Time to feed again? An expert's advice
When it comes to breastfeeding advice, expert Katie James Education Manager for Medela Australia, can supply answers as fast as the public demands them. She has worked in the UK and Australia as a midwife, lactation consultant, educator, university lecturer and tutor. She has also worked in postnatal and hospital wards, community clinics, NICU and SCN. Here, Katie answers a few basic breastfeeding FAQs, and provides some reassurance and encouragement for new mamas.
How frequently should my baby be feeding? And how does frequency change as baby grows?
At first your baby has a very tiny tummy and only drinks a small volume of colostrum from your breasts. The colostrum is absolutely perfect for your baby right now, it tastes sweet and is in small quantities to not overload their system.
Some mums may think that they do not have enough milk for their baby at the beginning because the baby appears constantly hungry, but this is not true. It is normal for baby to feed really often, i.e. every 45mins – 3 hour.
Your breasts make milk based on a system known as supply and demand. The more your baby breastfeeds (demands) the more milk your breasts produce (supply). Babies need to go to the breast frequently in order to initiate your milk supply and lay down the foundations to make a good milk supply for the future too.
Once your milk starts to come in the consistency of the milk changes. Mature milk has larger amounts of fat and protein and can fill baby up for longer. Babies still feed frequently though, anywhere between 8-12 times in 24 hours is normal and important to make sure baby is getting enough.
Can my baby really be hungry again?!
The answer is yes! In the first month if your baby is awake they are usually awake for food. Babies may have times when they like to just be held or moved around but usually if they are awake in this first month it’s good to offer them the breast. As they grow and get into their second and third month of life you may find their feeding pattern changes and settles down and they will have longer periods of being awake to play and interact with you. But in this early phase feeding is key!
A recent study looked at breastfeeding patterns of babies who were one month to six months old. The results showed us that there are big differences in how often babies’ breastfeed from this stage!
• Babies have between 4-13 breastfeeding sessions every 24 hours
• Babies drink between 54ml - 234ml at each feed
• All babies drink on average 800ml per day
• 2/3 of babies feed during the night
How long should I be feeding my baby for?
Comparing how frequently your baby feeds to someone else’s baby just causes stress! We all have different amount of milk making cells, which means our breasts hold different quantities at each feed, as well as our breast milk having different levels of fat at any feed which also impacts how often bub needs to feed. No two women are the same and nor are our babies feeding patterns! Instead of counting feeds use these tips below to help you know that your baby is getting enough milk.
• Listen to your gut instinct, is your baby mostly happy and content?
• Do you have to change at least five heavy wet and at least two dirty nappies every day? (Frequency of stools becomes less around four to eight weeks.)
• Does your baby settle after feeds? (It’s normal for most babies to need some help settling down first.)
• Is your baby gaining weight well according to the growth charts?
• Is your baby otherwise healthy?
If yes, then no matter whether your baby feeds frequently or your breasts recently settled down and no longer feel full….you have great milk supply!
If no, go and visit your maternal child health nurse or lactation consultant for more support and helpful tips.
When should mothers consider expressing milk? Is it ever too early to start?
It is best to allow the body to establish your milk supply through frequent feeding before commencing expressing, if you can. Once baby is around six weeks this may be a good time to introduce an expressed milk feed, if that’s what you are planning to do. This way you have established a good milk supply and you’re both confident with breastfeeding and settled into a good pattern before you introduce another method of feeding.
Can an expressed breast milk feed help in the early days to give mum more sleep? Sleeping through a breastfeed doesn’t always help in the early stages. Mums often find that the fullness in their breast wakes them up meaning they end up expressing whilst their partner is feeding baby anyway!
There are plenty of other things that partners can do to help a new mum get more rest instead of giving baby an expressed milk feed in the early weeks. In the first few weeks a mum's only “job” should be to breastfeed, cuddle and care for baby and eat, wash and rest herself! Everything else can wait.
Do you have any general encouragements for mothers struggling with breastfeeding?
Babies like to be in almost constant contact with their mum. This is why many babies are content when in contact with you or your partner but cry as soon as they are placed in their bassinet. This is not forever but very normal at first, baby is just slowly getting familiar with being outside of the womb where it was quiet and calm all the time. It is a big transition to being outside and the best way to comfort and baby is to hold them. Make sure you utilise the help from your partner or parents/friends to cope with the frequent holding and cuddling babies need at first. There are no studies anywhere that say that you will spoil your baby by holding them too much! This is just very old-fashioned advice that has been proven wrong time and time again! So enjoy those cuddles.