So, you are a few days into breastfeeding and freaking out a bit. Or maybe you have made it past the first few weeks. You want to know when does breastfeeding get easier? When I had my daughter this is something I scoured the internet looking for optimism about on a regular basis. Usually it 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 it gets easier, it gets harder (or crazier!)
Breastfeeding my first baby was anything but smooth. We had a rocky start and then once we 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 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 thought about that chart a lot those first few weeks and it motivated me to continue.
In the first one to two weeks of breastfeeding you are learning a ton. You have probably learned how to latch your baby onto breast, the easiest positions for you to breastfeed, you have dealt with engorgement or pumping to establish supply, healing from cracked nipples, and hopefully have worked out latch or tongue tie issues. If these issues persist past the first couple of weeks consult with a lactation consultant right away. The first two weeks are hard 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 baby finally stops breastfeeding and usually has a longer sleep period. I eat my dinner on the couch with my baby on top of me and I read or watch TV to pass the time. Having a comfy place to sit with all your gear helps. A good pillow can help too.
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 seems like your baby is ravenous during growth spurts, it does not mean he is not getting enough milk.. he just seems 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 is where breastfeeding comes in. 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.
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.
So when does it get easier?
Okay so you are tired of hearing about hard it is. You want to know when does it get easier? As I stated above, I believe for most babies things start to get much easier after the first 6-8 weeks. Both of my babies had started to cluster feed a bit 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 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 (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 three months things are looking much better and easier. You are usually getting more sleep and breastfeeding is becoming more predictable. I will be writing more about breastfeeding after the three, six, and one year mark in the future but just know it does get much easier.
Let me know if you have any questions or tips for making it through those first 6-8 weeks!