When you are breastfeeding, there seems to be a certain moment on the horizon that you are waiting for. It’s like passing stages in a videogame and wanting to arrive at the long-awaited moment when you are told (and start to believe) that the baby will supposedly breastfeed less and space out their feeds.
So, is it true? Does a baby’s demand for breastfeeding decrease as they get older?
Well, no, it doesn’t. Demand for breastfeeding does not decrease as the baby gets older. And no, they won’t reach 4-6 months with only 3 feeds a day.
Let’s see what happens month by month, starting with the third month, as this is the first moment in which you can experience or observe some changes in your little one. Before three months, babies are used to suckle a lot (and that is a lot, a lot). Feeds can last up to 1 hour*, and there can be from 8 to 12 feeds in 24 hours**.
3 months old
This is a moment of many changes. During the third month, sometimes a little earlier, as each baby goes at their own pace, feeds will become shorter.
A baby who used to spend an hour at the breast for a feed may now be finished in a very short time. Within a few minutes (3-5 minutes), they now get all the milk they need and usually do not want to continue suckling. However, at night, they keep feeding and suckling long and continuously.
In addition, it is usual that around 5-6 o’clock in the morning, the baby starts to show a lot of demand and nervousness, spending a few hours feeding from ” breast to breast.”
4 months old
At this stage, a sleep regression happens. Often, this increase in wake-ups is confused with an increase in hunger. But, this is not entirely true. Babies begin to incorporate sleep processes that are similar to those of an adult in their sleep phases, and this causes them to have a very light sleep, with multiple wake-ups and a lot of demand.
During the day, demand can be similar to that of the previous stage, with quick feeds in most cases and a little longer when they want to fall asleep or are tired.
5-7 months old
This is a stage of relative stability. Solid food is introduced, which does not imply a reduction in feeds. Feeds are maintained at the same frequency and should not be limited or skipped with the introduction of solids. Night feeds may somewhat improve, but it changes a lot; some babies have one or two night feeds, and others have many more. This is especially true if the mother and baby are separated for many hours during the day, for example, because of going back to work. At night, babies make up for the feeds they missed during the day, and this increases the number of feeds they demand during the night.
8-9 months old
This is a new stage of high demand during the night and multiple wake-ups. The breast helps babies to calm down and fall asleep again. It is exhausting for mothers, but a very effective way to get them back to sleep as quickly as possible.
During the day, babies’ behavior is very different: some nurse just enough, 3-5 feeds, and others suckle without a break whenever they get the chance. But in most cases, they usually show a lot of resistance to the “go to sleep” feed because they have learned that the breast relaxes them and makes them sleep, and often, they don’t want to miss out on anything that happens around them.
10-11 months old
During this stage, they often show a loss of interest. They are little explorers and focus on discovering the world, and the breast, as they know it already very well, becomes of less interest. This is a stage in which, during the daytime, they feed little, or you might even have to insist for your baby to feed because they show no interest and sometimes don’t even ask for it.
However, at night, babies don’t waste time. They seem to be somewhat calmer than in the previous stage as long as there is no other major event, such as the start of nursery or daycare, an increase in temperature, teething, or other changes.
12-17 months old
This is a stage of great demand. It’s the peak of the breastfeeding crisis of one-year-olds, and now they are able to find the breast on their own. This is a stage in which they are either shouting “milk,” or they already have the breast in their mouth. This increase in demand and asking to breastfeed often comes as a surprise to most mothers. In addition, babies stop eating solids and prefer to feed at the breast above all things. And this can lead to arguments and tension at the dinner table.
In the evening, they are usually quite active and ask for the breast frequently. This is also a time when some mothers decide to wean at night.
17 to 20 months old
This is a stage of some calmness before the storm of the two-year-olds. Many children lose interest in breastfeeding during the day, especially if they already do other activities or are away from their mothers for a few hours. Nighttime feeds, however, tend to be frequent.
22 to 24 months old
Let the party begin! If you thought your baby couldn’t breastfeed any more than they did… You were wrong. At this stage, daytime and nighttime demand increases dramatically. They want to nurse more frequently than a newborn, and that’s often surprising and exhausting at the same time. They won’t ask to breastfeed in a nice way, but they will do so demanding and with “bad” manners. But don’t panic, this is normal! Being polite and asking for things with a “please” in a nice way needs to be learned; this is the time to start learning how to do it.
Nighttime demand can now be just as intense as daytime demand.
Over 24 months old
Once the breastfeeding crisis of two-year-olds is over, and there is no specific timing, as each child develops differently, demand for breastfeeding can be very variable. Still, in general, if they are able to, they will breastfeed with interest.
*There are children who spend less time at the breast and feed perfectly well. But if your baby can be at the breast for more than an hour and is gaining weight with difficulties, it is necessary to check with an IBCLC and assess whether the process can be improved.
**The average number of feeds in 24 hours is 8 to 12 times. But there are also babies who have less than 8 feeds and are perfectly nourished and some who have more than 12 feeds in 24 hours, and their weight gain is optimal.