Stages of Breastfeeding


Any woman who has breastfed will tell you there are different phases of breastfeeding. There’s the planning/imagining time before the baby comes. While you may have heard stories of difficulties from friends, the reigning feeling is that breastfeeding will be wonderful, beautiful, natural. It sits in your heart right there with the cute, new, soft baby clothes and the comfy rocker and lullaby cd in the nursery.

Breastfeeding NewbornBreastfeeding 4 month oldBreastfeedig Older Baby
Next comes the reality of your baby’s birth: exhilarating and exhausting regardless of whether you went with Birth Plan A or ended up with Birth Plan C, D or E. Those first few hours and days of breastfeeding involve a steep learning curve. I have heard motherhood described as a “physical and psychological marathon”; that definitely describes this time with your new baby.

Questions and more questions mark the first few weeks: Is the baby gaining enough weight? Do I have enough milk? Am I doing this right? Should the baby sleep more...or how can I get the baby to wake up to eat? Even if you are an experienced mom, this baby can throw you for a loop: I don’t remember this from last time; did my first baby do this?

By a month or 6 weeks or maybe 2 months, you will be amazed how much you know about your baby. If you have a moment to look back, you’ll say, “Hey, we really are getting this!” In the Nursing Mother’s Companion, Kathleen Huggins calls this the “reward period”. It’s not that there aren’t questions, but now you can appreciate how right breastfeeding can be.

For the next few months, you could say you are in the groove. It’s not that breastfeeding is old hat, but it is definitely not the focus it was during those intense first few weeks. Your baby’s other achievements take center stage and you can enjoy your baby’s increasingly social perspective on life. Your baby is definitely giving back with smiles and coos. There’s nothing quite like that grin your baby gives you while feeding...never letting go of the nipple, of course!

Are there more stages? Sure. Through the second half of the first year breastfeeding should still be your baby’s first source of nutrition, but sometimes it will become a negotiated settlement between other foods, other things to do and other places you have to be. Before you know it you will be planning your baby’s first birthday celebration.

What if you decide to go longer? Even for moms who are firmly committed to nursing their baby beyond a year, there are times when they will admit they really don’t like it - not overall - just not right now - not today. When will this end? These feelings come and go. While they are part of the decision of when to wean, they are not the whole. As with all of parenting, there’s is not much that is crystal clear and black and white. You may find yourself doing things you never would have expected, or even swore you would never do.

This year and beyond are an incredible journey from the intensity of a newborn (shall we call that the sprint?) into the long haul marathon of motherhood. You are not the same person who carefully washed and folded those brand new baby clothes.

You have given your child an incredible gift by starting his life with breastfeeding. Whether it was 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 years, it is a gift. Never discount that gift with, “Well, I only ....” You did. And you continue to have a world to give your child as he grows. You've done good, Mom.

Sue Petracek, IBCLC