What could be more affirming to your confidence than gazing into the deep navy blue eyes of your newborn, knowing that everything he needs comes from you – security in your arms as he drinks in your smell, your loving gaze and your milk?
Conversely, your confidence can be so easily undermined as well-meaning voices suggest, “Are you sure you have enough milk?” or “perhaps your milk isn’t strong enough,” any time your baby so much as whimpers (by the way, this second comment is never true, even though it was commonly expressed when your own mother was a new mum).
A new mother’s vulnerability runs deep: no mother can bear to question her ability to nourish her baby or even worse, to feel that she could be starving her child. Feeding your child is the most basic instinct.
As a mother’s confidence is eroded by unhelpful comments and self doubt, her breastfeeding experience can also be affected: as you become stressed about your milk supply, this tension can affect hormones that elicit milk flow and, if you begin to offer your baby bottles of milk as well as breastfeeds, it isn’t long before your body gets the message that it doesn’t need to make as much milk. Then, sadly, your baby could be weaned before you are ready to let go of this special relationship.
Breast milk production works on a supply and demand basis: Your baby’s sucking at your breast stimulates milk production which means that the more your baby drinks, the more milk your breasts will make and according to research by Dr Peter Hartmann and associates at the University of Western Australia, an ‘empty’ breast will make milk more quickly, while a full breast will make milk more slowly.
This means that milk production will speed up or slow down according to how hungry your baby is and how much milk is removed from your breasts. This is particularly important to remember when your baby has a growth spurt and wants to feed more often for a few days to keep up with his needs. Although it is fairly common for babies to have growth spurts and corresponding appetite increases at 2 weeks, 6 weeks and 3 months, these can happen at any time.
How Often Should You Feed Your Baby?
After birth your baby’s stomach is only the size of a marble and about 10 days later is only the size of his tiny fist (or a golf ball). Also, breast-milk is very quickly and easily digested so your baby will need frequent feeds, at least in the early weeks. It is perfectly normal for a breastfed baby to need 8 to 12 feeds in 24 hours in the first few weeks. This could mean that he will feed as often as every two hours or less – and that means two hours from the beginning of one feed, to the beginning of the next – not two hours between feeds.
Hungry, thirsty or coming down with a bug?
Whether your baby wants to feed because he is hungry or thirsty or whether he needs a boost of antibodies against an illness he has been exposed to, he will be able to regulate the type of milk he needs, if you allow him to set the pace.
The composition of breast milk changes throughout the course of a feeding. As the feeding progresses, the fat content of your milk increases so the first (fore) milk, which is lower in fat, will quench babies’ thirst: this is why they often have very short, frequent feeds on hot days –feeding your baby according to his cues will make sure he stays well hydrated (if he is under 6 months it’s unsafe to give water – see why here).
Hunger will be satisfied by longer sucking periods when baby gets the fattier, hind milk (like a rich, creamy desert) that is squeezed down into your ducts by the ‘let down’ reflex.
This is why it’s best to allow your baby to ‘finish’ the first breast first, rather than timing feeds and restricting your baby to an arbitrary number of minutes on each side. If she is satisfied with only one side, you may need to express a little for comfort off the fuller breast. One suggestion is to feed baby on one side until she chooses to drop off your breast, then burp her and/or have a little play and a nappy change, then give her the other side before you put her back to bed (some people label this as ‘feed play feed sleep’). This way your baby may sleep longer before waking for another feed because she has gone down with a nice full tummy.
Your baby may also step up feeds if he has been exposed to a bug. The transfer of his saliva to your breasts will signal your body to make antibodies and immune factors specific to the bacteria or viruses your baby needs to fight. So feeding more frequently if he is feeling unwell will increase the dose of support your baby needs to recover from illness.
Watch Your Baby, Not The Clock
If you learn to identify your baby’s hunger signals ( ‘rooting’ at the breast, smacking his lips, sucking on fingers) and allow your baby access to the breast when you see these early signals, you will be able to avert hunger cries (crying is a late hunger signal for most babies) and you can be reassured that she will drink exactly the amount of milk that she needs.
Above all, rather than worrying about how much milk your baby is getting or why she needs to feed more frequently some days, try to relax and enjoy each feed as a time of loving interaction between you and your baby.
By watching, listening and getting to know your baby’s nonverbal cues that say, I am hungry, tired, I want to play or please give me some quiet space, you will realise that you are the expert about your baby and you will be able to turn a deaf ear to negative voices – and your confidence will soar.
You have got this, Mama!
Pinky McKay is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and best selling baby care author. She’s also the creator of Boobie Bikkies, natural, organic and lactogenic cookies for breastfeeding mums to boost your energy and support a healthy milk supply.
Please click here to download our FREE ebook “Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally.”