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Trimester Thursday: The 5 Stages of Breastfeeding

Posted by Natalie Cassell on

Reflecting on my breastfeeding experiences, I believe there are five stages of breastfeeding you can expect to experience. Today, I’m going to explain what these stages might look like so you can fully prepare yourself. Having all of the necessary breastfeeding tools (e.g., nipple cream, breast pump, etc.) is important, but preparing mentally for the ups and downs of breastfeeding is probably the most important way to ensure you will be a successful breastfeeding mama. So, here we go:

Stage 1: Denial and Isolation

In the very beginning, you may or may not feel confident that you can breastfeed. However, regardless of how you feel starting out, there will inevitably be a moment where you have one or all of the following thoughts:

I can’t do this.

My breasts are broken.

The baby’s latch is terrible.

I have no milk.

Where is the formula?

I don’t need advice from my breastfeeding friends. They don’t know my life.

Whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself. Talk to an experienced friend or lactation consultant. Getting advice from knowledgeable people, hearing that others have been there, and knowing there are solutions is really encouraging and will be paramount to your breastfeeding success.

Stage 2: Anger

This emotion may be an immediate response to breastfeeding, or just a response to the person nearest to you while you try to breastfeed a newborn while recovering from labor. I once heard of a woman that skillfully and forcefully threw a pillow across the hospital room at her sleeping husband the first night. It wasn’t me. Ahem. But I heard that she had good cause (read: unable to move and a crying newborn out of arms reach). Deep breathing techniques and giving explicit instructions to others should help decrease the force of this emotion.

Stage 3: Bargaining

You will bargain. You will bargain with your infant. You will bargain with a higher power. You will bargain with yourself. While bargaining with yourself, you might experience an internal dialogue similar to this:

If I keep going until the baby is 4 weeks old and it still isn’t going well, I’ll quit. If my nipples are still bleeding at 6 weeks postpartum, something is definitely wrong and I can give up. If I make it 3 months, that is good enough. If this kid sprouts teeth, I’ll be done. If I make it to 6 months, I’ve done better than most and I’ll stop.

You will probably make a million promises to yourself in an effort to just make it through the present moment. This is a totally acceptable means of motivation. Do whatever will get you to your next goal.

Stage 4: Depression

You might feel a sense of hopelessness when you realize breastfeeding is just one phase after another. Some phases may be more difficult than others. Some will be short and sweet. At first, you may have bouts of crying due to things like nipple pain and fluctuating hormones. But all kidding aside, if after a few weeks you really do feel hopeless with no relief in sight, talk to your obstetrician or general practitioner. Postpartum depression is sneaky and doesn’t discriminate. It can pop up for the first time in later pregnancies and in women with no history of depression. Don’t feel ashamed if you need to talk to someone.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Eventually, you will adjust to your new baby and role as a breastfeeding mother, and you’ll come to accept your new norm. You’ll develop routines (maybe loose ones), and you’ll find comfort in them. Your baby will continue to get older, nurse less frequently, and become more independent. Best of all, your baby will become far more entertaining, which makes accepting the tough times much easier.

So, those are the 5 stages of breastfeeding (in my mind). They may seem strangely similar to the stages of grief. Okay, they are the stages of grief. Just know that these stages can be experienced in any order or simultaneously, and there is no time limitation. Don’t worry though. One day you will wake up and realize you’ve found this rhythm as a breastfeeding mom, and the 5 stages of breastfeeding will be a distant memory.


Hi readers! I’m Natalie, writer and mom of two. I am so excited to join The 16 Minute Club’s new blog, and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you. My pudgy breastfed baby, Jackson, is 8 months old and looks like he subsists on whipping cream. You would never know he was once “failing to thrive.” Breastfeeding has certainly had its ups and downs. Like most moms, I spend my days wavering between maternal bliss and horrification at some of the realities of motherhood. After my first child, I was sure I had things figured out. I just knew breastfeeding would be easier with my second. But the truth is that every baby is different, and they each present new challenges. Sometimes they even present the same challenges, but require different solutions.

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