Written by Ashley Treadwell, IBCLC
Welcome back to our series, I’ve Had My Baby - Now What? This is a guide with basic information to help you navigate the first days, weeks, and months of breastfeeding your new baby.
Today we’d like to talk about months 2 through 6 of your baby’s life, and what breastfeeding looks like. What can you expect for normal behavior from your new baby, and when do you know there’s a problem that you should seek professional help for?
What does normal breastfeeding look like in months 2-6? How often should my baby be eating, and how long should feedings take?
This can vary from baby to baby - the most important thing is that your baby is having lots of wet and dirty diapers and gaining weight appropriately. Some babies may have started taking in more at each feeding, and spacing them out more, while some may still be eating every 2-3 hours. If you’re lucky, your baby may have dropped a feeding or two at night, and may make up for it during the day. Other babies become much more distracted during daytime feedings around 4 months, so continuing those nighttime feedings are crucial for baby to get enough over a 24 hour period.
How much weight should my baby be gaining at this age? Is their weight gain expected to slow during this time?
Around 4 months, babies weight gain does start to slow down. Up until 4 months, we like babies to gain 4-7 ounces a week. At 4 months, this drops to 4-5 oz per week, and again at 6 months, when we expect baby to gain about 2-4oz per week. This is important for parents to know so that they don’t worry if they see their baby’s weight gain slow around 4 months of age. Make sure that your pediatrician is using the WHO charts for weight gain, which is for breastfed babies.
Suddenly my baby seems too distracted to eat! Is this normal, and what can I do to get my baby to feed better?
At around 4 months of age, babies start to learn that there is a whole big world out there - and suddenly, *everything* is more exciting than breastfeeding! Dogs barking, a ceiling fan, dad sitting next to them on the couch. It can be really worrisome for moms as they may worry that baby isn’t getting enough. Some things you can do to help your baby focus on breastfeeding during the day: feed baby in a quiet and dark room, or learn how to nurse in a carrier - this can really help cut down on distractions. Also, this is definitely NOT a time to start night weaning or sleep training, as these distracted kiddos often need those nighttime feedings to keep gaining weight appropriately. Also, it’s important to remember that this is really normal behavior - and usually fades around 6 months of age.
I’m getting ready to go back to work - how can I make sure that I’ll be able to pump what my baby needs when I’m away from him/her?
This can be a stressful time for moms - there are definitely some things you can do to help protect your breastfeeding relationship when you return to work. The first thing you can do is to know your rights! Know that the federal law protects your right to pump at work for a reasonable amount of time and in a private space. Do some research ahead of time and talk to your human resources department - find out where the pumping area is, how close it is to your desk or workspace, what equipment you’ll need. This is also a good time to talk to your caregiver - help them understand how best to bottle-feed a breastfed baby. There are also some ways to help maximize your output while you’re pumping at work.
My baby still wakes often to eat at night, even at 6 months of age - is this normal behavior?
It is absolutely normal behavior! By this stage, babies may be sleeping for longer stretches in the first part of the night, but may still wake after that to feed. By this age, a baby needs anywhere from 28-35 oz in 24 hours and if your baby is too distracted to feed well during the day, they may wake more at night to make up for it. If you hear your baby gulping during feedings at night, or your baby won’t settle without nursing, it is very likely that they still need the feedings throughout the night. If the frequent wakings are taking a toll on your mental sanity, co-sleeping and side-lying breastfeeding is a great way to get some extra rest. If you are uncomfortable with co-sleeping, you can set your alarm for 30 minutes after beginning to breastfeed your baby, and then wake up and place your baby back into their own bed. If your baby is waking up *very* frequently, every hour, and is very uncomfortable and difficult to soothe, it could be something else that’s causing the restlessness - possibly gut discomfort and/or a sensitivity to something in your diet.
My 4-month-old baby will not sleep! What’s happened to my baby that used to sleep??
The 4-month-sleep regression is a real thing and can wreak havoc on a mom’s sanity. At 4 months, babies are going through huge developmental milestones. They have suddenly become aware of all that is going on around them and their excitement about this can interrupt their sleep. It’s important to keep in mind that this is temporary stage, you will sleep again…. we promise!
My baby is approaching 6 months and I’m starting to think about solids. How will I know that my baby is ready?
It is definitely recommended to wait until your baby is at least six months of age before offering solid foods – even longer if your baby doesn’t seem ready. Some of the signs of readiness are being able to sit up on their own unassisted and losing their tongue thrust reflex, so that they don’t automatically push food out of their mouth. Another sign is when the baby has developed their “pincer grasp”, which is when they can use their fingers to pick up objects.
When I do start solids, what is an appropriate amount to start out with?
Your baby will need a very small amount at the beginning - only about a tablespoon once per day. The first food doesn’t have to be a grain cereal, either - as many doctors have previously recommended. Avocados are a perfect first food for your baby. Remember the saying “food before one is just for fun” – your baby should be getting their total nutrition from breastfeeding – so the solids you offer them now are just for practice. As the baby gets older, you can start to add in other meals and snacks.
How can I be sure that my milk supply won’t suffer once I start feeding my baby solids?
The rule for solids is always – milk first, then food. You should always breastfeed first and then offer your baby solids. You want to be sure that baby is still taking a full feeding at breast to both ensure he/she is getting all the calories and nutrition he/she needs, as well as maintaining your milk supply. If you start to replace breastfeeding sessions with solid meals, you most likely will notice a dip in your supply.
What did breastfeeding look like for YOU during months 2-6?
How did YOU survive those distracted breastfeeding sessions?