As you’re breastfeeding your baby, the hormones that are released help to create a bond between mom and baby. These hormones also have an effect on the milk supply. If there is a change in your child’s pattern or if you notice specific symptoms it might be time to look into why this has happened. Here are some of the most common reasons for changes in breast-feeding patterns and what you can do about it!
While breastfeeding provides many benefits, moms often worry about how their babies are latching on or whether they have enough milk to feed them throughout the day. The truth is that even though there may be challenges along the way, most mothers will be able to breastfeed successfully with proper information and support.
1. What is a change of pattern in breastfeeding
When babies have growth spurts and seem extra hungry, most mothers find there’s no need to pump to keep up milk production—more frequent feeds will do the trick. Milk production quickly adapts to meet his/her needs and feeding patterns settle down within a few days.
As your baby grows and her body changes, her feeding patterns will likely change, too. You may hear these periods called “growth spurts,” and they are a normal part of a baby’s development. During these times, your baby may spend 1-2 days nursing more often and for longer sessions. Some babies may be also be more fussy during this time.
Growth spurts are not always predictable, but they often happen around 1-3 weeks, around 4-6 weeks, at 3 months, and again at 6 months. As your baby grows, she’ll need to eat more, and these increased feedings help build your milk supply. If you feel your baby isn’t getting enough to eat, talk to your pediatrician and a lactation consultant.
2. Symptoms of a change in pattern
There is usually a reason for changes to feeding patterns, such as feeding more or less or refusing the breast. While you can’t always get to the bottom of why your baby changes their feeding patterns, here are some sign that your baby might be having a growth spurt.
Signs your baby might be having a growth spurt
- A leap in weight gain.
- Tighter clothing or a feeling that they’re heavier when picked up.
- Sleeping more, which helps them to grow.
- Deeper, more intense feeds.
- Being Clingier and more demanding than usual.
- They might also feed more at times when they need reassurance and comfort.
If you find that your baby is not feeding well, it’s important to realise that feeding less can be normal too. Older babies can often get what they need with shorter, and/or less frequent feeds.
Babies might reject the breast, by turning their heads away when it’s offered, and/or show clear signs they’re finished sooner than you’ve been used to. They may be satisfied with one breast only, perhaps, or breaking off after just a few minutes and refusing to go back on.
If your baby is healthy, growing well, producing plenty of wet and dirty nappies and thriving in other respects, there’s normally no need for concern about this. Baby feeding routines usually vary frequently in the early days.
At other times, feeding less could be due to several reasons.
- A sore mouth or mouth anomalies like tongue tie.
- Discomfort of some other sort, such as teething.
- A lack of energy due to mild illness.
- Pain or tension associated with the birth.
- Forceful ejection reflex, fast flow or over supply of milk in the mother that causes the baby to cough, splutter or choke.
- Acid reflux – often a developmental and relatively uncommon condition.
- Thrush inside a baby’s mouth, which can be painful for babies.
- A change in taste – it’s believed mastitis can cause breastmilk to taste salty until the condition improves. Exercising a lot is also thought to alter the taste due to the presence of lactic acid. Occasionally, if you’re taking a particular medication, such as an antibiotic or combined pill, that can affect the taste too.
- Colic or fidgety type symptoms, due to something you’ve eaten or drunk, such as a caffeinated drink.
It’s best to check with your GP or your health visitor if you think your baby might be unwell.
3. How to adjust the frequency and length of feedings when there is a change in pattern
It’s most important that you pay attention to the baby’s needs. This is known as on demand or baby-lead feedings. When your baby roots, licks and seems to want to turn her/his head towards the breast, it’s time to nurse. Don’t worry about what time your baby last nursed, just nurse again. Infants cannot tell time!
Your body is perfectly designed to feed your baby and it will adjust to your baby as they grow. Just be sure to stay tuned into your baby’s feeding pattern changes and hunger cues and you will have no trouble reaching your breastfeeding goals.
4. Ways to deal with engorged breasts, nipple soreness, and mastitis
Breast engorgement is breast swelling that results in painful, tender breasts. It’s caused by an increase in blood flow and milk supply in your breasts, and it occurs in the first days after childbirth.
Certain conditions or events may make you more likely to experience the swollen fullness that’s commonly associated with breast engorgement. These causes include:
- missing a feeding
- skipping a pumping session
- creating an overabundance of milk for the baby’s appetite
- supplementing with formula between nursing sessions, which may reduce nursing later
- weaning too quickly
- nursing a baby that’s ill
- difficulty with latching and sucking
- not expressing breast milk when it first comes in because you don’t plan to breastfeed
Some with breast engorgement may experience a low-grade fever and fatigue in the first days of milk production. This is sometimes called a “milk fever.” You can continue to nurse if you have this fever.
However, it’s a good idea to alert your doctor to your increased temperature. That’s because some infections in the breast can cause fever, too, and these infections need to be treated before they become bigger issues.
Mastitis, for example, is an infection that causes inflammation of the breast tissue. It’s most commonly caused by milk trapped in the breast. Untreated mastitis can lead to complications such as a collection of pus in the clogged milk ducts.
The treatments for breast engorgement will depend on whether you’re breastfeeding or not.
For those who are breastfeeding, treatments for breast engorgement include:
- using a warm compress, or taking a warm shower to encourage milk let down
- feeding more regularly, or at least every one to three hours
- nursing for as long as the baby is hungry
- massaging your breasts while nursing
- applying a cold compress or ice pack to relieve pain and swelling
- alternating feeding positions to drain milk from all areas of the breast
- alternating breasts at feedings so your baby empties your supply
- hand expressing or using a pump when you can’t nurse
- taking doctor-approved pain medication
For those who don’t breastfeed, painful engorgement typically lasts about one day. After that period, your breasts may still feel full and heavy, but the discomfort and pain should subside. You can wait out this period, or you can use one of the following treatments:
- using a cold compress or ice packs to ease swelling and inflammation
- taking pain medication approved by your doctor
- wearing a supportive bra that prevents your breasts from moving significantly
You can’t prevent breast engorgement in the first days after giving birth. Until your body knows how to regulate your milk production, you may overproduce.
However, you can prevent later episodes of breast engorgement with these tips and techniques:
- Feed or pump regularly. Your body makes milk regularly, regardless of nursing schedule. Nurse your baby at least every one to three hours. Pump if your baby isn’t hungry or you’re away.
- Use ice packs to decrease supply. In addition to cooling and calming inflamed breast tissue, ice packs and cold compresses may help decrease milk supply. That’s because the cool packs turn off the “let down” signal in your breasts that tells your body to make more milk.
- Remove small amounts of breast milk. If you need to relieve the pressure, you can hand express some breast milk or pump a bit. Don’t pump or express too much, however. It could backfire on you, and your body may end up trying to produce more milk to make up for what you just removed.
- Wean slowly. If you’re too quick to stop nursing, your weaning plan may backfire. You could end up with too much milk. Slowly wean your child so your body can adjust to the decreased need.
If you don’t breastfeed, you can wait out breast milk production. In a matter of days, your body will understand it doesn’t need to produce milk and the supply will dry up. This will stop the engorgement.
Don’t be tempted to express or pump milk. You’ll signal to your body that it needs to produce milk, and you may prolong discomfort.
5. The benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child
For mothers everywhere, making the decision whether to breastfeed or not is a very personal matter.
Breast milk is tailor-made to meet the infant’s needs. It is considered to be the best source for infant nutrition. Breast milk contains carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes, hormones, immune cells, stem cells and a variety of bioactive molecules, which protects the infant’s gastrointestinal tract, enhances the immune system and aids in brain development. Along with the numerous anti-inflammatory factors and anti-infective properties, breast milk is easier than formula for infants to digest.
Large amounts of data from various studies show the health benefits of breastfeeding for infants and children. Exclusively breast-fed infants have:
- Fewer hospitalizations and childhood illnesses and diseases
- Reduced risk of childhood leukemia, lymphoma, asthma, obesity and Type 2 diabetes
- Decreased risk of gastrointestinal, ear and respiratory infections
- A lesser chance of developing celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and allergic diseases such as food allergies and atopic dermatitis
- Lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and the morbidity/mortality rate from infectious diseases
- Increased intelligence and neurodevelopment.
Breastfeeding has many short- and long-term benefits for the mother as well. Breastfeeding:
- Burns an additional 500 calories a day, which makes it easier for mothers to lose weight
- Can decrease postpartum bleeding and promote maternal bonding
- Decreases a mother’s risk of hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancers, and ovarian cancer.
While there are many benefits to breastfeeding, it is important to note that the main goal is for your baby to be fed and healthy, which means formula is still a completely valid option. If you can’t breastfeed, your baby has a health condition or for whatever other reason, baby formula or other liquids can be used to give your baby the nutrients he or she needs to grow.