Is My Newborn Getting Enough to Eat? Part 1: Breastfeeding
In all the planning during pregnancy - from healthy eating, prenatal appointments and tests, childbirth classes, hospital tours, and registries - many parents find themselves surprised at how little they planned for actual life with a baby in comparison.
It sort of sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?
One of the many things you may find yourself wondering is,
How much does my newborn need to eat?
This will vary slightly, depending on how old your baby is; and if you are breastfeeding or formula feeding. This blog will focus on breastfed babies; stay tuned for our next blog, which will cover details for families using formula.
How Much Can My Baby Eat?
As you can see from the graphic above, your baby’s stomach will grow considerably - and therefore hold more and more milk - between Day 1 and one month.
So in the first few days after birth, when you’re still only producing colostrum, don’t worry about making or pumping what seems to be next to nothing - you’re producing the perfect amount to fill your newborn’s tiny little tummy!
How Often Should My Baby Eat?
Despite the fact that they have yet to learn to speak verbally, babies are very good at communicating their needs to us. Your baby will tell you when it’s time to eat by giving you hunger cues.
(To avoid a fussy or inconsolable baby, it’s best to tend to her hunger cues as soon as you notice them.)
Between their small stomach’s capacity and the fact that breastmilk is very easily and quickly digested, most babies will need to eat right around every 2 hours, or 10-12 times in a 24 hour period.
You may have heard from some moms that they either had to feed more or less frequently, or at varying lengths of time for each feeding. This is typically related to a woman’s breast storage capacity, or how much milk can be stored in the breasts at once.
Storage capacity has nothing to do with breast size, but is dependent on the available room in the glandular tissues.
A mother with a smaller storage capacity is still perfectly capable of making the amount of milk her baby needs; she just simply may need to nurse more frequently and/or from both breasts to do so.
This can be frustrating for some moms, as more time is needed to feed their newborns, but it doesn’t indicate any problems with their anatomy or ability to produce milk.
How Do I Know If My Baby Is Getting Enough? When babies are getting milk directly from mother’s breast, it’s difficult to know exactly how much he is getting at each feeding - which may drive some parents crazy!
(Pumping may give you a good guess, but even the best pumps out there can’t drain the breast as effectively as a baby can, and therefore, this is not an accurate way to figure out what you’re producing.)
At the end of the day, the two things to look out for to ensure your baby is getting enough milk (and that you’re producing enough milk!) are:
Adequate wet/dirty diapers (5-6/day and 3-4/day, respectively, in the first month)
Weight gain (an average of 6 ounces a week)
You may notice that especially in the first month of life (but even after that), a baby’s nursing pattern may vary at different times. This is totally normal and does not necessarily indicate that you are suddenly not making enough milk!
Here are some common reasons why your baby will want to nurse:
Emotional comfort (scared / lonely / bonding)
Physical comfort (teething / relieve pain / sickness)
To fall asleep
Think about it: we adults don’t eat and drink on a strict pattern ALL the time either. Sometimes we eat things to sooth an upset stomach, or satisfy a spontaneous craving, or as a way to connect and socialize with others. The way we eat depends on a lot of the same things a baby’s does!
And in case you're worried about baby getting too much:
It’s hard to overfeed a breastfed baby; unlike a rubber bottle nipple, breast tissue is soft, and it’s pretty much impossible to force a baby to suckle at the breast if she doesn’t want to. When she is done, she will let you know by simply falling asleep or unlatching!
Although it can often come with several obstacles and frustration, one of the beautiful things about breastfeeding is the way it requires and establishes trust - trust in your own body to do what it needs to do, and trust between mother and baby to communicate and meet each other’s needs.
The first few weeks can be difficult for some, but soon enough, you will find your rhythm, and breastfeeding will become second nature to you and your newborn.
Remember, if you have any concerns about your milk supply or your baby's growth or output, reach out to a certified lactation consultant or your pediatrician.