Breastfeeding a baby is a journey — the experience changes over time. Many women have high hopes that it'll get easier, since the first few weeks of providing breastmilk can be extremely exhausting, painful and stressful. And that is certainly true for most moms. There are other changes that both the mom and the baby can experience if they continue the journey, and since that can provide hope to women who are struggling, we have a list.
Some moms notice some changes within a few weeks. The baby gets better at the latch and stays awake better, and eventually the round-the clock frenzy of trying to make sure the baby gets enough milk to thrive starts to dissipate. A few months later, the baby starts to teeth and starts to experience separation anxiety, and those developmental stages cause changes in the breastfeeding journey. In fact, pretty much every stage that the baby goes through means changes for nursing. Some of these are for the better and some might cause a few issues. But as the baby grows, so does mom's confidence, and that is an amazing thing.
Here are 17 ways breastfeeding changes as the baby grows and five ways mom changes too.
As a newborn, when mom is trying really hard to get a hang of breastfeeding, the baby makes it more difficult by wanting to sleep. Newborns need a lot of sleep, and the effort of nursing can make them even more tired. It can be a battle to get the baby through a nursing session, but that changes with time.
In fact, it can change quickly. The worst of the sleepiness can be done in about two weeks, although babies who are born early might take longer to have more periods of wakefulness. Moms will be thankful that the baby helps her out in having success in a nursing session just a few weeks after birth.
A majority of moms these days have to work for a living. With varying laws on maternity leave, that might mean that mom has to go back to work six to 12 weeks after the birth, and so breastfeeding can change quickly because of that major upheaval in the mom's and baby's lives. Some women choose to switch to formula at that time, but for those who stick to breastfeeding, things will change a lot too.
Most moms have to pump when they go back to work, and the baby has to get used to taking milk from a bottle. That can be really hard, since supply might go down with pumping. To help the baby get used to a bottle, it's a good idea to let someone else give the first bottle while mom isn't in the room. Some babies refuse bottles during the day and keep mom up to nurse more at night. It's a difficult transition for any working nursing mom.
As the baby grows, so does his stomach That means that moms can fill the baby even more in one session. Eventually, the baby will start to stay fuller longer, which means that there can be more space between feedings.
Newborns have to nurse every two hours to get the nutrition that they need, and that around-the-clock schedule can be really hard on a breastfeeding mom. But in a month or two, that space will start to spread to three hours and later four. That means a lot for the parents, since the longer the space between feedings the more sleep that mom can get at night. That first four hour night sleep can seem like a gift to a breastfeeding mom.
Moms can be really intimidated about breastfeeding at the very beginning, and the task proves to be complicated, more for some than others. Figuring out the baby's latch is really hard, especially since the mom is getting to know her little one and her baby is figuring out how to get the suck, swallow, breathe pattern. But things do get easier, and we want to point that out here to give new moms hope.
A poor latch can make breastfeeding more painful and keep mom from gaining an adequate breastmilk supply. But since the baby has to have her mouth just right and the mom has to maneuver her body in at the right time, it can take several tries to get it right — if that happens each nursing session, it can be really frustrating. But moms need to know that both they and the baby will get it. The more they practice, the easier the task will become, and by the time the baby is three or four months old, it's going to work like clock-work.
At the beginning, it might be hard to keep the baby awake to nurse, but at least he is focused on the task when he is awake. There are a few blessed months when the baby is both awake and focused. But as the baby grows, he will become a lot more interested in what is going on around him, and that can make it difficult to get through a full nursing session.
Distractions can mean that the baby will turn his head and tweak him mom's body. He might unlatch and start again. He might slow down and take his time as he splits his attention between two things. Some babies even refuse to stop playing long enough to have their dinner. This can be a frustrating time for mom, and it can last until the baby weans.
When moms are nursing, there can be plenty of downs in the journey. One is when the baby has issues with their tummy, as a food intolerance from mama's milk can kick the normal issue of spit up into a sticky, gross, constant mess. Reflux can happen because the baby's digestion is immature but it can also be a sign of allergies, and figuring those out can be really tough.
To learn what the baby can't tolerate, a mom has to eliminate several foods from her life and then add them back in slowly until it's obvious what is causing the problem. The most common issue is with dairy products, which means that mom might have to alter her menu and avoid milk, cheese, yogurt and more. It's a pain, but the worst is the worry while moms are trying to figure out the problem.
There are a lot of times when moms who breastfeed feel like they are a dairy cow, constantly being milked by their little one. But even the schedule of feeding every two hours in the first week or two of life doesn't compare to when mom has to go through cluster feedings.
When the baby is about to hit a growth spurt or goes through teething, he might want to nurse around the clock. Moms might get a 30 minute break before the next session. That can be really exhausting, but usually it only lasts for a few days before the regular schedule kicks back in.
Another really tough time for moms is when their baby gets sick. But add that on to breastfeeding, and it can be even tougher. The baby will likely be extremely fussy and he could be sneezy and gross or puking round the clock. But mom still has to provide the milk.
Mom can go through a lot when the baby is sick, but that is the time when her breastmilk does really important work. Research shows that mom's milk can change to include even more antibodies and nutrients when the baby needs it most. It might be a yucky job, but mom has to do it.
In the beginning, a newborn nurses because she is hungry. But it doesn't take long before the baby realizes that the practice doesn't just provide food. Being that close to mom and that sucking motion also provides comfort. Eventually, there will come a time when the baby isn't hungry but she just wants to nurse for comfort.
During the tough periods, mom might feel physically and emotionally drained. We wanted to recommend that moms consider introducing a pacifier to help. Some moms are concerned about confusion, but after a few weeks, most lactation consultants say a pacifier is fine. In fact, it can also reduce the risk of SIDS. It can help make those comfort times a little easier on mom and baby.
It's one thing to nurse a newborn. It's another to breastfeed a baby that has teeth. It's a big struggle, especially when new teeth are coming in. Babies who are teething like to have pressure on their gums, and that means that they might clamp down on mom at times.
All moms who continue breastfeeding through teething will get bitten. But the important thing is to teach the baby that biting won't be tolerated. Moms have to look react to let the baby know that it hurts. Many times the baby ends up crying too because he doesn't want to hurt his mom. And before long he learns how to nurse properly with teeth.
For the first year of life, the baby is dependent either on mother's milk or formula to get the nutrition to grow. But at around six months old, most babies are ready to try a little bit more. Introducing solids is a fun time for the mom and baby, but it's a new stage that can change breastfeeding a little.
Moms shouldn't consider any change to their supply by the introduction of solids, as the main nutrition source is still milk. But as the baby gets closer to her first birthday, many moms start to rethink things, considering giving snacks instead of another nursing session. It will be a while until food replaces milk, but it does change things.
Over time, the baby gets more efficient with nursing. He's got his suck, swallow, breathe pattern down to a science and things can go a lot quicker than they did at the beginning. While a newborn might take 30 minutes to get his fill in the first month, it might only take 20 minutes by month 3.
Shorter nursing sessions continue to where the baby might be satisfied in only seven or eight minutes by the first birthday. That means that the mom doesn't have to devote as much time to sessions, even though the baby is likely going to get more milk more quickly. Most of the time, the extra efficiency doesn't hurt; it's just a benefit that changes over time.
Separation is a big problem for babies and their parents. It happens around eight months old for most babies, and all of a sudden, they realize that they don't want to be apart from and dad. It's hard whether the mom is breastfeeding or not, but when the mom is nursing it can change things.
One of the consequence is that the the baby can have a harder time away from mom and might cling more when she is there. That might mean more wakings at night, which might turn into more night feedings. That eight to 10 month period can be really tough on a mom.
There are times when a breastfed baby won't want to nurse. It's called a nursing strike, and it can happen for a variety of reasons, including if the baby has an illness or sore or just going through a growing pain. Moms can take a nursing strike personally, but despite their own hurt feelings, the baby doesn't mean to reject mom, and it doesn't necessarily mean it's time to wean.
Moms might have to pump through a nursing strike so that they can keep their supply up. The truth is that moms might have a harder time with the situation than the baby, who might just be so distracted by learning a new skill. The baby might return to nursing soon, so moms should try not to stress too much.
While the World Health Organization recommends that moms breastfeed their baby until the age of 2, there aren't that many moms who make it to that point. Some barely make it to the 3-month mark, and others make it to their goal of one year but choose to wean right away. That isn't a bad thing; it's just that some never know what it means to breastfeed a toddler. Things can change completely at that stage.
Toddlers like to move around while they nurse. They are really efficient and strong, and they like to use their feet to touch. They can be very snuggly and sweet, but also can get distracted and hurt mom unintentionally. Moms can feel like they are a jungle gym when their child is through with a nursing session. But if they get this far, they are usually happy to let the baby choose when to wean.
A woman's body goes through a lot while breastfeeding. And it goes through a lot during pregnancy. Combining the two is a situation that not many women will ever understand, and that is a dedication that few women are capable of making.
While breastfeeding, a woman's body makes milk that is perfectly suited to the baby who is being nursed. The antibodies can change when he is ill and the consistency can be altered based on how things are going. But when the mom's body is preparing for a newborn, the consistency of the milk will change for the littlest one. The mom might start making colostrum, which an older baby doesn't need. It's a good idea to check with the doctor and make sure that all is well. Also, nursing could trigger premature labor, so moms who are risk of giving birth early might be warned to wean before the third trimester. There are a lot of issues to consider when nursing while pregnant.
The final stage of breastfeeding might be the hardest — for some it's even harder than those first few painful, sleep-deprived, anxiety-laden months. Weaning can be easy for some women, but the longer a mom nurses her baby, the harder she might find weaning.
There are lots of reasons why the mom might want to start weaning, and that can include future pregnancies or just feeling like it is time. And if the baby decides it's time to wean, that can be just as heartbreaking. Moms will miss the bonding time, and they will have to work to distract the little one. Plus, if it is isn't a gradual weaning, the body might go through engorgement and hormonal shifts that are tough. It can take time to fully wean the baby, and that stage can be full of changes as the breastfeeding journey comes to an end.
Moms experience a lot of physical changes while they are nursing, and one of the most noticeable is how breastfeeding changes the size of the mom's girls. They might grow a size or two during pregnancy, and after the milk comes in, some women grow another size. That's why lactation consultants recommend moms wait a month or so before stocking up too much on nursing bras.
The girls might get smaller over time, or they might not lessen until after the mom weans. Sometimes they stay that larger size, which means moms have to get an all new bra wardrobe. Some women don't experience big changes, and that doesn't mean that they don't have the supply they need. The changes that happen are personal and different for each mom and each baby.
One of the biggest issues moms can experience in the first month or two of breastfeeding is the leaks that can happen once the milk comes in. Some moms experience a let down when they hear a baby — even if it isn't their own — crying all the way on the other side of the store. And that can result in some embarrassment if the milk ends up all over their shirt.
But leaks usually aren't a problem for long term. It can take a few months, but usually the girls get used to nursing and they have the amount of milk that they need and aren't as sensitive. We do recommend that moms continue to wear nursing pads just in case, though, until they feel certain that their shirt won't get wet.
Many moms think that once they have established their breastmilk supply in the weeks after the birth then they are set. But there are a lot of changes that happen throughout the breastfeeding journey and the supply can go up and down depending on the day.
For the most part, the baby can help determine the supply later on, but that means that during nursing strikes, the supply might go down. Moms who pump also might find their supply problematic at times. That might mean it's time to make some lactation cookies or tea. The supply might ebb and flow, but moms who have figured it out know how to give themselves a boost when it's time.
Breastfeeding can be painful at the beginning, although once the mom and baby figure out the latch, the pain diminishes. Yet after a couple of weeks, many women end up feeling raw and may even have cracking and bleeding on their girls. It can be so bad that moms consider giving up so that they don't have to be uncomfortable anymore.
But one change that happens during breastfeeding is that the girls get less sensitive over time. While it can still hurt is mom gets mastitis or gets bitten by a teething baby, her girls aren't going to go through as much problems with cracking after a while. Unfortunately, one downside to being less sensitive is that the girls might not respond as well during time in the bedroom. But that comes back in time after weaning.
The amazing thing about a breastfeeding mom is that once she gets through the next period in her breastfeeding journey, she gets more and more confident as a person and as a mom. It's a powerful feeling to know that your body was able to provide nourishment for the baby, and mastering any task, especially one so difficult, can help a woman feel like she can do anything if she puts her mind to it.
There are a lot of physical changes that occur while breastfeeding, but this psychological change is probably our favorite of the entire experience. All moms question themselves at times, but the confidence boost that can come from successfully breastfeeding their baby can be enough to help moms realize that they are enough — in physical ways and more — for their baby. Providing that precious milk means so much more, and nursing moms should definitely be proud of all that they accomplish.