Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, is a private practice lactation consultant in New York City. She offers in-home, Skype, and phone consultations, as well as prenatal breastfeeding education and breastfeeding support groups.
By now you may have already started to introduce solids to your infant, but what if you’re breastfeeding an 8-month-old baby? Some families may want to continue breastfeeding after the recommended 6 months. Bundoo Certified Lactation Consultant, Leigh Anne O’Connor, shares expectations and potential problems mom and baby can expect for breastfeeding older infants.
Bundoo: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age, and then continuing to breastfeed until at least 1 year of age. How does breastfeeding change once a baby starts eating some solid foods? What kind of new challenges can a breastfeeding mom expect?
Leigh Anne O’Connor: Breast milk is still the primary source of nutrition for the first year of a baby’s life. The nutrients in the milk become more concentrated as the baby grows.
Solid food is for fun, experimentation, and of course, some nutrition. One of the challenges is that breastfeeding older babies can be acrobatic! Just when you think you have figured out your baby’s feeding schedule, it can change — sometimes an older baby goes through periods of more frequent nursing. This is normal but can be surprising. The increase in nursing can be due to teething, growth spurts, and being connected to mom.
Is there still a real benefit to breastfeeding an older infant? What are the positives?
It is biologically normal to nurse into toddlerhood. Nursing an older baby continues to support the immune system and helps to soothe an overwhelmed baby. Nursing is home base for babies going through developmental milestones. This age is when babies start to get separation anxiety, and nothing can soothe a baby like connecting with mom and getting some milk.
Do you think there’s a social stigma against breastfeeding older infants in public? What advice do you give moms who are at this stage and want to continue?
There is a general stigma around nursing in public in our culture because we have sexualized the breast. Throw in an older infant, and there are those who get really uncomfortable.
I advise moms to nurse with confidence and to not ask permission. If moms are feeling uncomfortable, I suggest they find a setting that is out of the way. For example, in a restaurant sitting in a booth toward the back or wearing clothing that can provide some coverage (like a nursing tank with a button shirt or a scarf that can cover her exposed breast). Find support in other moms by attending La Leche League meetings or other breastfeeding support groups.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the way we think of and approach breastfeeding today, what would it be?
I would make breastfeeding education mandatory for all physicians and add it to curriculum in all schools. I would have breastfeeding be just a plain ol’ normal thing that people do without thought, like breathing, walking, and eating.
This is right around the age the first teeth are coming in. Any advice for moms of biters?
When a baby bites, it is normal for a mom to react in a big way, “Ouch!” The baby sees the reaction he or she got and then wants to play this game. It is best to avoid overreactions. Take the baby off the breast, remain as emotionally neutral as possible and say, “Do not bite mama.” The mom can insert her finger into the baby’s mouth to break the latch if the baby is holding on. Babies do not bite to be mean; they are experimenting, and they are soothing those swollen gums. A teething toy can help. Also, positioning the baby in a close hold like when the baby was new can help with a baby growing new teeth.