Babies develop in stages. Regarding movement, first, he controls his head, then his back and he is able to sit up, then he crawls, makes small steps, walks, and runs. Where communication is concerned, initially, he hears his mummy’s voice, makes small sounds, syllabizes, and pronounces his first words. A breastfeeding child matures through breastfeeding, and grows mentally and kinetically through specific behaviour at his mother’s breast, and according to his age. I will describe some of this behaviours below:
1st month: The baby learns to breastfeed. He spends a large part of his time in restless REM sleep. Breastfeeds may last an hour or more. Meals are frequent, up to 16 times in 24 hours.
2nd month: The baby becomes more effective at breastfeeding. He can swallow continuously from the breast, and finish his meal faster. He may space out the times between meals, particularly during the night. The infant commonly calms down easily and immediately with frequent breastfeeding. He needs skin-to-skin contact with his mother or his father. He smiles when people smile at him.
3rd month: The baby shows more interest in things around him. He answers with little sounds when people talk to him. During mealtimes, he may stop breastfeeding to look at his father, or another familiar person who comes into the room, or smile at his mother.
4th month: The infant shows increased interest in his environment. He reaches out to grab a toy and bring it to his mouth. He actively touches the breast with his hands during breastfeeding. He continues to enjoy frequent breastfeeding, and is calmed by it. He interrupts breastfeeding on his own to play or look at something. He may need to be taken to a quiet and dark room, without stimuli, in order to breastfeed calmly and well.
5th month: He smiles at himself in the mirror. He may want to breastfeed in a more elevated position. He grabs the breast with his hands. He laughs loudly and likes being tickled. He stops breastfeeding to smile at his mummy, and look at her sweetly, or answers with a little sound.
6th month: He likes breastfeeding in a sitting position. He “plays” with his voice or his saliva. He shows increased awareness of the people who take care of him, compared to strangers. The last meal on the breast before going to sleep for the night lasts longer.
7th month: He begins eating solid foods, breastfeeds as frequently as before, or a little less. He imitates sounds or movements. He may cry when his mother, or the person who takes care of him, leaves. He may want to breastfeed at any time and anywhere. He uses his hands to touch the breast or the other nipple.
8th month: He turns around when he hears his name. He actively tries to grab the breast – for example, he may try to open his mother’s shirt, or to rub against her.
9th month: He reacts to nos and don’ts. He enjoys games like “hide and seek” etc. His attention is very easily distracted when he is on the breast, and he frequently interrupts feeding. He may need more frequent breastfeeding during the night, compared to previous months.
10th month: He becomes anxious when he sees new faces, or when he is in unfamiliar situations, and longs to be in his mother’s arms and for her breast. He may hold the breast with one or both hands while breastfeeding.
11th month: He deliberately drops or throws things to see where they’ll go, or for his mother to pick them up. He waves “hello”, and plays with his mother’s nipples, using his hands skillfully.
12th month: He may be interested in books with pictures. He tries out various “stunts” during breastfeeding: playing with the nipple in his mouth, and trying out different postures or positions at the same time.
13 – 15 months: He leaves his mother’s side for a while to explore the environment, but he soon returns. He understands a lot, and he may say his first words. He may use his hand to play while breastfeeding: he puts his finger in mummy’s mouth, he plays with her hair, he pinches or pulls the other nipple, he “massages” her breast with his hands. He may murmur or talk incomprehensibly while breastfeeding.
16 – 18 months: He goes further away from mummy, but when he faces difficulties, he returns. He shows emotions and throws tantrums, if, for example, mummy refuses to give him the breast. When he wants to breastfeed, he may express it by coming towards his mother and hitting her chest. He verbally expresses his need to breastfeed, and he may have his own expression for breastfeeding – a code word that signals to mummy that he would like to breastfeed.
19 – 21 months: He may throw a tantrum if he doesn’t get his own way. He copies his parents’ daily routine actions and behaviour. He expresses his joy for breastfeeding. He takes his mother by the hand, and leads her to one of his favorite places to breastfeed.
22 – 24 months: He makes small sentences with two or three words. He may want to stand up while breastfeeding. He plays while breastfeeding, turning himself around or upside down. He may sing to himself while breastfeeding. He breastfeeds, mainly for emotional comfort, if he is ill, and if he hurts himself, or gets upset.
Older than 24 months: When his mother asks him to, he has the patience to wait and breastfeed later. He expresses himself lovingly about breastfeeding, and if you ask him, he may describe it as the most beautiful thing in the world! Sometimes, if he is in pain, for example, on his foot, he puts it close to his mother’s breast, and pretends to give it some milk to “make it better”. The bedtime feeding is usually the last meal to stop before weaning.
The above behaviour is typical, but normally there are variations from child to child, both in the type of behaviour, and the time it occurs.
Babies mature wonderfully and beautifully through breastfeeding. Every mother who has breastfed for a long time retains precious images and priceless, happy memories of resourceful and playful moments with her child at the breast.
Stelios Papaventsis MRCPCH DCH IBCLC 2010