Inside: Are you wondering what the timeline of a breastfed baby looks like? These are the phases that your breastfeeding baby will go through, including cluster feeding, distracted nursing, growth spurts and more! A lighthearted, humorous look at the funny and sometimes frustrating stages that your baby will go through.
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What do you see when you envision breastfeeding? A calm breastfeeding mom and baby, gazing into each other’s eyes lovingly? The truth is, moms go through a lot of different emotions and experiences throughout our breastfeeding journey.
Imagine what real breastfeeding photos would look like. Baby pulling off and getting sprayed with breast milk right in the eye. Mom getting kicked in the face by her ever-growing baby.
Don’t misunderstand. Breastfeeding CAN be beautiful and calm, just like in the stock photos. There are so many benefits of breastfeeding for your baby and for yourself (and I loved breastfeeding my babies), but it’s not always easy.
Related: When Does Breastfeeding Get Easier?
While difficulties exist like latching problems, blocked ducts, figuring out when to start pumping and mastitis, you are also dealing with normal, sometimes frustrating nursing phases.
The Timeline Of A Breastfed Baby
The Let There Be Milk Phase
Although colostrum is baby’s super-food, it’s your baby’s job to nurse (and nurse and nurse and nurse) in order to cause your milk to come in. This cluster feeding will inevitably occur at night, when all you want is to get a few winks. But don’t worry. You’re in a hospital and will be monitored at night WAY more than during the day. So don’t stress too much about your baby keeping you awake, because the nurses won’t let you sleep anyway.
Breastfeeding at birth and in the first few weeks is likely the toughest stage of breastfeeding. It can seem like you’re never going to make it work. But if you can make it past these first few weeks, it will become SO much easier.
Related: First Time Mom Breastfeeding Tips
How To Make Nursing At Birth Easier:
1. Make sure you get some of my favorite Earth Mama nipple butter and apply it after every SINGLE nursing session. It’s one of the best organic nipple creams on the market. Better yet, have extras EVERYWHERE so that you’re never without. Your nips will thank you.
2. If you didn’t take a breastfeeding class, then this online and on-demand, guaranteed or your money back breastfeeding class is just what you need. It’s super cheap and it will help you navigate this first tough phase and many more.
The HolyCrapThisHurts Phase
I know, I know, you heard or read that breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt… Right? WRONG.
Listen to me. Anyone who says that breastfeeding doesn’t hurt when done the right way is lying. What I hate most about this “advice” is that it’s super discouraging.
If you’re in pain, make sure that your latch is good. If it is, then the pain that you’re feeling is NORMAL. Check out my tips for breastfeeding pain and ignore anyone who tells you that breastfeeding doesn’t hurt. Really. Having a baby sucking on the most sensitive part of your body for HOURS a day. Yeah, not painful at all! *eyeroll*
The “You’re Drowning Me” Phase
Imagine. At first, your tiny infant got about a teaspoon of colostrum a day and had to work REALLY hard to get it too. Suddenly, your mature milk is in and now your baby has a river of breast milk coming at her. It’s common for baby to get frustrated, cough or choke because she simply can’t keep up.
Especially if you’re engorged.
How To Minimize Choking: Nurse in a reclined position. The force of gravity will permit your milk from shooting out so forcefully. You can also try latching your baby until you feel that your letdown has been triggered, then unlatching baby and catching the spray in a towel. I don’t really recommend this method though because it makes for a pretty unhappy baby and that’s double the latching (OUCH!).
The Engorgement Phase
Engorgement is no joke. It can make you feel like you’re dying (only a slight exaggeration).
You might experience engorgement at various times throughout the first few months of breastfeeding:
- when your milk comes in
- when a growth spurt abruptly ends
- when your baby misses a feed
- when your baby miraculously sleeps through the night suddenly (you will be SO happy until you realize that your boobs are MAD)
When my milk came in with my second child, I thought I had Mastitis. It was simply engorgement even though I had all the symptoms of Mastitis (fever, chills, nausea, swelling, redness). I felt like I had the flu, but much, much worse. After insisting that I had Mastitis several times to my lactation consultant, I was told that I simply “had enough milk to feed the entire neighborhood”. Greeeeeeaaat.
How To Deal With Engorgement: Do NOT pump. Pumping signals your body to produce even more. I can’t even imagine. You can use these gel packs which can be heated to encourage letdown (when you’re super engorged it’s hard to get the milk out) or cooled to reduce swelling.
You can also use The Haakaa (it’s a lifesaver) to quickly and easily manually pump just enough to help you feel a little more comfortable. You can also use the Haakaa if the other side tends to leak while your baby is nursing to catch that liquid gold!
The Nursing While Sleeping Phase
You’ve probably read about sleep props, one of which is nursing to sleep. I never understood how to get my babies (especially during the newborn stage) to stay away while nursing. Breastfeeding a newborn is the most sleep-inducing thing you can do!
None of the tricks work. Tickle baby’s cheek? No. Raise baby’s arm? No. Get baby naked? No.
How are you supposed to put baby down drowsy when every time she nurses she’s simultaneously sleeping? My second baby was either nursing or sleeping (or nursing and sleeping) for the first 3 months of her life.
I say just go with it. This phase is short and soon your baby will be too distracted by ALL THE THINGS to ever dare fall asleep without a head-to-head battle.
The Cluster Feeding Phase
Call it the witching hour, call it time to veg on the couch, most babies will cluster feed in the evening for hours. If it’s your first baby, you might be wondering what demon takes over your child around 5 pm.
My first baby was an intense cluster-feeder (that’s absolutely a real word and not one that I just made up). She was only happy between the hours of 5-9:30 if she was latched. Nothing else. She would nurse and snooze and nurse and snooze. And then just when I thought that she was asleep and I could give my boobs a break, and I SUPER GENTLY unlatched her? All HELL broke lose. You would have thought that she was reliving her birth experience.
However, let me tell you the positive about cluster feeding. My crazy-demon baby who fed for hours every night for an entire month went from waking every few hours to sleeping 10+ hours a night at 6 weeks old. I KNOW that it’s because of the cluster feeding. She was plenty full and able to sleep for a LONG time. Those hours on the couch were totally worth it.
How to make it through cluster feeding: Park yourself in front of the TV with some munchies and Netflix. Right now, you can TOTALLY binge-watch your favorite inappropriate show. When your baby is a toddler and repeats everything she hears? Not so much.
If you already have a kid (or kids!) running around, then I’m sorry. Cluster feeding really does suck. You simply need to tough it out until the next phase.
There are other reasons for constant breastfeeding. If you worry about the amount of time that your baby spends at the breast, check out my post on the newborn who wants to breastfeed constantly, which will help you decide if it’s a problem or if it’s just normal baby behavior.
The Shiny Object Phase
The “can’t nurse without falling asleep” phase will abruptly end and be replaced with the I’m-so- distracted-by-everything phase. Your baby will begin to notice that there is a world that she needs to discover. Get ready for on-off-on-off-on-off for infinity nursing. Go in a dark room, you say? I speak from experience. Shadows are super intriguing.
How to deal with distracted nursing: While this is really hard, because baby’s around the age of 4 months literally find EVERYTHING interesting, try your best to make each nursing session extremely boring. Stay quiet and try rocking. The motion might be enough to distract your baby from everything around her.
The Greedy Baby Phase
Baby’s grow. A lot. Growth spurts can be brutal, with a baby attached to you seemingly all day long. Your baby can noticeably grow in height and weight in a matter of days. Your baby will also likely be cranky during this time.
Dealing with growth spurts: Look on the bright side. Your baby is growing. That’s good! Your baby also might sleep an extra long stretch of sleep once the growth spurt is over, and extra long stretches of sleep are always worth whatever you have to endure beforehand.
It will end soon, I promise. Enjoy the snuggles. Just imagine what your body would feel like if you grew as quickly as your baby’s. Ouch! And revel in the fact that you don’t have to pay for all the formula that it would take to get through these growth spurts.
The Training To Be An Acrobat Phase
Imagine you had to eat your most satisfying meal of the day facing a wall when you’ve just discovered that LIFE IS SO EXCITING. You’d be stretching and twisting, too. Remember, the world is new and mysterious and there is so much to discover, and while your baby wants to nurse because it’s her warm and safe haven, she also wants to see what’s going on. In every direction. At all times. While still attached at the boob. Yay.
How to deal with acrobatic nursing; There are a few methods that you can try out if your baby’s nursing gymnastics are driving you crazy. Try giving your baby something to play with while nursing, or try reading her a story. When all else fails unlatch her each time that she acts crazy.
The What Can I Do With These New Teeth Phase
Not all babies will bite, but it’s definitely a possibility, and actually sounds worse than it really is. Okay, maybe it doesn’t sound worse than it really is. My kids weren’t really biters, but the few times that they did made me want to jump out of my skin.
Nip that in the bud ASAP, mama.
How to deal with biting during nursing: Again, you can try unlatching baby every time that she bites and giving her a firm “no”. Try your best to hold the frighteningly loud screech that you desperately want to let out in.
The Hello? Hello?! LOOK AT ME Phase
There was a period of time when if I wasn’t looking at my daughter while she was nursing, she was forcefully pulling my face toward her so that I would make eye contact with her. Sweet? Yes. Annoying after the first 254 times? Yes.
You might think that this sounds crazy, but I’m telling you each and every baby will go through this at some time. The worst thing you can do is look away from your baby. How insulting!
It was definitely worse with my second child. I couldn’t even GLANCE in my poor first born’s direction.
How to deal with the look at me phase? Sorry, I have NO idea.
The I’m A Big Kid Now, Just Kidding, I’m Still A Baby Phase
If you are still nursing your toddler (yay for extended breastfeeding!!), you might be wondering why she has begun nursing every 5 seconds. You are her comfort, and she needs a little (okay, maybe a lot) of reassurance to make it through this scary time in life. Separation anxiety is at an all time high at around 18 months, and what is your breastfed baby likely to do when nervous or overwhelmed or anxious? Nurse of course!
This will of course be temporary, but when you’re already breastfeeding a baby who is “too old’ in the eyes of many, this can be stressful. Even though you know it sounds crazy, you legitimately will believe that you will breastfeed this baby for the rest of your life.
How to deal with the frequent nursing toddler: Distract when possible, and repeat after me: this too shall pass.
The I’m Teething, Help Me Phase
Some babies will nurse less during teething (I’ve heard) but some will nurse more for comfort. If there was a Worst Teether in the History of Teethers Prize, it would go to my child. The good news? Nursing comforted her. The bad news? Nursing comforted her.
You might be dealing with a comfort nurser. OR you might be dealing with a nursing strike because nursing really, really hurts when your baby is teething.
How to deal with teething and comfort nursing: Use a frozen teething ring before nursing to partially numb your baby’s gums. This teether was the ONLY one my baby would chew on. You could also give your baby a frozen wet washcloth to suck on to dull the pain.
The Let Me Pull Your Shirt Up And Help Myself Phase
Ah, yes. There’s nothing more fun than the first time this happens in public. Bonus: you get to deal with the incredulous “you’re still nursing a baby who is old enough to pull up your shirt” stares.
If you enjoyed this look at the crazy timeline of a breastfed baby, check out Part 2: Stages Of Breastfeeding