It’s common to hear of the goal to breastfeeding for 6 months. But what about after that? In a previous post, I gave the details of 5 facts to know about how breastfeeding is different at 6 months. Here are 5 more facts about breastfeeding beyond 6 months.
1. The breast might produce less milk … or might not
I often remind people, lactation is a physiologic event that normally happens after the fetus has been birthed. Or, to put it otherwise – lactation is obligatory.
On the other hand, breastfeeding is optional.
How much milk the mother produces is controlled by the feedback inhibitor of lactation mechanism.
Some mothers continue to breastfeed frequently, even after the infant is taking table food. Some don’t. Hence, the amount of milk being made depends on whether the breast is offered and drained.
2. Communication and sensory motor development
Babies don’t talk at birth. But they do make their message known! Newborns exhibit multiple hunger cues, including subtle hunger cues.
As they get older, babies give different cues. The greatest amount of hand development happens around 4 months. Hence, they are capable of gestures like “digging” (putting hands down into the shirt or bra) or unbuttoning the shirt.
Those who can walk might lead the way to the favorite chair where nursing occurs.
As they become more verbal, babies will ask for it! (I advise mothers to think carefully about what they call it. If hearing a child yell “tittie” in the grocery store is embarrassing, come up with a different word!)
3. Physical growth
Infants experience very rapid growth during the first 6 months of life. As a rough estimate, you can assume that babies will double their weight between birth and 6 months of life, and triple their weight during the first year.
By about 18 months, that rapid growth begins to slow substantially. Parents start to worry when the toddler isn’t gaining much weight or height. I remind them that this slowing of growth is normal and even desirable. Otherwise, the baby would grow to be eight feet tall before grade school!
Distractions are a big thing. Newborns have very poor visual acuity, but vision improves with age. Hence, they become very eager to see all that there is to see, whether they’re eating or not!
I think it’s fair to say that all babies nurse for comfort, not just for food or sustenance. (Shucks, don’t you sometimes eat to console yourself? And don’t you have “comfort foods”? I sure do!) Hence, they will continue to ask to nurse even when they aren’t hungry.
Somewhere in that last half of the year, many babies will launch a nursing strike. Parents and other caregivers often mistake this for self-weaning. From a biological standpoint, that’s unlikely. What appears to be self-weaning might be illness, distraction, overstimulation, or something else.)
5. Maternal fertility
This is one of those fundamental laws of physiology.
After the weaning process begins, the mother’s body becomes more fertile. The main hormone associated with pregnancy is estrogen. Estrogen supports pregnancy, but it inhibits milk production.
I’ve also previously answered commonly asked questions about breastfeeding beyond 6 months. You and your baby, along with your milk, all change after 6 months. These factors can, and likely will, change the physical and aspects of the feeding relationship you enjoy with your infant or child.
In what ways have you noticed that breastfeeding during that next 6 months is different? Share your experiences in the comments below!