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Breastfeeding Timeline: Expectations of the First Year

The first few weeks of your time with your baby will be filled with a lot of multi-tasking; balancing a lot of special breastfeeding moments with very little sleep (don’t worry- it’s well worth the lack of sleep). Along with your breastfeeding support system such as doctors, a nutritionist, and a lactation specialist or doula, you should educate yourself about what to expect during the first year. Your baby’s breastfeeding needs will change as will both of your bodies, the frequency and efficiency that you produce milk, and the way your baby feeds. Every baby and every mom is different but this guide can give you a good idea of what to expect.

The First Few Days

In the beginning, you won’t produce torrents of milk right away. You’ll see a few tablespoons of thick, yellowy liquid called colostrum and this should still be fed to the baby, especially within the first hour of birth. While it’s not much, it is full of essential nutrients and antibiotic properties that are crucial to building a newborn’s immune system.

Weeks 1-4

After your milk starts to let down regularly, it is important to nurse or pump as often as possible as this is the time that your body will learn how much you need to produce. If you nurse or pump often, it will be easier for you to nurse in the coming weeks. Your baby will learn more about latching on at this time and become more comfortable with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding essentials that are important during this time are bottles and supplemental formula while your milk is coming in and your body is becoming more efficient at production. It is important to introduce your baby to the bottle early in order to prevent nipple confusion and eliminate issues with the baby refusing the bottle as they get older.

1-3 Months

Within the first few weeks, your baby will learn to latch on and you’ll be able to learn what positions are most comfortable to breastfeed [interlink to article ‘The Best Breastfeeding positions’] for both of you. Your milk will come in better over this time and mom and baby will become in sync about feeding. Your milk will let down when the baby is hungry and the baby will want to eat when you’ll want to nurse. At this time, feeding on demand is enhances the emotional and physical benefits of breastfeeding and establishing a routine for what you do when you feed will help keep the baby from getting distracted as they get older and recognize more stimulants in their environment.

4-6 Months

The baby will begin to learn more about the environment around them as vision, hearing, and taste buds develop further and these things can distract during feeding times. You can remedy these disruptions by feeding only in the nursery without stimulation or use a specific toy, song, or show that is special for this time. Also, your baby will begin to feed less around this age and that doesn’t mean they are eating less. Feeding becomes more efficient at they learn and they get the same amount of milk in a shorter time.

6-12 Months

Around this time is when you’ll begin introducing solid foods and breastmilk will slowly take a backseat to the new additions. Introduce solid foods slowly and continue nursing as you see fit. Teeth will start to come in around this time as well so you might expect to get bitten while your baby is suckling and it is for this reason, among others, that many moms choose to stop breastfeeding at this stage. Use your own discretion on this matter.

12-18 Months

After about a year, your baby will be on solid foods and it’s likely you’ll be introducing other milks such as goat, cow, and nut milks. It is okay to continue breastfeeding at this time if that is what you choose to do and actually it may come very easy to you since you can tell a toddler to wait until you get home and you can nurse or pump when you want to instead of by necessity. The child will have other foods and liquids that will give them the nutrition they need but breastfeeding may still be an important bonding experience and the benefits of breastfeeding don’t simply end after a year. Breastmilk will still provide essential nutrients and aid in the development of a strong immune system even after your baby grows into a toddler.

Breastfeeding Toddlers

There are some mothers who choose to breastfeed well into the toddler and young child years and if you’re one of them, you may get a lot of opposition about your decision. Always remember that every mother and child is different and the choice you make is what is right for you and yours. The benefits of breastfeeding continue for as long as you decide to nurse so go with your gut and stand by your opinions!