By understanding normal infant feeding behaviors, you will be better prepared for breastfeeding. You’ll be able to avoid the most common problems we most often hear from new mothers, such as “My baby was big and my milk wasn’t enough for him,” or “My milk dried up around three months,” or “My baby didn’t want my breast.”
Interpreting your baby’s feeding cues
Your baby may not be able to talk yet but he can certainly communicate. When you see your baby opening his mouth, sticking out his tongue, or putting his hands in his mouth, he’s telling you he’s hungry. Another sign is referred to as the rooting reflex. When he feels something against his cheek or lip, he thinks it’s your breast and will open his mouth, looking for your nipple. If you don’t respond to his early feeding cues, he will eventually start crying.
Demand leads supply
The key principle of breastfeeding is that demand leads supply. By nursing and removing milk frequently, your baby tells your breasts to make more milk. Contrary to what you might think, an “empty breast” signals your body to make more milk and a full breast tells it to slow down production.
A healthy newborn will want to nurse often and around the clock. He is used to being consistently nourished through the placenta. He needs to eat often because breast milk is digested very quickly and his stomach doesn’t hold much. He also needs to eat often because he has a lot of growing to do! He will be doubling his birth weight by six months old and tripling it by 12 months old. Imagine how often you’d need to eat to do that!
Even more frequent feedings
Every so often, your baby will want to feed more often than usual. Many parents misinterpret this to mean that the baby is not satisfied with the quantity or quality of the mom’s milk, but it’s quite the contrary. Newborns need to feed very often because they are putting in their order at mom’s “breastaurant.” They are helping mom’s breasts prepare for a growth spurt by telling her body to ramp up the supply.
Many parents are comforted to learn that their baby’s stomach is a lot smaller than they expected and that he doesn’t need large quantities of milk. At birth, your baby’s stomach is the size of a shooter marble and can hold about a teaspoon of liquid (one-fourth ounce) which is what your breasts are capable of producing. By day three, which coincides with your mature milk coming in, his stomach expands to the size of a ping pong ball and can hold up to an ounce. By day 10, his stomach is the size of a large chicken egg and can hold between two and 2.75 ounces, depending on your baby’s size. The general rule of thumb to figure out how much milk your baby needs per day is two ounces of milk for each pound of his weight (i.e. a 10-pound baby will consume about 20 ounces of milk per day), but this levels off to about 32 ounces of milk around six months of age.
Don’t switch sides
There is no need to switch sides unless your baby stops actively sucking or unlatches and starts fussing. When a baby begins nursing on a breast, he drinks the foremilk, which contains a lot of water that satisfies his thirst and lactose, a form of sugar, which gives him energy. As he continues nursing on the same side, he begins to receive the hindmilk, which has a much higher fat content and fills him up. When you switch sides too early, he won’t have the opportunity to get that fattier milk, and that fat won’t balance out the lactose he received in the foremilk, which can cause gassiness and discomfort.
Don’t supplement unless medically necessary
In order to establish an appropriate milk supply, you need to feed your baby at the breast between eight and 12 times a day. If you supplement, you need to continue to remove milk from your breast at the same frequency or your body will slow down milk production. If you have to supplement, make sure you pump every two hours for 10 to 15 minutes on each side.
CarePoint Health is dedicated to providing you with the individual care and attention you need so you can relax and focus on what is most important — the birth of your new baby. Contact us today to learn more about our obstetrics and maternity services.
Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.