Congratulations – you’ve made it through the first crazy month of breastfeeding. Your breast milk is now fully mature,1 your supply is beginning to calm down, and your breasts won’t leak as much, or at all, any more. Don’t worry, you’re not losing your supply – your breasts are just getting more efficient at making and storing milk.2 At six weeks, you’ll start seeing your baby’s first gorgeous gummy smiles, and by two months you’ll have 500 to 600 feeds under your belt. Hopefully any latch issues will be resolved, and now it’s a case of maintaining breastfeeding and enjoying the convenience and ongoing health benefits.
When does breastfeeding frequency slow down?
“After he’s about one month old, your baby will begin taking bigger volumes of milk at a feed and may start to go longer between feeds,” explains internationally renowned lactation consultant Cathy Garbin. “His stomach is growing so he can take larger feeds, plus your mature milk keeps him fuller for longer.”
Feeds can last anything from 12 minutes to nearer an hour – there really is that much variability between babies!3 But if your baby is gaining weight and has a feeding pattern that fits into these ranges, you have no cause for concern.
Amazingly however, no matter how often your baby feeds, he’ll consume roughly the same quantity of milk per day at one month old as he will at six months, when you start introducing solid foods.4
“Having said that, you’ll invariably get some days when he wants to feed a bit more or less, especially if he’s not feeling well, and you should just go with it,” says Cathy.
Does my baby really only need breast milk for the first six months?
Yes. Breast milk provides your baby with everything he needs for the first six months of life – if he’s exclusively breastfed, he doesn’t even need water!5 In fact, his digestive system is not able to cope with solid foods until around six months, and he won’t be able to drink cow’s milk until he’s a year old.
Breastfeeding throughout this stage also prepares your baby for the exciting milestones ahead. It exercises his mouth muscles and helps develop his jaw and align his teeth,6,7 which are all important for eating and talking. And because the flavour of your breast milk can be influenced by what you eat or drink, it means your baby can experience new tastes before he even starts solids.8
Not only that but if he gets ill, your body will produce antibodies that go into your breast milk to help fight off the infection.9 This means it will continue to protect him as he grows and gets more active over the months to come.
Once you hit your stride, carrying on breastfeeding is also incredibly convenient, as Claudia, mum of two, UK, discovered: “Not having to sterilise loads of bottles, make up formula, cart it all around, then heat it up, made breastfeeding the easy option – especially as my babies got a bit older and we went out more.”
When will my breastfed baby sleep through the night?
It’s normal for all babies to wake during the night. The majority of one- to six-month-old babies consume a fifth of their daily milk intake at night, so these feeds are important to ensure they get enough calories.3
“Really, it depends on what you call sleeping through the night,” says Cathy. “If your baby goes to bed at midnight and wakes up at 05:00, some people call that sleeping through and it’s certainly better than waking every two hours! I’ve known breastfed babies who’ve gone to bed at 19:00 and woken at 07:00 from six weeks, but plenty of others continue to wake frequently. Every child is different.”
A study of more than 700 babies in Wales showed that almost 80% woke at least once a night between six and 12 months, and 25% woke three times or more. There was no difference in frequency between breastfed or formula-fed babies.10
So, if you’re going to be waking up anyway, at least breastfeeding is a convenient option! As Minette, mum of two, Australia, agrees: “At night you barely have to wake up – just let your body and baby go on automatic pilot. No planning, measuring or sterilising. It’s all ready and at the right temperature in your boob. Perfect for me.”
My baby has started waking up more – is he hungry?
At around four months, your baby’s sleep patterns may change as he starts to cycle between periods of deep and light sleep, just like an adult. As a result, he may start waking more frequently at night. “At this four-month stage you may be dealing with a sleep issue not a feeding issue,” says Cathy. “It can wear you out, but try to go with the flow and ride through it.”
Some people refer to this as the ‘four-month sleep regression’ but a more apt word is progression. While it may feel like a step back, your baby is approaching an important developmental phase. He’s learning rapidly, becoming more aware of the world, gaining better depth-perception, and perhaps starting to experience separation anxiety. Crying for you when he wakes, feeding and being close to you is a way of seeking reassurance.11–13
Don’t be tempted to give a ‘top-up’ of formula or introduce solids early in a bid to make your baby sleep longer. Your breast milk contains hormones that cause drowsiness and help both of you relax. And studies show mums who breastfeed actually get more sleep each night than those using formula or mixed feeding.14
How will teething affect breastfeeding?
Teething often starts from about four months. Your baby might become fussy and pull off your breast, crying with discomfort, if his gums are sore, which can be frustrating.
However, breastfeeding can also be soothing. A study showed babies who are breastfed during immunisations cry less and recover more quickly from the pain,15 and this calming effect could also help your baby while he’s teething.
An unwanted side effect may be that your baby starts to use your breast to try out his new teeth.“Occasionally some babies will have a little game and bite their mum playfully. If this is about to happen, you might notice a subtle change in your baby during the feed – he’ll have to move his tongue out of the way before he bites,” says Cathy. “It’s not usually a big problem and might only happen for a couple of feeds. Just stop the feed, tell him gently that it’s not good to bite, and he’ll soon cotton on.”
How can I continue breastfeeding if I’m away from my baby?
There may be occasions while you’re still exclusively breastfeeding during the first six months when you need to leave your baby for a couple of hours – or even longer if you have to return to work or go away for a day or two.
Don’t feel like you have to give up breastfeeding at this point. You can still continue giving your child the benefits of breast milk by pumping milk that can be fed to him while you’re not there, as Cathy explains:
“Express milk for a couple of days beforehand, taking small quantities – maybe 40 to 60 ml (1.4 to 2.1 fl oz) at a time – so you have a bank ready for whoever will be caring for your baby. By taking small amounts, you won’t affect your milk supply.
“If you’re returning to work, talk to your employer to get a plan in place. Many mums breastfeed their baby at night and do the first and last feeds. Then they express at lunchtime to ease any discomfort and provide milk for the next day.
“It’s usually much easier than people think it’s going to be, and many workplaces are set up for it these days,” she adds. “Breast pumps are efficient and will help you manage this juggling act easily.”
Natalie, mum of one, US, describes her routine: “I feed Dylan as soon as he wakes, and sometimes again before I go to work to get my supply going and have that connection. I pump twice at work for the next day (he has two bottles of breast milk while I’m at work) and then hurry home for his evening feed. At the weekends, I don’t pump and he goes back to just breastfeeding.”
Can I continue breastfeeding after introducing solids?
When your baby is showing an interest in food and sitting up unsupported, at around six months, he’s ready for you to start introducing solid foods. However, this doesn’t have to be the end of breastfeeding, as Cathy explains: “Your baby’s stores of iron, built up during pregnancy, have been used by six months and he needs to start getting more,” she says.
“Introduce foods around this time, but remember breastfeeding will remain more important as a source of calories and nutrients until your baby is around eight to nine months old. He’ll be eating a lot more food by that point, but you may still be giving breastfeeds four to five times a day, depending on your baby. By the time he gets to 12 months, you could be breastfeeding anywhere between two and six times a day. All babies are individuals and he could still be getting half his calories from breast milk.”
And don’t forget, your breast milk can also be added to your baby’s first solid foods, such as cereals and purees, so he can experience a familiar flavour at meals. If possible, use it freshly expressed (not defrosted) and mix in just before serving, so the live components and nutrients are not destroyed.16
You may feel social pressure to stop at six months, but the longer you breastfeed or express, the more benefits there are for you both.
How long can I keep breastfeeding for?
“The World Health Organization recommends giving toddlers breast milk alongside solid foods until they turn two and beyond, as it still has a vital role in supporting the immune system,” says Cathy. “It’s also an important way to offer emotional support when they’re feeling overwhelmed or poorly.”
At eight months old, you may be giving your baby four feeds a day but after he’s a year old, you could be feeding as little as twice a day. You can find a pattern that works for you both and fits into your lifestyle, as Jane, mum of two, US, found. She breastfed her children until they were around the age of two: “I’d feed when I was around in the evenings and at weekends, when they wanted to feel close to me,” she says. “It was a great help when they were sick, and my go-to method of comforting.”
“As my son grew older and became more adventurous, he’d often come back to me to nurse, as if to ground him and allow him to recharge,” remembers Amy, mum of two, Canada. “When he encountered bumps and bruises along the way, breastfeeding was a great comfort to him.”
If you breastfeed your baby into toddlerhood, other people may comment that he’ll never want to stop. But, given the freedom to choose, toddlers often self-wean between the ages of two and four years.17
“I never set out to breastfeed for so long but am still feeding my four-year-old and 22-month-old,” says Susannah, mum of two, UK. “I feed my youngest before and after work and pump during work trips. My eldest has a little comfort feed before bed or when she’s upset – it’s a great way to reconnect. When I’m exhausted or feeling touched out, I focus on the amazing health benefits and comfort I’m giving them. I’m now planning to follow infant-led weaning and let them stop when they’re ready.”
Find out more about what you can expect, along with lots of support and advice, in Breastfeeding challenges after the first month