When members of our breastfeeding support group post a question about a sudden change in the breastfeeding behavior of their babies or even refusal to feed, the first question I usually ask is how old the baby is. In the majority of cases, the babies are 3-4 months old. Breastfeeding crisis at 3 months is a widespread phenomenon. It is more connected with the mental development of your baby than with the usual suspect – your milk supply.
Exclusively breastfed newborns are usually happy to nurse as many times as offered and expect feedings around the clock. In early weeks, babies feed frequently, about 10-12 times a day or even more often. But one day they may change dramatically for no reason. They may only feed for a few minutes, pull on and off the breast, and become extremely distracted at the breast. Some of them may completely boycott nursing. Moms, in their turn, may become overly stressed and exhausted, and take it as a sign of insufficient milk supply. Many of them may start supplementing with formula.
What happens when a baby turns 3 months old?
Some perinatal psychologists argue that the first separation of the baby from the mother happens as early as around 4 months. When your baby is about 2 months old, she starts seeing things clearly across the room. About a month later, your baby will start staying awake for longer stretches and use that time to take a greater interest in the world around him.
Now when he sees things across the room, he will notice the dog chasing its tail, and will turn each time someone enters the room or the TV starts playing. He will notice your new bright necklace or the watch on dad’s hand. Everything is so new and fascinating, that it is difficult to concentrate on nursing and look around. When your baby gets a little older, he will find how to do both nurse and relate to the world around him at the same time.
On the other hand, at the same age, your baby starts acting as a separate individual. She tries to get off your hands while nursing, punches you with her little hands and toes, resists nursing, feeds from one breast and refuses the other. She acts as she challenges you, checks how you will behave in a particular situation. Can she trust you indeed?
What can I do about the breastfeeding crisis at 3 months?
- Try to prove your baby that the breastfeeding relationship between you two is reliable. Continue offering breasts, don’t give a bottle, and don’t supplement unless you have objective reasons to believe that your milk supply is low and that your baby is not gaining weight.
- Be with your baby as often and as long as possible, play with her, cuddle her, and, most importantly, practice skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care. It has been shown that the physical proximity of the skin-to-skin care helps the baby feel secure and calm down.
- Try to keep calm. Your baby may copy your mood, and if you are stressed when trying to feed her, your baby will become stressed too. Don’t force, just offer to nurse. Talk to your baby; sing for her.
- Let the baby find the most comfortable nursing position for himself. Try different breastfeeding positions. Show your baby that his comfort is important for you.
- Many babies on nursing strike feed at night. Dream feeding – when a baby feeds during her sleep – is one of the most successful tricks to end a nursing strike. Many distractible babies that feed poorly during the day or are on a nursing strike dream feed several times at night.
- Monitor baby’s weight to become sure that she gets enough breastmilk. If your baby refuses to nurse several days, or the only dream feeds at night, or has, in general, significantly reduced his nursing sessions, your milk supply may drop. It is important, therefore, to maintain your supply, for example by pumping or dream feeding, until your breastfeeding relationship becomes settled.
If you are a mom that is facing a breastfeeding crisis at 3 months, don’t give up.
Remember that babies do not self-wean until two years old. If your 3-month-old baby suddenly refuses to nurse, then most probably he or she is having a nursing strike that is common at this age. If you are patient and persistent enough, and you listen to your baby, the nursing strike will end in a few days and your baby will be back to breast again.
Did you experience a breastfeeding crisis at 3 months? Any tips to help other mothers to rule it out?