Breastfeeding: How It Changes As Your Baby Grows
Becoming a mother for the first time is a unique and exhilarating experience for women. While most new mothers feel the connection with their newborn baby instantly, for many others, it is a gradual process. For new mothers, breastfeeding offers a great opportunity to bond with their baby while being a comforting and nourishing experience for the child.
While no two babies or mothers are alike, the breastfeeding journey is filled with love, emotions, and at times, challenges. As the baby grows, there are changes in breastfeeding patterns and preferences.
Here is an in-depth look at the breastfeeding journey and the changes involved in the journey.
The journey of breastfeeding: newborn to toddlerhood
Breastfeeding newborn -Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) till the baby is about six months old.
Breastfeeding benefits are multiple and extend beyond nourishment. The breastfeeding baby feels warm, comforted, and secure while mothers experience a host of psychological benefits. Some studies show that women who breastfed their babies had less anxiety and fewer post-partum depression episodes than those who bottle-fed their infants. Apart from minimizing the chances of ear infections and stomach illnesses, breastfeeding lowers the risk of type 1 diabetes, asthma, obesity, and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
The first few days - In the initial days, the baby is learning to latch on to the breast, suck and swallow while the mother learns how to position the baby correctly for feeding, recognize her baby’s hunger cues, and manage breast health and milk supply. The hunger cues can often be sucking of hands or fists, moving head side to side, opening the mouth, and/or crying.
Skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeding is known to boost the levels of ‘happy hormones’ that help both the baby and the mom relax while normalizing their temperature, breathing, heart rate, and promoting overall happiness. Breastfed babies are exposed to active bonding and have fewer behavioral or emotional problems in later years.
In the first 5 to 7 days, the ‘colostrum’ or the first milk is secreted. While this is typically yellowish and thick, it can be whitish and thin in some women. Colostrum has a high level of antibodies and easy-to-digest proteins that help protect the baby against infections.
Colostrum transitions to mature milk after about seven days that packs in wholesome nutrition with the right amount of fat, proteins, calories, vitamins, minerals, and water.
Babies need to be breastfed on demand, which can typically be every one to three hours throughout the day and night.
You may find that your breasts feel full and start to leak as the milk production increases. While this slows down and stops over time, you can wear absorbent nursing pads to enhance your comfort.
KeaBabies organic bamboo nursing pads are comprised of 4 ultra-soft layers each to give maximum absorption and comfort, and are safe for your baby to latch on anytime and anywhere. Bamboo reduces odor from leftover milk, keeping you clean and fresh all day long.
Two weeks to 3 months – Your breast milk changes to mature milk after about two weeks while milk production stabilizes as the baby continues to grow and can drink more milk at each feed.
Milk that is released at the beginning of a feed is called foremilk, while at the end of the feed, the ‘hindmilk’ is produced. Hindmilk is creamier, thicker, and contains higher amounts of calories, fat, vitamins, and proteins that have antimicrobial activity, although studies show both foremilk and hindmilk overall provide adequate nutrients when combined.
During this phase, the time between feeding sessions get longer and can be anywhere from two to four hours. Some babies may still need to be fed every hour, while some may have a longer interval of five hours. Typically, in 24 hours, the baby will need to be breastfed between eight to twelve times.
At this stage, it is common for many women to experience these issues:
Engorgement and sore nipples - In the first few weeks after childbirth, breasts may enlarge, become warm, firm, and uncomfortable, and this condition is called engorgement. Feeding the baby frequently or pumping the milk often can help prevent engorgement and provides relief from symptoms.
This is also the time when the nipples can get sensitive and sore as they adjust to the sucking action of the baby. While mild pain or sore can go away on its own, you will need to consult your doctor if the pain or damaged nipple skin is not improving after two weeks.
Clogged milk ducts - Clogged milk ducts are a common condition in women and can occur when the breast is not completely or frequently emptied through breastfeeding or pumping. This allows milk to accumulate in the ducts and block the flow causing symptoms such as heat, pain, swelling, and tenderness. Consistent and regular breastfeeding is the best way to resolve this problem.
Other home remedies you can try to clear clogged ducts include:
- Applying a warm cloth or heating pad for up to 20 minutes
- Taking a hot bath or shower
- Soaking the breasts in Epsom salt warm baths
- Massaging the clog gently
4 to 6 months – When the baby is about four months of age, their sleeping patterns change and start to resemble that of an adult with alternating periods of light and deep sleep. Most babies start sleeping throughout the night for 6 to 8 hours, anywhere from 3 to 4 months of age. You may still need to feed the baby on demand, while typically, babies need six feeds in a day.
If you are looking to return to work at this time, you can start pumping your milk. Practicing how to pump a few weeks beforehand will help you learn the techniques while allowing your baby to get used to bottle-feeding. Pump at the usual feed times, use clean, sterilized food-grade containers and store freshly expressed milk in the refrigerator.
Breastfeeding benefits are not limited to the baby but extend to the mother as well and helps her stay healthy and fit. It reduces the risk of ovarian, uterine, and breast cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Women who exclusively breastfeed their babies can delay the return of their monthly periods for a longer time as compared to those who are infrequent nursers. This can act as a natural form of contraception too.
6 to 12 months – At six months, APA recommends introducing complementary foods such as soft and semi-soft solids. The breastfeeding patterns of the baby in this phase can change as the baby starts eating more solid foods. You need to follow the cues given by your baby and breastfeed on demand when you observe signs of hunger.
While typically babies sleep through the night in this phase, some babies do wake up one or more times during the night. A study showed that while 38 percent of infants at this age did not sleep for six hours at night consecutively, 57 percent of the babies were not sleeping for eight hours at night.
1 to 2 years -At this stage, the toddler should be eating most of the foods that the family consumes. AAP recommends continuing breastfeeding along with appropriate solid foods up to two years or longer. The number of breastfeeds can vary widely between toddlers. Some may only need one or two breastfeeds before bed, while others continue to need multiple feeds. Breastfeeding can be continued for as long as both the toddler and the mother are comfortable with breastfeeding and their nursing relationship.
When should you wean the baby?
Weaning is a process of transitioning to other solid foods and drinks from breast milk. The exact age at which the baby is weaned can vary based on many factors such as the baby’s growing interest in solids, refusal to breastfeed, insufficient breast milk, or certain health conditions.
Some children may want to suddenly stop breastfeeding, while for others, it is a gradual process. While this is a personal decision for each mother and her child, if the baby is younger than one year, you will need to replace breast milk with infant formula. If the child is more than 12 months of age, you can give fortified cow’s milk instead of formula.
Whenever you decide to wean, it is important to ensure the process is gradual. Start by replacing one breastfeed with formula or cow’s milk and replace more feeds gradually over time.
Recent research shows that breastfeeding deepens the connection between mom and child for years after weaning the child. Mothers who breastfeed frequently maintain emotional positivity, are more sensitive to their child’s needs, and are more invested and involved in their interactions with the child.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Sara Gale
Sara loves traveling and exploring new places with her family. She is mom to 2 lovely children and loves bringing them out on adventures.