Breastfeeding ... with ABA podcast.
Talking about the changes as newborn babies develop and grow.
You have finally entered into the world of a 4-month-old baby. You have exited the land of newborn and its unpredictability and your newest destination is the stability of an older baby, an infant who must by now have a more predictable schedule who sleeps all night. Or so you thought! Laura, Jacquie and Naomi talk about the challenges and delights of this age, and Jacquie shares her experience with her recent experience with her own baby.
Listen to the episode: here
Read the transcript: see below
For more about the information discussed in this episode:
- Breastfeeding timeline
- Breastfeeding and co-sleeping
- How to cope with broken sleep
- Fussy periods
- Breastfeeding and food sensitivities
- Download our free breastfeeding booklet Breastfeeding Confidence.
- Download our mum2mum app via the App store or Google Play.
- Join the Breastfeeding with ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Association) Facebook group and answer the joining questions.
- Call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Chat with a volunteer via LiveChat on our website.
- Sign up for an interactive and informative breastfeeding class.
- Get books and resources on general and specialist breastfeeding topics.
- Join ABA as a member to get your free copy of our best-selling book Breastfeeding … naturally + free access to all premium content on the mum2mum app + discounted breastfeeding classes + half-price breast pump hire + unlimited access to ABA events + more!
Credits and more:
This podcast is proudly brought to you by the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA). Produced by Belinda Chambers, Jessica Leonard and Eleanor Kippen.
This episode is presented Jacquie Ducat, Laura Wellard and Naomi Hull. Audio editing by Jessica Leonard. Show notes by Belinda Chambers. Transcription by Madina Hajher.
Find out more about Breastfeeding … with ABA.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association is a Registered Training Organisation (RTO 21659).
JACQUIE: People do talk about 4 months as being the period of sleep regression. Somebody said to me once that, ‘It’s not a regression, it’s a progression’, and I love that because, yes, whilst sleep changes, it is because they are developing, and growing, and learning.
LAURA: Welcome to Breastfeeding … with ABA, a podcast brought to you by volunteers from the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Breastfeeding … with ABA is a podcast about breastfeeding made by parents for parents. In this episode we’ll be talking about the 4-month-old baby.
We are recording this podcast in different parts of Australia. We would like acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we are recording and which you are listening to this podcast. We pay our respects to elders, past, present and emerging and to any Aboriginal people who are listening today. We also acknowledge the long history of oral storytelling in this country and the long history of women supporting each other to learn to feed their babies.
My name is Laura and I’m a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor with the Australian Breastfeeding Association and a mum. I am speaking from Geelong Victoria, Wadawurrung country.
JACQUIE: My name is Jacquie. I’m a volunteer community educator with the Australian Breastfeeding Association and a mum. I’m speaking to you from Melbourne, Victoria Wurundjeri country.
NAOMI: My name’s Naomi. I’m a volunteer Breastfeeding Counsellor with the Australian Breastfeeding Association, and I’m also an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant. I’m a mother of two grown-ups, well they’re adults now at 20 and 18, and I’m in Brisbane on Turrbal country.
LAURA: So, you finally entered into the world of parenting a 4-month-old baby. You have exited the land of newborn and its unpredictability and your newest destination is the stability of an older baby, an infant who must by now have a more predictable schedule who sleeps all night. Or so you thought. So, JACQUIE, you’re the mother of a 4-month-old, William. Tell me about what your expectations were for moving into this stage of parenting and what you thought your breastfeeding journey would look like now.
JACQUIE: Yeah, so William, he’s just turned 5 months now, so we’ve been through the lovely journey of the 4-month baby recently. William’s actually my second baby and he’s been quite different to his older brother who’s now nearly 5. William, I seem to have a scored a bit of a unicorn baby, one of those magical little creatures that you don’t quite think exist who sleep through the night and do all of those wonderful little baby things. So from quite early on I had quite a settled baby and he would sleep easily at night and he would sleep all through the night and he would wake up in the morning and we’d have our normal day and everything was great! And I thought, oh, maybe I’m just not going to have that fussy period with this baby, and maybe it’s just going to be all okay and a little voice in my head was sort of saying, ‘Oh no, maybe you’ve got the good baby now so maybe something’s going to happen down the track’ and I wasn’t sure yeah and then 4 months hit (laughter) and yeah, he started having a few more unsettled periods and started waking quite a few times overnight and needing to be settled back down and a lot grumpier during the day and his feeding patterns changed completely. And yeah, it threw me because I had this baby that was following these beautiful patterns and then all of a sudden it stopped and I was like, what’s happened? Where’s my baby gone? Why is my baby broken all of a sudden? And I didn’t quite know what I was doing anymore!
LAURA: Yeah absolutely. I remember feeling like that too with my first. I’ve got three children, and just at 3 months coming out of that newborn haze like, ‘Woohoo there’s the world, look at it, I’ve got this sorted. This seems, you know I can kind of get out and about now’ and then that probably, like you said earlier, probably lasted a few weeks and then the world got tipped upside down again for me [laughter].
LAURA: So, JACQUIE did your expectations meet reality and what living with a 4-month-old baby was really like, and I guess compared to having had a baby already go through this 4-month period?
JACQUIE: Yeah, my first was I guess what you would consider a bit more of a typical newborn sleeper, you know. He didn’t sleep through the night. We had regular wake ups overnight and I tended to him when he woke up. So, when he turned 4 months old there wasn’t a huge change because he was already waking overnight so I didn’t notice a big change in him when he hit that 4-month period. But then with my second, because he was such a ‘great sleeper’ beforehand and I say that in quotation marks because it really is quite a … it’s not an expected sleeping pattern for a newborn baby. It was just the random luck of having a well sleeping baby at that age. So, when we did hit that period, it was a big, big change. My overnight routine had to really suddenly change. I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep and I was having to still deal with a pre-schooler during the day and a baby that was unsettled and needing my attention a lot more often. And I probably wasn’t quite as prepared for that because I had settled into a really nice routine beforehand and, yeah, the rug was pulled out from under me so to speak. [laughter]
LAURA: Yeah, absolutely and often mums feel, especially if things had been going quite well beforehand then, all of sudden things change, that is there something I’ve done. Is my milk all of a sudden not good enough or do I not have enough. Is that something that you felt?
JACQUIE: Yeah, and it was really quite a shock to me particularly because I am a community educator with the Australian Breastfeeding Association I feel like I have that knowledge and that background information yet when I suddenly had this unsettled baby and he was waking up, the doubt crept into my head and I’m wondering, you know, oh has something changed? Is he not feeding well anymore? Is he not getting enough milk? Some of the behaviour came across like he had a really unsettled tummy like he was in pain and I’m like am I eating something that’s throwing off. You start running through your head all of these things and wonder has anything I’ve done changed and what can I do. How do I get back to that good time you know, you sort of, you start you know, chasing the, you know, okay so what did we do today. We had a good night sleep last night, what did I do today? How can I recreate this tonight? And then it doesn’t happen and you’re like okay it must have been something else. What else can I do? What else can I change why is this happening? And you drive yourself a bit crazy looking at all these things and the midnight googling of what’s wrong with my baby?
LAURA: Yeah, absolutely and I remember that baby gymnastics at the breast, you know [laughter].
JACQUIE: Yeah, yeah!
LAURA: Just, all these new tricks that they can all of a sudden start to do and fingers up the nose!
JACQUIE: I call it ‘gymnurstics’ because yeah, you know …[laughter]
LAURA: That’s a great name!
JACQUIE: Doing flips and kicks and headstands. Doesn’t want to stand still and then wants to be on the boob but doesn’t want to the boob but wants some comfort but doesn’t want milk but then wants milk, and it’s like I don’t know what you want any more [laughter].
LAURA: Oh absolutely, such a confusing time. And so, Naomi why is it that this milestone of 4 months of age sees many mothers questioning their milk supply and wondering what’s going on with their baby as they may also be more wakeful at night?
NAOMI: Yeah, thanks Laura. Jacquie you’ve really highlighted particularly across your two different babies how things can be so different between babies. For one thing that really shows is that sometimes there are things you can do as a mother but, depending on your baby’s individual personality, it may or not have the effect that you are hoping. And 4 months is a bit of a developmental milestone. Of course it doesn’t always happen at 4 months on the day. It can happen around the 3-month mark or even a bit later than 4 months so to everyone out there who’s got a 3-and-a-half-month-old try not to dread that 4-month date. It can happen any time.
But yeah, as babies get older, I mean even when they’re 2 weeks old and 6 weeks old, they go through various stages of development and when they’re really little and only 2 weeks old or 4 weeks old those changes might not seem so dramatic, but as they get older and a bit more ability with their movements and how they react to various situations you may start to see some changes. So particularly with feeding, because they become more aware of their surroundings they might be off and on the breast and what we would call being fussy at the breast but in actual fact they’re just starting to become aware of their surroundings and want to check everything out and learn and sometimes that can be more interesting to them than breastfeeding. And for those babies they’ll often maybe not feed so well during the day and then that means that they still need to get that calorie intake and it means they’ll wake more at night and those night-time feeds will often be a lot more settled and they’ll have better feeds at night. That can be quite frustrating, but when you look at it on a 24-hour cycle it actually starts to make sense. During the day all that you can do is try and find a nice quiet spot to have a feed which can be difficult when you have a toddler running around, or two toddlers running around. So, you know, a nice quiet room to feed but even sometimes that won’t work or sometimes that’s not convenient, but you might then even just accept that this is the stage and this is the process and understanding that those quiet feeds at night might be just what’s needed at this time.
And, you also brought up about wondering about milk supply and I guess that falls into that fussy feeding behaviour as well. It can sometimes cause mums to think that there might be something wrong with their milk or something wrong with their milk supply and that’s not helped by some messages that come from well-meaning friends or family or the lady at the supermarket even [laughter] saying, ‘Oh, you know, baby’s getting a little bit older, your milk might not be enough’, and when that coincides with your baby starting to have fussy feeds, it can really play on your mind but be assured that your milk is enough and just as long as your baby is still getting plenty of wet nappies and nice soft poos when they do have a bowel motion, that they are getting enough milk. It’s just that that feeding pattern might have changed and the good news is that it will change again. Things don’t stay the same for very long, babies are constantly changing and growing.
LAURA: I think that’s a really good way, Naomi, to think about it because often when things change, I often think ‘what have I done? What do I need to do to change this?’ But just taking a pause and taking a step back and thinking my beautiful little one is just doing what they’re supposed to be doing. At the age of 1 month they couldn’t push away and kick their legs around and try and walk backwards up me while they’re feeding but they can now so why wouldn’t I do it? [laughter]
NAOMI: That’s right, yup.
LAURA: Yeah, so just taking a step back which can be hard and just thinking that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing and this too will settle, will pass at some stage.
NAOMI: That’s right.
LAURA: And like you mentioned just, you know, a little bit of reassurance for mums just keeping an eye on those wet and dirty nappies, can, even if that just alleviates some sort of worry about whether they’re getting enough milk, or your milk is enough.
JACQUIE: Mm yeah, and I’ve found that I have gone back to those basics of breastfeeding again. I started counting nappies again. I set up a little plastic bag at the change table and every wet nappy that I changed during the day I put in that bag and it was being able to see that he had five or six a day reassured me again it is not my milk that’s the problem. I just needed to reassure myself that in my head my milk is not the problem. Breastfeeding is not why this is happening. This is a development thing. And that really helped me to just ground myself, remind myself of what is going on and just move forward with the day of just finding whatever worked to get us through the day and through the night is what we just had to do.
NAOMI: That plastic bag’s a great strategy actually because sometimes the pen and the paper get lost or something spilt on it and sometimes apps as well just take you away from that mindfulness and being with your baby as well. So, the bag on the change table is a really awesome idea.
JACQUIE: Yeah, and then I just chucked it out in the morning, put a new one there and I’m like right, new day, this is the new number that we’re looking at.
NAOMI: Start again yeah that’s great.
LAURA: Yeah, absolutely and just one day at a time, let’s just look at this one day at a time. Yeah.
JACQUIE: Exactly, one day merging into one night merging into one day at a time [laughter].
LAURA: Absolutely, that’s parenting! [laughter]
JACQUIE: That’s it, that’s it.
[Music fades in]
JESS: Breastfeeding is natural but it’s also a learned skill. It’s pretty normal to need some help along the way. One of the things we offer at ABA is a range of booklets that can give you information on different topics. Sometimes mums wonder if it’s normal if their breasts feel softer after a little while, or seem less engorged than they did in the early few days. Here’s an excerpt from our booklet, ‘Breastfeeding: – an introduction’:
As the early weeks pass, your breasts may not feel as full as they were soon after the birth. This does not mean that your milk supply is low. It means that your breasts feel softer at around six weeks.
Our information booklets start at $5 for a digital download and all of the proceeds support what we do to help other people to breastfeed. Visit: shop.breastfeeding.asn.au to check out the full range or download the free eBooklet, Breastfeeding Confidence.
[Music fades out]
LAURA: So, Jacquie did you find that people in your family or social circle had different expectations from you now that William was a little bit older and were you given any particular advice at this stage?
JACQUIE: Yeah I’d find that as babies get a little bit older people assume you’ve got a bit more freedom and you’ve got a bit more flexibility in your days now. It’s like, ‘Oh you know, leave them with somebody and come out of an evening’ and I had a couple of invites from people who hadn’t had children yet say, ‘Oh yeah we’re having this on. He’s a bit older now you’ll be able to get him babysat won’t you, so you can come out?’ and I’m like, ‘Ooh, yeah, but it’s a bit difficult because, yeah, he still feeds a lot of times overnight’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, really?’.
I think their assumption of babies’ feeding patterns was that they just fed less overnight as they got older, so a 4-month-old baby mustn’t feed much overnight so it would be really quite easy for me to come out when, in reality, it’s actually for me, it was more difficult to have flexibility at this age, because there was just a little bit more input from me needed to keep him settled whereas when he was younger he might have woken once or no times and he would fall asleep anywhere. I could just wear him in the carrier and go about my business. Now that he had that awareness around him and distraction, I couldn’t feed him any place anywhere so he would fall asleep. Now we started needing dark rooms and quiet and white noise and things so all of a sudden my very flexible, go anywhere, baby was ‘no we need to be at home by 7 and have quiet time and wind down and then go to bed’ and then I’m not doing anything for the rest of the evening. And others’ advice you do get, that well-meaning, ‘Oh well maybe they’re not getting enough, maybe they need a bit extra’. ‘Maybe your milk’s not quite enough’ or ‘They’re probably ready for solids now, they’re needing more food because they’re obviously hungry if they’re feeding that much. When you do talk about waking multiple times at night you do sometimes get, ‘Oh well you know you’d better stop doing that because you’ll make the rod for your back because they’ll keep doing that and they’ll need you more and more if you always attend to them’. Which, I know from my first that’s nothing to concern myself about. He was a baby who needed a lot of input from me and he’s the most independent, nearly 5-year-old you’ll ever meet, so there was no concern in attending to his needs when he had them.
LAURA: So, Naomi being an IBCLC, have you ever come across any of these things in your line of work?
NAOMI: I think from what Jacquie just said the thing that stood out to me the most was the introduction of solids. There is a commonly held misunderstanding that babies need to have solids introduced at around the 4-month mark but it’s important to know that the World Health Organization and Australia’s National Health and Medical Council’s infant feeding guidelines both say that solids should be introduced at around the 6-month mark. So exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months, and then introduction to solids when the baby is ready at around 6 months. And this isn’t meant to be three square meals at that point it’s really just a gradual introduction over the next 6 months while milk is still the most important part of their diet until they’re 12 months old.
JACQUIE: Yeah, and that’s what I did with my first born. We introduced just tastes at around 6 months and we were very baby-led on that. I just sort of put some finger foods on his plate and he could explore, and he really enjoyed playing with food. I don’t think he really ingested much until closer to the 8-month mark. Before that it was just playing and exploring and licking and tasting.
NAOMI: And that’s what it’s all about too. It’s not just about the nutrients. It’s also about those developmental skills, absolutely.
JACQUIE: Yeah, so we’re, now that William’s 5 months we’re sort of starting to think about how we’re going to start doing things over the next couple of months and it’s one of those exciting new things to explore with this baby who’s acknowledging the world around them now.
NAOMI: It is, and I think that that’s why it sometimes gets tempting to start a bit earlier too, particularly with the first baby because you’re really looking forward to those next stages. But one thing to consider that starting earlier often means purees and you often go to all that effort to prepare those purees and often they whack it out of your hand and it ends up all over the floor, or they spit it out and they don’t really take much of it anyway. Whereas at around that 6 month mark it’s really not necessary to use purees it just needs to be family foods that are nice and soft and easy for them to move around their mouth and mush up and swallow so it cuts out all that extra work as well when you wait to 6 months.
JACQUIE: That definitely appeals to me as a life with two children, it’s whatever makes it easier is what I’m going to go for [laughs].
LAURA: Yes, I like that motto as well. [laughter] So, what are some tips and tricks for families who have a 4-month-old baby who might be dealing with some of these issues?
JACQUIE: I have found with the additional wake ups overnight that I’ve had to start dealing with, for me what’s worked best was managing how much rest I get. I’m not going to change how many times he wakes up. There’s nothing wrong with why he’s waking up. For me it was just dealing with the other end of things. So, how can I get more rest? So rather than getting up to feed, I set our bed up to be a safe sleeping space. My partner would sleep in a spare bed so I could have baby in bed with me on my own following sort of the safe co-sleeping guidelines. I would have him in bed with me and I would breastfeed lying down so I was able to actually rest a lot more. And William would actually fall asleep much quicker, and I actually probably wouldn’t even know how many times he woke up because he would just latch on if he stirred. I think I probably stirred when he did but I don’t really remember it the next day. I wasn’t waking up fully for it so I was much more, much more restful on days where my oldest was in kinder I would lie down and nap with him as well. And then yeah, calm rooms, going for a walk, in the car, sometimes just a change of scenery is all he needed. And sometimes if it had been a bit stressful, he was fussy, I was getting worked up which wasn’t helping my let-down happen. Because I was stressed and tense I would sometimes just get my partner to step in and I’m like, ‘Can you just cuddle him for 10 minutes, walk around, pat his bum and let him regroup and let me regroup and then we’ll try again’ and most of the time after that little break, he would latch on happily, he would feed and he would fall asleep, and I was more relaxed as well.
NAOMI: Jacquie there’s some really great strategies that you have included there, and it just made me want to mention that we do have a couple of booklets that are useful in this situation. There’s the Breastfeeding: and Sleep booklet and there’s also Breastfeeding: and crying babies booklet and they’re both available via our shop which you can access from our website, breastfeeding.asn.au. You also touched on a couple of strategies that I think are worth repeating, and that is sometimes when you have a baby who’s waking up a fair bit at night and it’s tempting to want to try and get them into a routine so then you stay at home a lot more, but in actual fact sometimes getting out and about and giving your baby that rich sensory diet can really make a difference and babies will fall asleep when they’re actually tired, whether they’re in a pram or a sling or in the back of the car in their capsule, they don’t need to be in a cot in a bedroom on their own.
So, for mums, for your own mental health and sanity it can really make a difference to get out and do something each day if you can. Meet up with friends or just head out for a walk if the weather’s good, go to the shops, meet someone for lunch, whatever you can do rather than feeling like you must stay at home so that your baby can have a sleep. And the other thing is also accepting help, having another person that if your baby is just not sleeping and spending a lot of time crying, having another person to take the baby for a little while even if it’s just for a 10-minute walk around the backyard so that you can have a shower or something to eat and in peace, and a bit of a break.
And just understanding that it is a phase and it will change and no matter what age your baby or child is at, being prepared for change can make it so much easier to accept as they get older. A 3-year-old changes to a 5-year-old and a 5-year-old changes to an 8-year-old and so on. So, it is something that is a part of parenting and mothering that they will change. They just change a lot more when they’re a baby like it’s rapid in that first 12 months there are so many changes, yeah.
JACQUIE: It’s interesting mentioning accepting help and support and getting out of the house, something I love about going to the ABA group meetings. I get out of the house, I can go to somewhere where I can talk to mums who have been through this. There’s usually always somebody who’s got an older baby that you know. You’re often seeing that, ‘Okay this is what I’m going to be hitting in the next couple of months because you know, I’ve got a 4-month old, but somebody’s got a 6-month old and I’m seeing how a 6-month old behaves and then a 3-year old, a 5-year old’. I love being able to see that and be around mums who have been through it, and they can just give me an empathic smile. They’ll sometimes hold my baby for me. They’ll make me a cup of tea. I can drink it while it’s still hot and have a piece of cake and I’m with people that know what I’m going through.
LAURA: Now, we’ve talked a lot about these developmental changes that happen with a 4-month-old that can lead to fussiness at the breast as well as more wakeful nights and just quite a challenging time but let’s now talk about the things that you’ve delighted in with young William, there must be some wonderful things that he goes through at this stage?
JACQUIE: Oh absolutely! And I think that’s something we forget to notice and appreciate is that, whilst there’s these things that are causing some blips of an evening, it’s because all of these amazing changes are happening with them. And just watching him develop over the last month has been amazing like they really go from that little, fragile baby to this, this infant with so much curiosity and he looks around the world and he takes things in and he looks at us and he smiles, and he laughs and giggles at us and looks around, and the dogs walk past and he watches them with awe. And you can just see him processing you know, what’s that, what’s that doing, I want to touch it, I want to explore, and putting everything in his mouth to learn about it and you know just growing so big and starting to move. He’s starting to want to roll over, and I put him on his belly, and he’s trying to wiggle around to reach new things and it’s so exciting. I just love watching babies learn.
With my first, the most exciting thing was just watching every day that new thing learning and that 4 months onwards is really when you see those huge changes in their brains happen and all of the things that they’re discovering about the world and it’s just absolutely amazing to watch. And then the cutest things when he just, he’ll cuddle now, he shows affection to me, he smiles at me and he’s like ‘you’re my mum’ and he’s starting to coo and it’s just beautiful. The couple of extra wake ups at night are nothing on the, on just the beautiful, development that he’s going through.
LAURA: Yeah, the thing that I remember from each of my children at that age is them starting to smile and interact more. I don’t remember how many times I woke up or how fussy they were years down the track [laughter] I remember those wonderful just them seeing your face and delighting in it, so it is [laughter] it’s lovely that these wonderful times come with those challenging nights [laughter].
JACQUIE: Yep, yep, people do talk about 4 months as being a period of sleep regression. Somebody said to me once, ‘No it’s not a regression, it’s a progression’ and I’m like ‘I love that’ because yes whilst sleep changes, it is because they are developing and growing and learning.
LAURA: Give it a positive spin!
JACQUIE: And while it’s changed now, it will change again. It’s not going to stay this way.
LAURA: For more on this topic, you can go to the ABA’s website at: breastfeeding.asn.au and check out the show notes for a link to this episode’s blog post which contains further links and information. Find your local ABA group by visiting our website where you can also find loads of breastfeeding information and the link to join the association as a member. Please rate, review and subscribe to Breastfeeding …with ABA.
TRANSCRIPTION // Madina Hajher