You may have heard people describe breastfeeding as one of the most natural things in the world. It is certainly true that women have been breastfeeding their babies since the beginning of time, but that doesn't mean it is always easy.
Breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be a difficult one too. It is normal to find it challenging at first, and your breastfeeding journey won't always be simple and straightforward. After all, it is a new skill that both you and your baby have to master.
When your baby is born, you are right at the start of what will hopefully be a long and positive breastfeeding relationship, so it is normal for there to be a few issues to overcome at first. Even if this is not your first baby and you have successfully breastfed an older child, you may still find it takes you a while to get the hang of feeding a newborn again.
In the first few weeks after your baby is born, it is really important that you seek help and support if you are finding breastfeeding tricky. It can take practise to get the latch and positioning right, and if your baby isn't latched onto your breast properly, this can make the experience painful and leave you with sore nipples.
Ask your midwife to help you with your first breastfeeding, even if it isn't your first baby. She can check the positioning and recommend any adjustments you can make so the experience is more comfortable for both of you.
When will my milk come in?
Many women worry they won't produce enough milk to satisfy their baby, especially in the early weeks. It does take time for your milk supply to build up, but the good news is that your newborn baby's stomach is tiny, so they only need small amounts of milk to begin with.
Your baby's first milk is colostrum—a thick, yellowish milk that is absolutely packed full of all the nutrients and antibodies your newborn needs in those first few days whilst your milk supply builds. Colostrum looks like creamy milk, and your newborn baby will only need a very small amount—around a teaspoonful—at each feeding. If you are trying colostrum harvesting, you may feel like you are producing very little. However, don't worry as colostrum is a highly concentrated food and every drop is precious.
Your baby is likely to want to feed little and often. This can be very tiring, especially as you've just given birth and need to recover, but frequent feeds will encourage your breasts to start making milk in larger quantities. Exclusive breastfeeding—when you feed your baby breast milk and nothing else—is the most effective way of building your milk supply.
When new mums worry they are not making enough milk, they are often tempted to supplement with formula. However, this can have a negative impact on milk supply as your baby will breastfeed less and your breasts won't adapt to fully meet your baby's needs.
It is completely normal when your baby is first born to wonder 'when does breastfeeding get easier?' The good news is that every single feed will take you closer to the point where exclusive breastfeeding will feel like a natural part of your daily routine.
After around three or four days, the colostrum your breasts are producing will turn into transitional milk. This breast milk is thinner and lighter in colour, and your baby is likely to start feeding for longer periods.
Sometimes referred to as 'your milk coming in', your breasts may start to feel fuller. It is important to make sure you are feeding your baby regularly, as this will help stimulate your milk supply. The more your baby feeds, the more breast milk you will make.
However, there may be times in those early days after your milk is in when you feel like your breasts are too full. They may feel hard and uncomfortable – some women may even feel like they have rocks in their breasts! This feeling usually passes quite quickly if you continue to feed regularly and your little one is latching well.
However, your breasts can become engorged, so see your GP or midwife if this feeling doesn't pass after a couple of days or your breasts start to feel hot or tender or you feel feverish. This can be a sign that you have an infection known as mastitis, and you may need antibiotics.
Which day of breastfeeding is hardest?
Everyone's experiences of breastfeeding will vary, so there is no one single day which is the hardest. However, typically, breastfeeding is most challenging during the first week. This is because you are adjusting to life as a new mum, even if it is your second baby, or even your third or fourth. Both you and your baby have to get to grips with life with each other and learn a new skill.
You are likely to feel exhausted from giving birth and your baby will need to feed often, perhaps even hourly, so it can feel like all you are doing is breastfeeding during those early days. The good news is that, after the first week, your baby will usually feed for longer each time and the gap between feeds will start to grow.
Your breast milk supply should also have built up after the first week, so you will be producing larger quantities to satisfy the demands of your growing baby. If you are concerned about your milk supply or you are finding breastfeeding painful, uncomfortable, or challenging, seek support from a midwife, health visitor, breastfeeding support worker, or lactation consultant. Don't struggle in silence, as difficulties with breastfeeding can quickly become overwhelming as you adjust to being a new parent.
In the first few weeks, your breastfed baby should feed between eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period. These feeds may not be at regular intervals, and you don't need to wait a certain amount of time before you feed your baby again. Checking how many wet nappies your baby produces is a good indicator of whether they are getting enough milk.
Although you may be keen to get into a regular routine with your baby, feeding your little one whenever they are hungry is a great way of building up your milk supply in the early weeks and making sure they get everything they need to put weight on and develop healthily. Sleep deprivation in the early weeks can be difficult, but your baby will start to get more sleep as they get older and better at feeding.
No matter what anyone says, you cannot overfeed a breastfed baby. While formula-fed babies should be given measured amounts of milk at regular intervals, breastfed babies will often feed more often. This does not mean your milk is not enough to satisfy your baby, simply that your infant is feeding on demand and simply taking what they need at each feed.
How long does it take for breasts to adjust to breastfeeding?
Before your baby is born, your breasts will start to produce colostrum—your baby's first milk. This will start to turn into mature milk after three or four days, but your milk supply will not become fully established until your baby is around six weeks old. After six weeks, your milk supply will become more regular and consistent.
In the first few weeks, it is really important to feed your baby as much as you can as your body learns how much breast milk to make by how much it is supplying. Every time you feed your baby, your body will produce a hormone known as prolactin, which will help your milk to mature and develop.
For the first few weeks of breastfeeding, your breasts are building up their milk supply. If possible, it is a good idea to avoid being away from your baby for long periods while your supply is getting established. If you must have time away from your baby, make sure you express your milk regularly during any period of time when you cannot breastfeed to protect your milk supply.
Why does breastfeeding get easier after six weeks?
If you've been asking everyone you know when does breastfeeding get easier, you may be relieved to know that for most people, the first weeks are the trickiest. Many women feel that breastfeeding is easier and more manageable once their baby reaches six weeks. One of the reasons for this is that your milk supply will have become established by six weeks, so your body should be producing enough milk to satisfy your baby.
You may still have periods when your baby feeds more often than normal and you feel like you are struggling to keep up. This is known as cluster feeding and happens when your baby is going through a growth spurt. Although cluster feeding can be exhausting—and a shock to the system, if your baby has already fallen into a fairly regular routine—it will calm down again and your little one will start to go a little longer between feeds again.
Another good reason why breastfeeding feels easier after six weeks is that both you and your baby have gotten used to it. Usually, by this time, you have overcome any initial problems and mastered your method and technique. You may have discovered what breastfeeding support is available in your area and have learnt a few tips and tricks to build your confidence in feeding.
Your baby will also have mastered this new skill and will have more head and neck control. This means your baby will be more of an active participant in the breastfeeding process and will remember what to do.
At what age do babies get more efficient at breastfeeding?
As your baby grows and develops, they will naturally become more efficient at breastfeeding. After six weeks, babies will typically become more settled in between feeds and they may seem to fall into a more predictable natural routine.
It is also common for babies to start spending less time on the breast from six weeks onwards. This doesn't mean they are feeding less—it simply means your baby has become a much more efficient feeder and can extract more milk from your breast in a shorter space of time.
Cluster feeding—when your baby seems to want to feed constantly—usually happens in the first three or four months of your baby's life and is a normal part of their development. Cluster feeding usually happens during a growth spurt and can happen both day and night, although it will usually pass after a few days.
Your baby will usually outgrow cluster feeding by the time they are six months old, which is usually when they also start eating some solid food alongside breast milk.
What if breastfeeding doesn't get easier?
If you have been breastfeeding for a few weeks and it doesn't feel like it is getting easier, there may be a problem. Seek advice from a breastfeeding expert who can check your baby's latch and positioning and look for any other possible things that might be causing an issue, like a tongue tie. A tongue tie is when your baby has a small strip of skin that connects their tongue to the bottom of their mouth. If this is shorter than usual, it can cause issues with feeding and may mean they struggle to latch onto your nipple properly.
Another sign that your baby may have a tongue tie is if your baby stays on the breast for long periods of time and then still wants to feed just a short time later. Your baby may be struggling to gain weight and you may notice a clicking sound when they feed.
If your baby does have a tongue tie, this doesn't mean you have to stop breastfeeding. There is a simple treatment available, and a medical professional can snip the tongue tie so that your baby's tongue can move more freely, which will help with feeding.
Always remember, breastfeeding is a choice. If it isn't working for you and your baby, for whatever reason, it is completely fine to switch to formula feeding. In an ideal world, your breastfeeding relationship should be a positive one and a source of comfort for both you and your baby. No one should feel pressure to continue breastfeeding if they are struggling and feeling anxious or upset.
There is some amazing breastfeeding support out there, but the most important thing is that you and your baby are happy and that your little one is feeding well, whether that is by breast or bottle.
Want to learn more? Check out our Infant Feeding Live Online Antenatal Classes.