After having three babies back to back, breastfeeding was always challenging the first few weeks, but it also always got easier eventually.
So, you are a few days into breastfeeding and freaking out a bit about the constant nursing and cluster feeding?
Or maybe you have made it past the first few weeks. You want to know, when does breastfeeding get easier?
When I had my first daughter this is something I scoured the internet looking for optimism about on a regular basis.
I was pretty to desperate to hear that breastfeeding would get easier. Because for me it was hard, you can read more about my story below, but I did not like breastfeeding in the first few weeks at all.
Obviously I am now passionate about it which should hopefully reassure you that it will get easier and even enjoyable.
Usually breastfeeding seems to get easier anywhere after the first 6-8 weeks. Here is a little idea of what to expect before you get to that point.
Before breastfeeding gets easier, it gets harder (or crazier!)
Breastfeeding my first baby was anything but smooth.
We had a rocky start due to her being in the NICU, and then once we established breastfeeding and really got going, I felt like "whoa" this is a major time commitment and lifestyle change.
Well, having a baby is a huge change to begin with, but for me personally the amount of time involved breastfeeding was a bit of shock. As I said above, I was really scared because I did not like breastfeeding.
As much as I tried to prepare, there is nothing like actually doing it.
Of course I grew to love breastfeeding and I am very passionate about it so it does get better. Much better.
I remember when I took my breastfeeding class while still pregnant, they passed a chart around the room that showed how formula feeding was easier in the first six weeks, but breastfeeding became easier than formula feeding after those six weeks.
I am not talking about that chart to shame anyone for formula feeding (my first baby received formula in the NICU), but the memory of that discussion was a lifeline for me during those first few weeks when I was sure things would not get easier for me! It motivated me to continue.
In the first one to two weeks of breastfeeding you are learning as much as your baby.
You are figuring out how to latch your baby onto the breast, the easiest positions for you to breastfeed, you may be dealing with engorgement or pumping to establish supply, healing from cracked nipples, and hopefully are working out any issues that arise related to latch or a tongue tie.
If these issues persist past the first couple of weeks consult with a lactation consultant right away and seek help from a good resource such as La Leche League.
The first two weeks are the hardest while you learn an entirely new skill. Your baby is learning too.
Something else starts to happen after the first couple of weeks. Your baby will go through a number of growth spurts. These usually come around days 10, 21, and 42 but they can be anytime during this period.
During these growth spurt times you will become familiar with cluster feeding. I think cluster feeding scared me the first time around!
During growth spurts or even daily during the first several weeks your baby will want to feed for hours at a time. While this may catch you off guard (it did for me) I suggest trying to roll with it and remember it is temporary.
I spent most of the first six weeks with my baby on my lap from about 5 or 6 PM until my baby finally stopped breastfeeding and usually had a longer sleep period.
I ate my dinner on the couch with my baby on top of me, and I read or watched TV to pass the time.
Having a comfy place to sit with all your gear helps. A good pillow can help too.
Check out this article I wrote about ways to pass the time while cluster feeding.
During this time you may also be experiencing a fluctuating milk supply. Your supply may go up and down as your baby has growth spurts.
In my case, I sometimes would wake up engorged after a growth spurt was over. I would be so frustrated that I was waking up uncomfortable while my baby slept. I started keeping a hand pump in my bathroom so I could pump an ounce or two for relief during those first couple of months.
Just remember that breast milk is made on supply and demand, so keep up the breastfeeding and feed on demand.
While it may seem like your baby is ravenous during growth spurts, it does not mean he/she is not getting enough milk.. they just seem hungry all the time to get that supply up.
The Witching Hour
During the first month babies not only want to cluster feed, they also have a very fussy period of the day. It usually occurs in the late afternoon or early evening. You may have heard about this period described as the "Witching Hour".
Babies fuss, they cry, and they are pretty much unhappy around this time. This starts usually after the first two weeks and the fussiness peaks around six weeks.
In some cases it can last until 3 to 4 months but in general I think most babies are doing better before that time.
A huge help for me to get through this time was learning the 5 S's described in The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp M.D.
This is basically a technique using five different methods simultaneously to calm your baby. You can find the book under my list of books here if you're interested in learning more.
One of the 5 S's is sucking, which for us is breastfeeding. Using the 5 S's and breastfeeding was my only way to get through this period. When the witching hour hit, cluster feeding commenced, and really helped us make it through the evening.
I fought it a bit with my first baby, I wanted to have breaks to have dinner or do things.
By the second time around I realized I had to just go with it and it was so much easier. By the third baby I rolled through it and while it was not always fun I knew it was typical.
I truly believe that breastfeeding is one of the best and easiest ways to make it through this rough, fussy, witching hour period of your baby's life.
Does breastfeeding get easier?
Okay so you are tired of hearing about hard it is. You want to know when will breastfeeding get easier?
As I stated above, I believe for most babies things start to get much easier after the first 6-8 weeks. All three of my babies had started to cluster feed less by this time.
They still cluster fed but instead of being attached to my boob for hours on end, I would feed them every hour or so throughout the evening to tank them up for the night.
I grew to love cluster feeding because I think it really helps get you a long stretch of sleep. After the first six weeks or so it is not as constant and having small breaks makes it easier.
By three months it gets much easier!
Most babies have a more predictable routine by three months (I don't believe in schedules, but I love routines!) Many babies can feed much more quickly, and the frequency of feedings may go down a bit or stretch out longer.
Your breasts have usually established a steady milk supply without as much fluctuation.
Breastfeeding starts off fast and furious. It's a big commitment and it can seem hard. Many moms want to know when it will get easier.
Usually by 6-8 weeks babies have a predictable period of fussiness which is becoming less, and they are starting to smile and interact more. They may still cluster feed but not as frequently or for as long.
By the time your baby is three months things are looking much better and easier. You are usually getting more sleep and breastfeeding is becoming more predictable. I also have articles about breastfeeding at other stages so check them out here!
Let me know if you have any questions or tips for making it through those first 6-8 weeks!
Thursday 20th of January 2022
Thank you for writing this! My little babe is 15 days old and I’m really feeling it. Seems like she hasn’t had a day off from cluster feeding yet. Your blog gives me hope there’s a light at the end of the tunnel
Thursday 3rd of February 2022
Hi, sorry for the delayed response. Our family was sick so I did not get to your comment quickly but hopefully it is getting a little easier now. Cluster feeding is very demanding in the early days. You can find more tips to help get through this period here: https://breastfeedingneeds.com/newborn-cluster-feeding-tips
Good luck! It will get easier.
Monday 25th of January 2021
Omg!! You are a life saver. I’m a second time mom and my newborn is 5 weeks old ( 6 weeks in two days!!) bf didn’t work the first time around so I was more determined To make it work this time but I was so close to stopping . My newborn sleeps after 10 mins of nursing but when I put her down she wants more and repeats this for an hour until full. So many ppl say to push the feed out But I never found that to be good advice . Thank you so much for providing light at the end if the tunnel!!
Tuesday 2nd of February 2021
Hi, sorry for the delay replying. I hope it is getting easier!
Sunday 10th of November 2019
I’m coming to the end of week 8 and he is still waking every hour for a feed. He does his longest sleep at dinner time (3 hours) but other than that rarely sleeps longer than 1 hour at a time. Really feeling stressed and very tired. Also, what are your thoughts on co-sleeping? Any help appreciated!
Tuesday 12th of November 2019
Hi, I am a fan of co-sleeping when needed. I do find it really helps with the frequent wakings. Just make sure you are doing it safely. Is it possible for you to try and push the 3 hour sleep a little later so you can sleep at the same time? I know it's really rough with frequent wakings but they should calm down soon.
Wednesday 19th of June 2019
Hi! So happy I finally found realistic article about breastfeeding... I’m so tired reading that newborns eat every 2-3 hours. This is rearly the case in first weeks so this incorrect info makes it more harder for parents...The reallity is usually as described here. I think people in general still have wrong understanding of breastfeeding... I’m mother of 3 and current clusterfeeding (i totally forgot how it is ) is really, really hard... and every day is a challange especially with 2 older kids around. I almost quit several times in past 2 weeks ( we are now week 4).Thanks for reminding me that it will become easier! Just need to remind myself each day:-)
Wednesday 27th of March 2019
My baby is 4 weeks old today and the cluster feedi g is making me go nuts, I doubt myself and feel like giving up. Last night was had. She started cluster feeding around 6 until 11 p.m. with the only breaks being going home from my parents' house and bath time. While in the kitchen trying to eat something, thinking she was asleep for the night (twice, she started crying. The second time, I just let her cry while I had something to drink and ate something. I was crying and thinking why didn't she stop! I felt and still feel like such a failure! .How could I let her cry knowing what her needs are?
Wednesday 27th of March 2019
Hi, don’t be hard on yourself. Cluster feeding is really hard and totally normal! That time frame you describe is demanding but it really does get easier. In fact by 6-8 weeks it will probably be easier than now and by 3-4 months even easier and much less. You are doing a great job! It’s okay to take a break when needed and I am sure she was fine for a few minutes.