others you won't. But there is that magic moment when you wake up and realize your baby slept through the night. So I get it, it's a wonderful feeling.It can also be a scary feeling. Are they okay? But yes, he's fine, sound asleep and probably dreaming of nursing. Everyone has a different threshold for when their babies stop breastfeeding at night. Some say it can be as early as 4-6 months and others wait to closer to 8-9 months. Whatever you choose, it can be done.
Raising children is all about allowing them to become adults. You are far from it, but every step counts as a celebration of their independence. Celebrate that night of calm with an extra snuggly morning or skip that morning coffee, cause compared to what has become "normal," you got some serious sleep!
2 Snacking Baby
Solid food equals yucky diapers. But it also equals a snacky baby. Once you get your baby on a routine of eating solid foods, she may come to you to nurse, but not as often and not as long.I recall one of my children coming to get a "snack" and it literally lasted like 10 seconds. I thought to myself, "What's the point of that? Should I just wean her?" Have you ever just grabbed a handful of nuts or taken a bite of something yummy. You aren't technically hungry, but that taste was all you needed. Well, it's the same with kids. Sometimes a little mouthful was all they wanted to feel satisfied.
Feel free to wean your baby when you want, but this change is not a sign that they need to be weaned. It's somewhat cute if you think about it from their perspective. I imagine they are playing and all of a sudden they think of me and want a quick hug. And remember, your body will regulate the supply based on the demand. We're the embodiment of microeconomics. Again, no worries, if you want to keep nursing through this change, you can. Or if you'd rather exchange all those nursing shirts and wean that baby, then move onto the final change in breastfeeding as your baby grows.
1 Weaning Baby
A weaning baby does not have to be a miserable baby. I remember dreading this process. I've heard all kinds of advice on how to do it. If you've made it through the snacking phase then you'll have an easy road. Just replace one "snack" a day with regular milk and build up to full replacement within a week or two.If you decide to wean before they turn 1 year old, you can try to replace with goats milk, which can be taken earlier because it is easier to digest. You may have a tough road if you wean early and have to utilize bitters, a substance you wipe on yourself to make it taste terrible. Some people even transfer to formula if they wean earlier than 8 months. It's really up to you and your baby, but I encourage you to stay the course as you feed your baby. It's a short few months in their life but can have lifelong benefits if you make it to around a year.
Breastfeeding is not "all or nothing." Weaning isn't like breaking an addiction. It's nourishment. Weaning means to accustom the baby to food other than it's mothers. So embrace your baby's ability to digest new things and transition slowly so their digestive tract can grow accustomed to the new substance. Happy Feeding, breast or otherwise!