Breastfeeding the Older Baby: What to Expect at 9-12 Months

Written by Anna Choi, BS, IBCLC

Welcome back to our blog series, Breastfeeding the Older Baby – What to Expect and How to Adjust. Last month we took a closer look at what breastfeeding might look like for a 6-9 month old, and tackled some of the most common questions and concerns we hear from parents with little ones in that age range. We hope you found the information helpful and relevant and are happy to have you join us again!

Today, we’d like to talk about months 9 through 12 of your baby’s life. I think these are the last months we can classify them as babies, right? Don’t they officially become “toddlers” once they are over a year old? Crazy, I know! The days seem so long when you’re in them -- changing diapers, wiping their face clean, rocking them to sleep. But in an instant, the days have become weeks, and the weeks have become months, and soon, a whole year has passed by. Their first year. You kept them clean {mostly}, fed, happy, and above all, loved. Celebrate your accomplishments, mamas! But, I guess I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. My oldest “baby” turns 5 this month and I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it. So as we approach the end of your baby’s first year of life, what does breastfeeding look like?

What does breastfeeding look like in months 9-12? How often should my baby be eating and how long should feedings take?

Breastmilk continues to be your baby’s primary source of nutrition until his/her first birthday. Some babies will continue to space out their breastfeeding sessions as they approach this milestone birthday, nursing 4-5 times during the day, and once or more during the night. As your little one begins to explore the tastes and textures of more solid foods and consume more of them at each sitting,  you may notice your little one begining to nurse less frequently in response to their increased intake of solid foods. As long as baby is continuing to have five or more wet diapers each day, gain an average of 2-4oz per week, and baby seems satisfied and content after breastfeeding sessions, then your little one is most likely getting enough nutrition from breastfeeding.

When will my baby begin to drop his/her nighttime feeding sessions and sleep through the night?

Such a great question, and one that’s frequently on parents’ minds! When will my baby sleep longer at night? The short answer is, I don’t know when your baby will sleep through the night. Every baby is different and the timeframe for when one baby will sleep through the night versus another is going to be different. Babies wake throughout the night for varying reasons, including hunger, a need for comfort, a disruption in their sleep cycle, a need for a diaper change, sickness, teething, etc. Breastfeeding often meets more than one of baby’s needs, so it’s easy to fall into the routine of nursing your little one back to sleep. There is absolutely nothing wrong with responding to your little one’s needs by breastfeeding them! If you are happy with your nighttime routine, then please don’t feel pressured to make significant changes in order to cope with outside pressure and recommendations to “train” your baby to sleep longer at night. That being said, if you find yourself becoming frustrated with nighttime wakings and overtired during the day due to lack of sleep at night, then it might be time to take a closer look at your nighttime routine to make a plan for improving your quality of sleep. I find the following Kellymom article on night weaning to be extremely helpful at offering tips for gentle night weaning of older babies: http://kellymom.com/ages/weaning/wean-how/weaning-night/

I’ve heard people mention teaching breastfeeding manners to older babies.  How does that work?

It’s never too early to start teaching your little one age-appropriate manners. Just as we prompt our toddlers for “the magic word” when they ask for something, older babies can learn to be polite when breastfeeding. Teaching your little one a few basic signs from American Sign Language can be very beneficial in setting the stage for breastfeeding manners. The signs for milk, more, and please are fairly basic and many babies pick up on them quickly. {see here: http://www.babysignlanguage.com/dictionary/first-signs/} Once your little one has mastered the sign for milk, you can calmly remind him/her to sign milk when hungry instead of pulling your shirt down or crying out in frustration. Positive reinforcement will go a long way to reinforce the idea that you would like baby to sign milk when hungry rather than clawing at your chest. Baby will also be calmer and happier, seeing you sign milk, showing them you hear and understand their need and are going to breastfeed them soon.

My baby has been refusing to nurse, could he/she be self-weaning?

If your baby has been refusing to breastfeed for several breastfeeding sessions or days in a row, then it’s more likely that you and your little one are experiencing a nursing strike, rather than self-weaning. It is very uncommon for a baby to self-wean before their first birthday. As we have said before, babies need breastmilk to be their primary source of nutrition until at least their first birthday. Also, self-weaning is usually a gradual process, where as a nursing strike is characterized by a sudden and complete disinterest and refusal to breastfeed. Nursing strikes are common in older babies and can be in response to teething, distraction, illness, bottle-preference, and other developmental milestones. Tips for surviving a nursing strike and encouraging baby to breastfeed again are:

- Always offer breastmilk before any solids during baby’s first year of life. If baby won’t breastfeed, you can offer baby breastmilk in a sippy cup, to ensure baby’s nutritional needs are being met through breastmilk. Solid foods are supposed to complement breastmilk during baby’s first year, not replace.

- Limit or eliminate bottles and pacifiers. Only use bottles when baby is separated from mom and then put baby back to breast when baby is with mom. We want baby’s sucking needs to be met at the breast.

- If distractibility seems to be playing a role in baby’s refusal to breastfeed, try wearing a nursing necklace to keep baby’s attention focused on mom during breastfeeding. You can also try giving baby a small toy to hold during feeding sessions, nursing in a quiet room, and nursing baby in a baby carrier.

If you feel your milk supply has decreased, and this has led to the nursing strike, then it is a good idea to visit a breastfeeding support group or make an appointment with a Lactation Consultant to come up with a breastfeeding plan to help you increase your supply and meet baby’s needs moving forward.

 

What did breastfeeding look like for YOU during months 9-12?

Join us next time when we discuss breastfeeding during months 12-18!