Nursing Changes at 3 Months and Beyond
By Jennifer M. MacLeod
I always said I’d never breastfeed again. With two strikes against me, I saw the odds as nearly insurmountable. But enough time had passed since my first two children that I figured I would try – with a few cans of free formula in the kitchen, just in case.
Four months later, the formula is gathering dust, and my third baby and I are loving breastfeeding together. Turns out there’s a magical moment in those first few months when breastfeeding gets easier – way easier. Once past it, you and your baby become partners in a wonderful ritual that – as it so happens – I wouldn’t miss for the world.
The first few weeks of breastfeeding are just a warm-up before the real thing.
Breastfeeding After 3 Months: It’s Easier
Everybody told me nursing got easier; what they didn’t say is that it gets completely different. The first few weeks are just a warm-up before the real thing. Mia Diamond Padwa of New York, an experienced La Leche League Leader, says it’s like going to a movie. There are aggravations along the way: You sit in traffic, “look vainly for parking … wait on line for tickets, stumble in the dark to your seat,” she says. Now imagine if, finally seated, popcorn in hand, you say, “Forget this lousy movie – I’m outta here.” Of course, the aggravation has nothing to do with the movie itself. Same with breastfeeding.
For one thing, the pain stops. Early on, I always hurt. Between childbirth, engorgement and sensitive nipples, I almost caved in. But somewhere around 6 weeks, the pain just ended. These days, you could hang me from a clothesline by my nipples and I’d scarcely blink.
Elizabeth Moore of Pennsylvania endured cracked nipples and mastitis for three months with her first baby. “That free canister of formula … looked extremely tempting on more than one occasion,” she says. Moore’s husband, Andrew, suggested she attend La Leche League meetings and gently encouraged her when the formula beckoned. She’d planned on nursing for a year, “but it seemed … that I wouldn’t even make it to 6 months,” she says. Moore’s son is now 3 and still nursing happily.
Then, there’s convenience. I always suspected formula was hands-down easier on the go: mix powder and water, then feed. Of course, if you’re out for longer, you’ll need more powder, more water, more bottles, clean nipples. But I thought it must still beat fumbling under a blanket, checking the baby’s latch while staying modest.
Well, I’m sure we were a weird sight at first, but somewhere around 2 months, it clicked. These days, I pull up my shirt and she’s off: in parks, airplanes, movie theaters, malls, even our car. Because I feed her when she needs it, my baby is more content. And because I don’t have to run home, I don’t get the knot in my stomach I did with formula. “With an older baby who can latch herself on easily, a mom … can take her baby everywhere … and actually resume some kind of life of her own,” says Diamond Padwa.
But there are two big things I wish I’d known that might have made all the difference with my older children. First, you won’t always have to work so hard at it. And second, your baby becomes a proactive partner once you’re over that hump.
With my son, I spent many tearful hours just trying to get him to latch on. He’d get it, then slip off, and we’d start over. If someone had promised me that part wouldn’t last more than a few weeks, I might have kept it up. Instead, I quit after two weeks – walking out, as it were, before the movie even began. Diamond Padwa says once babies gain muscle control, and the mother becomes more healed and confident, she learns “to trust in her baby’s cues and in her own instincts.” I wish I’d waited that long.
When my first daughter was born, she latched on fine, but I was exhausted by night feedings, propping myself with pillows, half-asleep. I thought I’d be sitting up all night until she was weaned, and that was one big reason I quit at 2 months. I found out about lying-down nursing on the Internet, but La Leche League Leaders like Diamond Padwa can also help. She once counseled a new mother on the lying down position by telephone, advising her “exactly where each arm, breast and body part should go,” she says. “It was life-altering for her.”
Once this baby had a little neck control and a decent latch, around 3 or 4 weeks, I decided to try. It was initially awkward, but now, there are nights when my husband brings the baby in, and she does the rest, pecking hungrily until she finds my nipple. Total awake time: five seconds.
By day, too, my baby has started taking the lead. First by smell, and then by sight, an older baby recognizes your breast and dives in first frantically, then happily, as she reconnects.
Jennifer Sprague, 28, of Virginia, initially gave herself three weeks to breastfeed. “But when I made it there, I said, ‘We’re not enjoying this yet; I can’t stop,’” she says. “So I said 6 weeks, but at 6 weeks we were still having issues … so I said 2 months … by 3 months we were enjoying it so much we couldn’t stop.”
Just like walking out of the movie, Diamond Padwa says, “many moms quit without ever experiencing the pleasurable aspects of breastfeeding.” Like the little unspoken conversations my baby and I have with our eyes while she breastfeeds. Sprague knows this, too. “[He] looks at me while nursing like nothing could shake his world,” she says. “If everything else ended, he would be OK, because I was there nursing him.”
But it’s not all mushy gazes. Every day breastfeeding brings new surprises. Though I may have hoped that someday we’d resemble a serene Madonna tableau, it turns out my older nursing baby loves to wiggle, kick, scratch and knead the closest handy object – me. Still, these tiny bruises are the badges of a breastfeeding mom who’s made it beyond that magical moment. I wear them all with pride.