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Don’t Panic, It’s Normal: 5 Common Breastfeeding Surprises

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Every mother and baby has a unique breastfeeding relationship. Babies and mothers have their own preferred positions, places, and habits while breastfeeding, and after the crazy first few weeks they find their groove and settle into a rhythm.

Occasionally, something may happen which seems to upset this rhythm. Often these “blips” are completely normal but can be worrying if mum is not expecting them. Here are some things which you may notice in the course of breastfeeding which in and of themselves are not a cause for concern, but rather are totally normal.


1. Growth spurts (sometimes called Frequency Days)

Feeding has been going well, baby seems to be content after feeds with some “happy time” and naps in between. Then all of a sudden baby wants to feed more frequently and is fussier than usual. Sounds like a “growth spurt”.

These periods of 2-3 days are completely normal, and most likely are nature’s way of making sure that milk production keeps up with demand. During a growth spurt, it is important to allow baby to feed whenever they display hunger cues for as long as they need to feed. Remember that supplementing (whether with formula, donated breastmilk or stored breastmilk) will not send the appropriate signals to your body to keep up the production.

While growth spurts (also, and perhaps more accurately called “frequency days”) may occur at any time, they often occur when baby is around 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months and beyond. They usually last around 2 or 3 days (occasionally a bit longer), after which time things settle down again. So if all else is well, don’t panic if your baby suddenly needs to be at the breast a lot more often; just keep them close, and enjoy the extra baby snuggles.


2. Cluster feeding

Many mums find that their babies need to be at the breast for long periods of time at a particular time of day – often on and off the breast for 2 or 3 hours in the evenings. This can be a bit worrying, especially if your baby is feeding every 2 or 3 hours (give-or-take) during the day, and then come evening needs to feed a lot more. However, this too is very common, and does not mean that your supply is low in the evening or that your milk has been used up during the day.

One theory for this pattern of behavior is that baby needs to “chill out” at the breast and receive the comfort and reassurance that only mums can give after a long, stimulating day. Another possible reason is that baby is tanking up on milk before a slightly longer period of sleep. Although this can be tiring for mums, rest assured that it is very normal, and will not last forever. Some mums find that it helps to plan to spend their evenings on the couch in front of the TV, read a good book, or chat with friends or family, and get any essential chores or activities completed earlier in the day (or get help from anyone who offers). Also, it helps to stock up on snacks and frozen casseroles or keep those home delivery numbers handy.


3. Regulation of production to meet demand

In the first few weeks of breastfeeding, your body is learning how much milk it needs to produce for your baby. Until supply has been established, mums typically make slightly more than their baby needs. For some mums, this means that their breasts may feel very full before a feed; they may experience leaking; they may notice a tingling sensation when their milk “lets down” a few seconds into a feed. Please note that not all mums experience these things – which is also completely normal.

After about 6 weeks or so, mum’s supply finely tunes itself to match baby’s needs and there is little extra milk. Mums may notice that their breasts feel softer, or leak less. If mums have needed to express milk, for any reason, they may now notice a drop in output. Any and all of these signs are completely normal, and are in no way indicative of a loss of milk; rather, they are simply a demonstration of your body working perfectly to provide just what baby needs.


4. Drop in stooling output

No  discussion of what’s normal in a breastfed baby is complete without discussing nappy output.

Round about the same time that supply regulates, many mums notice that their baby starts to poo a lot less often. In the early days and weeks, frequent dirty nappies are an important sign of sufficient milk intake. However, this is not true after the first few weeks. While some babies continue to poo often (even at every feed), others may poo only once a day or once every few days – even up to a week or two. This has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of milk they are taking in, and is most likely indicative of the way their individual gastrointestinal (GI) tract works. It is not considered constipation as long as baby is showing no signs of pain or discomfort; their tummy is soft (not hard or distended); and when baby eventually does go, the poo is not small and hard but rather it is soft and profuse (if your baby is one who goes several days between poos, be prepared for a blowout when it does happen).


5. Speaking of poo

Let me just finish with a word about what to expect in your breastfed baby’s nappies. Although you will initially see tarry black meconium poo, by day five this should have transitioned to a very soft, mustardy-yellow, seedy or curdy looking poo. Although an awful lot softer than adult poo, this is not diarrhea so don’t be concerned. Diarrhea would probably be obvious, looking green and smelling nasty. A breastfed baby’s poo may look and smell rather different to a formula-fed baby’s poo too. In fact an exclusively breastfed baby’s poo doesn’t smell at all (although this state of affairs lasts only until solids are introduced, at which point as comedian Bill Cosby puts it “God puts the smell in” – so don’t be taken aback by that particular change when it occurs either).


I do hope that this helps prepare you for some of the things to expect on your amazing journey with your newborn. There will no doubt be many wonderful surprises along the way, but if you encounter any of the things discussed above, don’t let them take you by surprise and most of all don’t panic – they’re normal!



Photograph credit: photosavvy ; www.Flickr.com

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Contributed by Sian

Sian is a devoted mother of two children and a registered Breastfeeding Counselor with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers. She is a founding member of Breastfeeding Q&A in the UAE, a peer support group for breastfeeding mothers. You can find her articles in the Gulf News and ABM:the magazine of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers.

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