Exhaustion from Breastfeeding
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Exhaustion from Breastfeeding
I'm a new, first-time mom with a 10 week old baby. I have been
breastfeeding her on demand since birth, but am beginning to feel
exhausted and overwhelmed. She seems to want to eat constantly,she
cries and acts hungry sometimes just an hour after I have finished feeding
her. I often feed her 9-10 times a day. On the one hand, this schedule
seems to work for her. She's gained a lot of weight since birth, she was
born 2 1/2 weeks early and only weighed 5 1/2 lbs. Now she's almost
10 pounds. On the other hand, it's hard on me with lack of sleep and little
time for myself. I am committed to breastfeeding and am not working, but
wonder how long I can keep this up and whether I should do something to get
her on a more livable schedule (and to take more interest in other things in
life besides eating!). Lately, too, she seems to want to hang out on my
breastfeeding could last up to 1 hour, if I let her suckle at her own pace.
I thought babies would just naturally begin to get more efficient at eating
and to go longer between meals, but this does not seem to be happening.
I'm considering trying to get her on a schedule: for instance, eat
every 2 1/2 to 3 hours and only nurse for 1/2 hour per feeding. Is this
realistic? Or should I just wait and she will begin to do this on her own?
I worry that she maybe be too small or too young to do impose a schedule.
Also, sometimes when I have tried to get her to wait between feedings, she
will scream. It's hard for me to take much more than 5 minutes of
desperate crying with tears in her eyes. This behavior also makes me wonder
if I am doing the right thing to make her wait. Does anyone have advice or
experience with breastfeeding demanding babies? I am definitely open
I can empathize with how exhausted and overwhelmed you sound. It seems like
you're having a conflict between your values and feelings about
breastfeeding on demand, and the physical and emotional reality of
exhaustion and lack of autonomy. I would encourage you, before trying to
make a decision, to try to get some emtional support and empathy for your
rest, sleep, and personal space needs. It may be that you'll find another
way to get those needs met other than forcing yourself and your daughter to
change what comes naturally. My personal belief is that it's very very very
worth it to establish the kind of bond in which your daughter knows that her
basic needs get met without her having to cry her heart out for them. In
early infancy, there is no difference between "want" and "need." However,
you get to make a decision that keeps you sane. Make sure it comes out of a
compassionate place for both of you.
When my son was breastfeeding, he'd want to nurse frequently while going
through growth spurts. The experts say this increases your milk production
to the level needed for the bigger baby. If your daughter nurses so frequently
you might not be producing milk fast enough for her. It wouldn't hurt to try
increasing your milk production by one of the various means suggested in
Regarding the sleep deprivation: if you don't now sleep with your baby, would
you consider doing so? The baby could then nurse during the night without
disturbing you much (or even at all).
There are differing schools of thought about whether to breastfeed on
demand or on schedule. I'm from the "on-demand" school, but
so with that caveat, here are some random thoughts:
* At 10 weeks, your daughter just won't be interested in much besides
what she can get from the breast -- e.g., food and comfort. So, don't expect
her to "take some interest" in much else.
* At various times in infant development, the child will go through a
growth spurt, and will demand much more milk and/or comfort from you
(it's a thin line between the two, in my opinion). It may take anywhere from a
day & a half to a couple of days for your milk supply to "catch up" to
demands. This interim period can be excruciating.
* If you find your body is not catching up to demands and the baby's
weight gain is insufficient, do not feel guilty about supplementing food needs
* If wear-and-tear on your body feels like it's too much, do not feel
guilty about supplementing comfort/suckling needs with a pacifier.
My bottom-line feeling is that as long as you are able to continue
breastfeeding & suckling, supplementing -- and scheduling the activity
is fine. This period will be over so soon, try to make it as joyous as
To the woman breastfeeding her 2 month-old on demand. I would suggest
you "hang in there" and continue to allow the infant to feed at her own
schedule. I was similarly exhausted with my baby, feeding her 10,
sometimes even 12 times a day until she settled into a regular schedule
right at about 10 weeks. I kept a daily log tracking the time she
started and ended each nursing session and couldn't believe how varied her
feedings were in the beginning-- the only consistent thing was that she seemed
always to want to feed! Keep in mind, most sources say that a newborn
will need to feed between 1 to 3 hours after the BEGINNING of the last
feed (because their small tummies just can't hold very much). I only have
experience with my own baby so I'm obviously not an authority, but I
suspect that your baby's having been born just a little bit early has
something to do with her taking time to settle into a regular nursing
schedule. Just to let you know, my baby was born 7lbs 4oz, and at ten
weeks weighed 13lbs 11oz. which pretty much put her in the FAT category.
Anyway, it was around then that she started to nurse eight times. A few
weeks later, she nursed only 6 or seven times. Today, at 4 1/2 months
she has a regular schedule of 5 nursings a day. And she's not THAT fat.
As for your own eating schedule, that's a little tougher. I had a mild
bout of post-partum depression which resulted in my not eating unless my
husband forced me to, which in the end was probably every three or four
hours. Like me, he is a grad student and consequently had a flexible
enough schedule to do this. In any case, I was too spent caring for the
newborn to even THINK about preparing a meal, much less zap some
leftovers in the microwave. Maybe someone else has a more enlightening
I'm sure this must be very hard on you. But I think it would probably
be a poor idea to impose a schedule on this tiny infant. You risk upsetting
the delicate balance of supply and demand for your milk production, for one
thing. Additionally, there are some studies out there that seem to
indicate that children allowed to feed on-demand grow up with better eating
habits (they are always confident that there will be enough, and don't need to
eat everything *right now*). I'm afraid I don't have the citations for
these. I would suggest strongly that you contact La Leche League for ideas and
support. My League flyer has wandered out of my purse, so I don't have
any of the main numbers. A friend of mine is an active member, however, and
will probably have a full compliment of contact numbers for you. Her
name is Dana Williams, and her phone number is 531-8482. Please be aware that
she is mothering a 4 year old and a newborn (tandem nursing both!), and
she prefers not to talk on the phone much. But I'm sure she will be happy to
give you phone numbers of folks who have the expertise you seek and the
time to share it with you.
What you describe sounds draining, both physically and emotionally. The
perspective I have to offer is based only on my own experience, and only
with 1 kid, but it might offer you some encouragement.
My daughter (who is now 17 months old) also got off to a galloping start
with her weight gain: she was born at 7lbs 12 oz and doubled her birth
weight in just under 3 months. She did this by the same kind of marathon
nursing you describe: until 6 weeks, she was nursing for 45 minutes
every 2 hours. After 6 weeks, feedings were spaced about 2 1/2 hours apart,
but were still just as long, and making her wait was just too nerve-wracking.
Also, she would want to nurse for 2 to 2 1/2 hours STRAIGHT every evening
(right when dinner needed to be fixed, right when my husband came home, he
would want to hold the baby and I would be really ready for a break). I, too,
got very close to the end of my rope.
But all that changed at around 3 months. She started going 3 hours
between feedings, dropped the evening "cocktail hour," and became able to tank
up in 15 minutes or less. I've talked to other moms who also experienced a
real change in their babies' nursing habits at around 3 months.
So, with the usual disclaimer about how all babies are different, let me
say that there's cause for hope. Not only will your daughter grow out of
this pattern, but it will probably happen within the next month. In the
meantime, if you have a moms' group to vent to, that might alleviate some of
the frustration. Hang in there.
I just read your notice in UCB parents advice line. Your situation
sounds very similar to mine. I have a 6 month old, he's my first. He was
born at 39 weeks. When he was 8 weeks and then a couple of times again
when he was 12 and 16 weeks, he would breastfeed for what seemed to be
constant. I was completely worn out and exhausted. It was really hard.
Those periods seemed to last about 4 to 7 days at a time and they always
ended. I wasn't sure if I was actually producing enough milk, or if
there wasn't something wrong with the baby. I even went to the doctor to
get him checked out because he was so uncomfortable when not on the
breast. [He was just fine.] One thing that I did find helpful was a
pacifier. Perhaps many do not want to use a pacifier, but I found that
it is a helpful comforter for the baby, especially when nothing seems to
work, not even comfort from Mom. I too would let the baby spent a lot of
time on the breast (up to an hour at a time), only to find that 30
minutes later he wanted to feed again. So, if the baby was just hanging
out on the nipple after 15 or 20 minutes, and not really breastfeeding,
then I would use a pacifier. The baby didn't always want one, and that
was fine too. Sometimes just holding the baby comforted and relaxed him.
Carrying him around always seemed to work.
He also gained weight well. My experience with this was that the
marathon breastfeeding periods seemed to fit with the estimated "growth"
spurts described in the literature. I use the Baby Book by Sears and
Sears. It's an excellent resource if you want a nurturing approach. This
book also seems to be right on the money with what a new mother should
expect in the early months. At 6 months old, my son is doing a bit of
marathon breastfeeding again, but it's nothing like before. When he is
not marathoning, he eats on his own (very regular) schedule.
After 6 months of [my] training, I feel as though I can really read my
son and understand what's going on with his eating. I use a very
flexible approach and he is thriving.
I hope this helps.
I too breastfed my baby on demand and did so since birth both day and
night until 2 weeks ago when we finally night-weaned her. She was
nursing probably 12-16 times/ 24 hour period, and at least a few times/
day it was for up to 30-60 minutes. I can understand that feeling of
overwhelm and exhaustion as she is now nearly TWO YEARS old. While this
truly has been exhausitng (especially since I am now 5 months pregnant
and I am still working 1/2 time), we believe that a child's core sense
of self is developed during these early years and what we both want to
communicate to our daughter deeply and indelibly is that her needs and
wants matter-- a message which neither my husband or I ever received. We
do this by creating with her one onion-skin layer of experience after
another which communicates that what she needs and wants is important,
while trying to keep our own sense of balance and meet our own basic
human needs as well so we have the stamina needed to continue the
joyful, hard work of parenting.
My experience is that babies do get more efficient at eating and can go
for longer between meals but my hunch is that we're more likely to see
that at 6 months rather than at 10 weeks of age. I also have come to
believe that my daughter virtually never cries or fusses for no reason.
I may not be able to understand what it is that she's needing for a
while but there always seems to be a reason for the crying which I
eventually can understand. If it were me, I'd assume that my baby was
crying out of hunger -- for physical food or emotional nurturance as met
by sucking. The behavior you are describing does not seem like a
"demanding baby" to me, but just a normal one.
Eating every 2 hours is pretty common even at 2 months, and there isn't
anything you can do about it. A baby's stomach is only as big as it's
fist, so it makes sense that they need to eat pretty often because they can't
eat too much at one time. If you were to try to change your babies schedule
what you would end up doing is 1) making her/him cry until you are ready
to feed her and then 2)force feeding her/him more than s/he can eat at a
time, which she will compensate for by either a) spitting the extra back up or
b)refusing to eat as much at the next feeding, and then wanting to eat
earlier the feeding after that. It would be far better for you to let
your baby just take the lead with this. When s/he is able to take more in and
go longer between feedings it will happen, but that happens at all
different times for all different babies, so you never know when. Also, it
doesnt' happen all at once... your baby will gradually go a little longer each
time and one day you will realize that you aren't feeding her every 2 hours.
(Although some babies continue to eat that often for many months).
By the way, when my baby was 2 months old he was only eating every 4-5
hours, and I only had to wake once during the night to feed him... but I
still felt exhausted. I think that is just part and parcel with a 2
month old, regarless of how often they nurse. ( Now that my son is 1 it is
hard to believe how tired I was when all he did was eat and sleep, compared
to now when he is walking, but I really was more tired back then!) As I
understand it, between 2 and 3 months the hormone surge that you get
after giving birth wears off, and that is a big part of getting tired and
depressed. The best thing you can do about being tired is to sleep when
the baby sleeps, and to bring the baby to bed with you at night so that you
can nurse in your sleep.
Also, try to get away between feedings so that you have some time to
yourself. You need to take care of yourself or you will forget who "you"
are and end up even more depressed later on in your baby's first year.
Have your partner/spouse or another family member care for your baby while
you take a bath or read a book or do something that nourishes your soul...
it will make a world of difference. And you may want to consider getting a
small breast pump (not one of those evenflo or gerber type ones though,
they are not worth the $.... try an Avent or Medela Mini) so that you
can leave the baby and a bottle of breast milk with someone so you can get
out every once in a while. Even if you only pump one ounce at a time... over
a couple of tries you will eventually have enough for a whole bottle (you
only need to leave about 3oz.).
There is nothing you can do to make your baby interested in the world
instead of eating... you will just have to wait for her/him to get to
that point on her/his own. But that is probably only a couple of weeks
away... so don't feel like you are doomed forever.
Also, schedule feeding is the worse thing you can do for any baby,
breast or bottle fed. That is because if you feed a baby on a schedule
instead of on demand, than the baby will learn to ignore its own hunger cues
and will have problems with self regulating its food in take... that is how you
end up with obesity problems latter on.
Have you been in contace with an IBCLC or attended any LLL meetings...
these are great ways for you to ask your questions from people who
really know what they are talking about and share your belief in/commitment
to on demand breast feeding.
I'm not an expert on this, but my son was very similar to your baby in
that he would nurse constantly (every hour even at 2 months), never take
himself off, and get hysterical when I would (only after I could tell he
wasn't swallowing anymore.) For an entire month between two and three months
of age he was incredibly fussy - crying all the time and always hungry, but
never satisfied. When my husband would take him he would be completely
pleasant and not fussy - but he was drinking two bottles per feeding (6
ounces) which is double what I could ever pump at a missed feeding! So I
started to feel that my milk production was low. I tried pumping and
mother's milk tea but he was still so fussy I decided his happiness was
more important than having only breastmilk so I tried supplementing with
formula. This was the magic bullet - he was finally getting the food he
wanted and his fussiness went away. HOWEVER, the sad part is that
because the bottle supplied (and the breast didn't) he soon chose that over
nursing and at 4 1/2 months is now completely formula fed. As he ate less I
produced less milk and so on. As long as your baby isn't fussy and
horribly upset, maybe you might want to try pumping to get your supply up,
and see if that helps her get more in a quicker time period and be more
As far as schedule I don't know if that's possible with breastfed
babies; I would consult experts on that. Good luck!
My son was also an avid breast feeder for a long time, eating every hour
to hour and a half in the first several months and beyond. He also seemed
to have occasional growth spurts where it seemed all I did quite literally
was nurse. He too gained weight incredibly well and today is a happy,
healthy, enthusiastic toddler. I want to support, applaud and encourage your
efforts--I know it can feel exhausting. But I do think it is the very
best for your baby, and my understanding is that scheduling a nursing baby
that young can be detrimental. I learned how to read while breastfeeding and
I read tons of books, not only on baby development, parenting, etc., but
even novels. I found it very helpful to read books supportive of
breastfeeding "on demand" as it reinforced the importance and would help me
reframe things if I was feeling particularly exhausted. I also focused on the
bonding experience. You can also listen to music, even listen to NPR and
catch up on the news. Do take naps and do let your partner, friends and
family help in whatever ways they can with shoppping, meals, cleaning ,
etc. And of course you can pump milk and let your partner take over
sometimes. While this never worked for us (I couldn't pump much and my
son didn't take to the bottle), I know it works for many families,
especially if you start when the baby is about 2 months. Take a deep breath
and remember, it won't be like this forever! You're doing a great job--keep
All I can say is that I understand how hard it is to be a milk machine.
I know how it feels to want to do something else, brush your hair, call a
friend, etc. I went through everything you did and more. My daughter had
problems latching on so for the first few weeks, it would take me at least
an hour to get her to latch on and then she would nurse as long as she wanted.
Wait one hour, repeat. The sound of her drinking was the most precious thing
in the world for me. I hope you don't take the fact that you can nurse and
she can latch on for granted. Not everyone is so lucky. Actually, I never
wanted her to detach because it would be so tough to get her "on" again. I
would have considered myself lucky to be in your situation.
All that said, I know what you mean about the endless breastfeeding
sessions. It is tough emotionally and physically and it is a commitment but
it DOES get easier. Like you said, they get much more efficient at it. You say
'when?' I don't know when, but it will come and pass so quickly, it will seem
like a dream. Hang in there, please. It is worth it.
As far as a schedule: Please don't. You can not dictate their energy
needs and their growth spurts. They are NOT like adults - we are not growing,
just maintaining. They grow in spurts and maybe your baby is trying to catch
up for being small (when born) or maybe her body is just going through an early
growth spurt. You cant deny a hungry baby food. You also cant legislate
efficiency or punctuality. Please, she is only a baby and all she knows is mom
and milk. They cant do any abstract reasoning like," ... if I don't eat now,
I will go hungry since it wont be feeding time for another hour and 50
minutes." They cant reason like that. She cries because she wants food.
Writing this bringing tears to my eyes, because I did have thoughts of
schedules and routines myself when mines was tiny. Today, I would
give anything to have that closeness and the sound of her
gulping my warm milk ... and then a sigh and ... sleep. In the big
scheme of things, this nursing time will seem like a flash, come and gone.
Good luck and feel free to email me if you like.
It seems like every few months an SOS message from a desperate mom comes
in -- someone whose baby nurses round the clock and for whom the
physical and emotional wear and tear is a great strain. And, every time
there are 5, 10, 15 messages from people encouraging her to "hang in
there"; that she mustn't succumb to the evils of scheduling,
bottle-feeding, supplementing, etc..
Rarely is there a voice that says:
1. Its ok to supplement with formula;
2. Its not unreasonable to help a baby move toward a more regular/less
frequent eating schedule;
3. Its ok to develop other ways of nurturing and bonding with your baby
other than suckling.
Today I am that voice. Clearly you have your child's best interests at
heart. This does not require taking the most extreme view that is
advocated by many of the berkeley le leche league. One should not feel
guilty for experimenting with alternatives!
Good luck at finding what works best for you and your child.
Just one more addition to long list of helpful posts: my success in
breastfeeding had to do with getting rest - I was always horribly tired
and sleep-deprived, too, the whole first year, but when I really let
exhaustion get out of hand, I saw immediate negative effects on my milk
supply. It was surprising to me how very important sleep is to milk
supply, but I had a graphic illustration when I went back to work when
my son was 3 months old and I started pumping in quantity and could
measure how much I produced. So if you get enough rest, you should
benefit doubly - you'll be much more chipper and your daughter will get
more to eat. Hang in there, it does get easier. And see if you can get
someone to help you out with the occasional bottle. And if you do
supplement with some formula now and again, hey, that's fine. Breast
milk is wonderful, but your mental health is more wonderful still.
A few months ago I requested advice: I was feeling overwhelmed with the
demands of breastfeeding a 2 1/2 month old baby who seemed to want to eat
every 2 hours. I received so many responses (I counted at least 40, if not
50!) that I wanted to post an update.
First of all, things are sooo much better. Since about 3 months she and I
have developed a more regular routine, which helps both of us stay happy
through the day. Our routine involves getting exercise and getting out of
the house every day, as well as some quiet time for both of us. Also, dad
gets up with the baby in the morning to have a some time alone with her and
so I can sleep in a bit.
Also, everyone is getting more sleep now. A big part of our routine is a
long nap in the afternoon for baby and for me. Moreover, my husband and I
have learned how to help the baby get to sleep at night and how to get her
to fall back asleep if she wakes up in a few hours. At 5 months old, she
usually needs to be fed twice at night, for about 10 minutes each time. I am
feeling much more sane with more sleep!
Finally, she seems to have fallen into a pattern of eating every 3 or
sometimes 4 hours during the day. I think she's just gotten big enough
(she's a chubby kid) that she doesn't need to eat so frequently. And she's
definitely developed an interest in exploring the world. She's much more
fun now that she smiles, laughs, and reaches out to touch things. Life
isn't just eat, sleep, and cry--it's look, touch, and take an interest in
I especially appreciated the comments I received, comments like "I can
relate" or "that's normal," or "things will get better." This helped me feel
more confident and hopeful, and get through that rough spot of baby raising.
Thanks to everyone who wrote a response to me--I'm so glad I'm a part of
this UCB parents listserv.
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