Breastfeeding: How It Changes As Your Baby Grows
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Breastfeeding: How It Changes As Your Baby Grows

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.

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). 

Premature babies need breast milk for their immune system, it is essential for them to fight infections and prevent other health risks. Compared to formula, colostrum in breast milk is more gentle on the premature baby's developing intestine, stomach and other body systems. They may not be able to breastfeed right away that is why it  is important to seek advise from a lactation consultant for breastfeeding guidance. 

Extraction breast milk may be the best option for premature babies born short of 34 weeks. Although it may take a while for them to breastfeed naturally, extracted breast milk will help their developing immune system. Make sure to prepare and know how to use a breast pump.

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 breast milk supply. The hunger cues can often be sucking of hands or fists, moving head side to side, opening the mouth, and/or crying. 

breastfeeding newborn baby

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. It then turns to transitional milk before becoming mature milk.

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. As the baby feeds more frequently, you will notice an increase in diaper changes and baby's weight. Breast milk as the first natural food is gentle on baby's developing stomach. 

Breastfeeding mothers need to eat a balanced diet for good breast milk production. 

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 Nursing Pads

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. During growth spurt the baby feed more often, it can be a 2 to 4 day period and afterwards, the feeding will be back to normal.

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. Breastfeeding mothers have to stay healthy to ensure adequate milk supply for their breastfed baby. 

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 or health care provider 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.

breastmilk pumping

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 night time. 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 at night time 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.

breastfeeding toddler

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. This stage typically happens during the baby's second year of life. 

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. Other parents expect this to happen soon after the baby's first birthday, but that isn't the case, most go into gradual transition as the baby learns to eat other food and get used to formula milk.

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. It is best to seek advice from a registered dietician and a lactation consultant while weaning your breastfed baby.

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.


Sara Gale

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.

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