Both of my children seemed to spend the first 6 weeks or so in a constant growth spurt. If your child is doing the same, then hang in there… things almost always start to calm down somewhere between 6 and 8 weeks. With my second I figured that the early weeks would be easier since we already had one child, but I quickly found out that this just isn’t the case. We were still adjusting to a change in family size (and the older child is having to adjust too - not just two adults), and our new baby was having to adjust to life outside of mom. After years of talking to mothers with new babies, I’ve discovered that the first 6-8 weeks with a new baby tends to be a combination of magic, exhaustion, and stress for any family – no matter how many children you have.
Tips for coping with frequent nursing
First of all, do know that frequent nursing is normal and expected in the early months – most newborns need to nurse at least 8 – 12 times per day. Frequent nursing is also needed — to avoid/reduce engorgement in the early days, to nourish and grow a baby who has a stomach the size of his fist but who needs to double his weight within 5-6 months, to establish a good milk supply for mom, and to help a baby who has been cradled close and warm inside mom for 9 months adjust to life in the outside world. Frequent nursing may sometimes be a warning sign of inefficient milk transfer or low milk supply, but if baby has good diaper output, is gaining well and is generally happy and healthy, then the frequent nursing is unlikely to be a sign of a problem.
Remember that nursing is not just about food – it’s also warmth, closeness, reassurance, comfort, healing, love… Nursing has been shown to reduce stress and pain in baby, too. If you’re feeling that baby shouldn’t be hungry again so soon – remember that it’s sometimes Mom that baby needs just as much as the milk.
If baby seems to be nursing all the time, you first want to make sure that breastfeeding is working well. Problems with latching can result in frequent nursing if baby is not transferring milk efficiently. If baby’s latch is shallow, it can be like when you’re drinking from a straw and pinch the straw mostly shut – baby is still getting milk but it takes a loooong time at the breast to get enough. Often, even minor changes in latch can help a lot. Here’s more on latching. If you feel that breastfeeding is not working as well as it should, do your best to get some local help – evaluating and fixing latch problems over the phone or online is difficult. Using breast massage and breast compression can also be helpful at times for babies who are frequent nursers.
Adjust your expectations
In the early weeks of breastfeeding, it really helped me to plan my day with the expectation that I would be nursing most of the time. Once I considered frequent nursing to be the norm rather than a problem, it made my life much easier.
Many books, magazine articles, friends and other products of our modern culture suggest to us that we will be able to go on with “life as usual” after baby is born – that we can and should “train” baby to conform to an adult routine. But our lives do change greatly with the birth of a new baby, and urging baby to conform to our pre-baby routines can come at great cost to both baby and parents. Routinely delaying nursing when baby cues a need to eat can harm milk supply, affect baby’s weight gain, and is very stressful to both mom and baby. It is developmentally appropriate for young babies to nurse frequently. By letting baby stretch out nursing frequency on his own (and it will happen with time) – you are preserving your nursing relationship and meeting baby’s physical and emotional needs.
The first 6-8 weeks are a time when you are building your milk supply and you and baby are getting used to each other and learning about nursing. After the first 6-12 weeks, most babies are much more settled and move toward a more predictable routine. Nursing sessions do not take as much time, either, as baby becomes more efficient at nursing. Nursing will not always take this much time – soon nursing will be much quicker and easier, and you will have gotten past “boot camp” to the easy phase of nursing.
Will the dishes be unhappy and depressed if you neglect them for a few months? You’re growing and building a relationship with your children – the dishes and housework can wait when your child needs time and attention.
Make a list of the things you’d like to get done each week, and prioritize them. For the things that absolutely need to get done, see if you can find shortcuts and/or someone else who can do the job. In the early weeks, if a friend or family member asks if they can help, take them up on it – see if someone can put a load of clothes on, or wash the dishes, or vacuum the floor while you nurse baby. Some families decide that it’s worth the money to get a cleaning service to come in every couple of weeks to do the heavy cleaning. Can an older neighborhood child or a friend come over to entertain your older children while you nap with baby? Can Dad make sandwiches or cut up vegetables/fruit so you have food easily available when baby is nursing often? Be creative, and don’t be afraid to let the smaller things slide. You’ll have plenty of time for them later – the “in arms” phase of baby’s life is so short, even though it might feel like forever when you’re in the middle of it.
Put together a collection of items that you might need while you’re nursing. If you usually nurse in one particular place, you might set up a nursing area there, or if you move around you can keep your collection in a basket or other container with a handle. Some things you might want:
- a few diapers & wipes
- extra cloth diapers or burp rags
- water bottle
- any remote controls you might want to use
- cordless phone (or make sure your answering machine is turned on)
Do you have a baby carrier? Are you comfortable with using it and nursing baby in it? A carrier will give you an extra hand (sometimes two) and allow you to keep nursing or holding baby while walking around doing other things.
Nap when baby naps. You’ve probably heard it a million times, but we say it because it helps! When baby goes to sleep, don’t jump up to do housework – lie down and rest and try to go to sleep. If you can’t sleep, then read a book, listen to music, watch a movie… but don’t run around the house. If you get some sleep now, you’ll have more energy to do what you need to do later.
Consider sleeping with or nearby baby so you can get more sleep. Co-sleeping (for naps, and/or during the night) is a lifesaver for many nursing moms. The closer you are to your baby, the less your sleep will be interrupted for night waking. Here are some tips on side lying nursing, and information on safely sleeping with your baby. Getting more rest can make life with baby much easier.
Do you feel trapped at home?
Many new moms feel like they’re trapped at home with a frequently nursing baby, but most young babies are incredibly easy to take out and about. It can really help to get out occasionally. Here are some tips for going out:
- Get a baby carrier . With a carrier (and a little practice) you can nurse your baby while you walk around the park or the mall.
- Put baby in a baby carrier or a stroller, and go for a walk.
- Go to a movie. Most young babies simply sleep and nurse through movies. And if you’re nervous about nursing in public, a dark movie theater can be a good place to start. Go here for commentary and tips on nursing in public.
- If you want to go out by yourself for a bit, you don’t have to leave a bottle. If your baby normally goes an hour or two between nursing sessions, then nurse baby right before you leave and plan to be back before the next nursing session. If you have a cell phone, take it with you so Dad or another caregiver can call you if the going gets rough. Even if you can only expect 20-30 minutes between nursings, go for a walk by yourself while someone watches baby. Every little bit helps, when you’re feeling “touched out.”.
- Nursing your newborn — what to expect in the early weeks
- Growth Spurts
- Cluster Feeding and Fussy Evenings
- Nursing to sleep and other comfort nursing
- I’m worried about spoiling my baby
- What should I know about giving my breastfed baby a pacifier?
- My baby is fussy! Is something wrong?
- My baby fusses or cries during nursing – what’s the problem?
- Should baby be on a schedule?
Additional Resources at other websites
Is baby nursing too often?
- Can I nurse my baby too often? by Mary Kay Smith, IBCLC
- Will I Spoil My Baby by Holding/Nursing Him So Often? FAQ from LLL
Frequent Nursing (in general)
He Can’t Be Hungry. He Just Ate! by Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC
So I Nursed Him Every 45 Minutes. Every new mom should read this article!
Straight Talk About Real Babies: Defining New-Mom Expectations by Ann Calandro, BSN, RNC, IBCLC
Touch Hunger by Linda J. Smith, IBCLC. Do you have a baby who doesn’t want to be put down? Read this!
Non-nutritive Sucking by Kathy Dettwyler, Ph.D.
The Human Pacifier by Lu Hanessian, from New Beginnings, Vol. 19 No. 1, January-February 2002, p. 14.