Congrats on making it this far! You have achieved a great accomplishment and given your baby a wonderful gift. By now breastfeeding should be getting easier and hopefully you are starting to really see the benefits.
Continuing to breastfeed past three months
Here are some of the current breastfeeding recommendations.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.
From The World Health Organization (WHO) – Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
From the AAP, some of the benefits of breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding provides a protective effect against respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases, and allergies including asthma, eczema and atopic dermatitis. The rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is reduced by over a third in breastfed babies, and there is a 15 percent to 30 percent reduction in adolescent and adult obesity in breastfed vs. non-breastfed infants.
The AAP also ascertains that choosing to breastfeed is a short and long-term investment in the health of your baby, rather than a lifestyle choice.
As you can see breastfeeding past three months is recommended and will benefit you and your baby. It can be hard with the return to work or other challenges but if you can make it work it is worth continuing.
What to expect after the first three months
Once you get past the first six to eight weeks things start to level out a bit and become more predictable. You will still have growth spurts but the marathon cluster feeding will mostly be in the past.
Some babies may continue to cluster feed in the evening but the duration should be shorter. I always tried to continue cluster feeding as long as I could because I like the idea of my baby tanking up before sleeping for the night. It may help them sleep longer stretches if you continue to feed more frequently in the evenings.
Your baby may start to stretch out the time between feedings. It can really vary, I continued to feed both of my children every two hours for quite awhile but I know some can start to stretch up to four hours. The frequency that they eat in a 24 hour period will vary but may start to go down as you get to three months and beyond.
A more predictable routine may start to emerge. I always feed on demand and don’t follow a set schedule but most babies start to develop their own feeding routine or schedule by three to four months. If you are returning to work and pumping milk to feed while you are away then your baby will start to follow more of a schedule as well.
Overall, things should be starting to feel much more manageable and predictable.
Challenges during the three to six month time frame
There will be growth spurts and sleep disturbances. There is a lot of developmental growth going on during this age and it seems to mess with sleep and nursing patterns just when you think you have figured it out.
It may seem like your baby is not getting enough milk during growth spurts but he is. It is not recommended to offer solids at four months. Offering solids too early can interrupt and affect breastfeeding negatively. Current recommendations are to wait until about six months to start solids.
A lot of breastfed babies start to sleep better by three months but then around four months start waking more again. Some call this the four month sleep regression and it seems to be related to all the crazy development they are going through around this age. A baby that was sleeping great may start waking and wanting to nurse back to sleep more now. This happened to me with both babies and I just try to roll with it (even though it’s not easy!).
Teething may start and your baby may want to nurse a lot more or less while this is going on. In my case my son wants to nurse nonstop when a tooth is coming in. I am pretty sure he just likes having something in his mouth and it helps the pain.
Your baby may also start to become really distracted at the breast now. My son is a super distracted nurser. Starting around three to four months it became very difficult to nurse him around people. You may think your baby is not interested in breastfeeding anymore but that’s not the case at all. There is just too much excitement around for them to stay focused.
I have no problem nursing in public or nursing around friends or family but he wasn’t having it. If there is anything to be seen or heard in the room he wants to pop off and look around. It usually goes something like latch, take a couple gulps, pop off and look around grinning, then latch back on, one gulp, pop off and look around more. Sometimes he would not latch at all.
If you are dealing with a distracted nurser I recommend really focusing on getting those nursing sessions in while in a dark or quiet room, first thing in the morning, before naps, and at bedtime. This way you will be assured your baby is still getting plenty of milk.
On the positive side
By now you are falling into a predictable nursing and/or pumping pattern and your supply has regulated for the most part. You should not be dealing with engorgement anymore.
Breastfeeding will not hurt. Since you have worked out supply or latch issues most pain is a thing of the past.
You are past the wild marathon cluster feeding sessions. Your baby may still feed more frequently in the evening but the hours upon hours of nursing are mostly over.
Your daily routine is becoming more predictable so it should also be easier to get out and about and do things. Breastfeeding on the go should be much easier than it was in the newborn or earlier phases.
Feedings have gone down in frequency and many babies can feed quickly now, sometimes only taking 5-10 minutes to nurse or less.
You may start to notice the immunity benefits your baby is receiving from breastfeeding. An amazing fact, if you are sick your baby is most likely immune to your illness due to receiving antibodies through your breast milk. I certainly noticed this with both kids when I would get sick but they would not despite being so close to me and breastfeeding.
Maybe you are starting to notice the calorie burn. Breastfeeding burns a ton of calories and many moms start to notice this after three to four months. I will need to write more about breastfeeding and burning calories in a future post.
If you have made it past three months breastfeeding you are doing great! There is no reason to stop now though, the breastfeeding benefits keep adding up.
Babies are going through a major period of growth and brain development from three months to six months. Breastfeeding patterns and habits can reflect this. The distraction and changes in sleep patterns can be challenging but overall it should be much easier going forward.