Written by Ashley Treadwell, IBCLC
Running two support groups every week, I get all sorts of questions from moms with concerns about their breastfeeding babies. One of the questions/concerns I hear the most often is this: “My baby is suddenly not feeding for nearly as long as they used to and they aren’t interested in feeding as often. They get fussy easily at the breast and pull off after just a few minutes. I’m concerned that they aren’t getting enough milk from me!” I can almost always predict the age of these babies - somewhere around 12-16 weeks. And here’s why.
Many moms know that babies feed frequently in the early weeks. They expect feedings around the clock that can last quite a while. What many moms don’t realize is that this *can* change dramatically around the 3-4 month mark. Babies who used to feed every 1 to 3 hours, for 30 minutes or more, babies who were always happy to breastfeed when offered - suddenly start refusing the breast at times, and when they do accept, may only feed for a few minutes before pulling off. This can be a frustrating time for moms as they are often concerned that the baby may not be getting enough and are worried about this significant change in baby’s feeding patterns. In this article, we’ll discuss why this happens, how to know if there is reason for concern, as well as how to manage this new behavior.
Why is this happening?
While it’s great to know that this behavior is normal, many moms want to know why their baby’s breastfeeding behavior has changed so much. Much of it has to do with developmental changes that occur as baby grows and matures. One reason the length of a baby’s feeding may shorten significantly is simply that baby is becoming more efficient at the breast - meaning she/he can get more milk out in less time. This can be hard for moms to believe, so visiting a support group where you can do a weighted feed to see how much baby is taking is a great way to confirm this! I can’t tell you how many moms come to my groups and are amazed at how much their baby can take in only 5-10 minutes. Another factor is baby is experiencing a huge developmental leap at this time... awareness of his/her surroundings is exploding. Suddenly, your baby will notice the plant in the corner, the dog chasing it’s tail, the freckles on mom’s nose! Everything is so new and exciting, babies are often too distracted to breastfeed. They may go hours between feedings, and when they do go to breast, they will often pop off frequently to look around and interact with their surroundings.
Should you be concerned?
If your baby has breastfed well up to this new stage, if weight gain has been within normal limits (4-7oz per week), and they are having the appropriate amount of wet and dirty diapers, you can rest assured that this is all normal behavior and your baby will not go hungry. It is very uncommon for a baby who has gained weight well to suddenly start to have difficulties. Yes, your baby may take in less during the day if they’re distracted by all that goes on around them, but they will make up for it in other ways. Baby may start to wake more at night, asking to feed, to make up for the milk he/she missed during the day. This is one of the reasons that we don’t recommend night weaning at this time - your baby might need those middle of the night feedings! But don’t worry, tired mama, this won’t go on forever.
The signs to look for that will tell you that all is fine are as follows:
- Baby is having the appropriate number of wet and dirty diapers
- Baby is meeting the age-appropriate milestones
- Baby is gaining at least 4oz per week.
While you may not know what your baby’s weight gain looks like in between doctors’ appts, you can visit a weekly breastfeeding support group to monitor baby’s weight on a weekly or monthly basis and be sure that he/she is gaining appropriately.
What can you do?
- Offer your baby the breast when he/she shows signs of wanting it, but don’t worry too much if he/she don’t take it, or doesn’t feed for as long as she/he used to.
- A couple of times a day, try to feed your baby in a dark, quiet place with fewer distractions.
- Consider purchasing a nursing necklace so that your baby has something to play with while breastfeeding. It will help keep your baby’s attention on you rather than the ceiling fan above your head.
- Try nursing in a carrier, which provides a nice, quiet, distraction-less space on the go.
- When your baby wakes at night, respond to him/her and breastfeed, as he/she may need these feedings now more than ever.
- But mostly, relax! Enjoy the shorter feeding periods and longer stretches between them. Have fun with your baby as he/she explores his/her surroundings and learn about the world. Trust that your baby will let you know when he/she is really hungry and follow his/her lead!
Here are a few more resources about breastfeeding a 3-4 month old: