One thing will dawn on you after you deliver your baby. (Dawn may not be the right word. Hit you out of nowhere may be a better phrase.): How do I feed this precious thing? You aren’t alone. Our culture is very focused on the birth of a new baby: Where are you delivering? Epidural or nah? are the questions that you focus on in the months leading up to the arrival of this adorable bundle. But the birth is relatively short (we hope); and, more importantly, it ends. And then you are left wondering why you didn’t read up more on the one thing (pretty much the only thing) that you are doing after the baby comes: breastfeeding a newborn.
Sure, you may have bought a breastfeeding book; you may have even watched another mother nurse her baby (one of the most important things you can do prenatally in terms of learning about breastfeeding, by the way), but did you really tackle this in the same way you approached the birth? Or buying a crib? Or banking cord blood?
If you are like most moms, the answer is probably not. Which—when you think about it—is a real head-scratcher. What other activity that you do 8–12 times a day for months on end would merit such a cursory investigation?
What to Expect for the First Few Weeks of Breastfeeding
There are two aspects to nursing in the early days and weeks: the first is the mechanics of breastfeeding, the sort of “nuts and bolts,” namely positioning and latch-on. The nurses in the hospital will be able to help you with this right away, and some hospitals even offer a mini breast-feeding class for the new moms who have just delivered their little ones.
The other aspect of breastfeeding is what is known as milk transfer, which basically answers the question: Is my baby actually eating at the breast? And these two aspects of nursing are important, because the first can be going well, but the second may need a little more oversight. Here is some helpful information for this aspect of the nursing relationship.
In the first week of your baby’s life, he is in a tremendous state of flux in terms of his milk intake; on day 1 of life he may just need a few swallows of colostrum (your early milk, which is lower in volume than your mature milk), but by the end of day 7, he may need 3 ounces per feeding, 8 times a day! This is a tremendous change, but the good news is that evolution took care of this by giving you a mammary system in which your milk volume changes (on day 3-5 postpartum) to meet these increasing needs (Mother Nature is the OG of mothers!).
So for the first few days after your baby’s birth, you will want to feed him frequently so that his ever-increasing needs are met and so that your mature milk can come in faster. Once your milk is in, you can expect that he will want to feed frequently (every 2-3 hours, even during the night) for several months.
The first couple of weeks can be rough in terms of knowing if the baby is getting enough at the breast. After all, frequent feeding can be a tricky cue to interpret, and new moms often wonder if their baby is satisfied.
How to Tell if Your Baby is Getting Enough
In general, there are three ways we can tell if babies are getting enough at the breast:
- Poopy diapers. In general, the day number of your baby’s life should be the same as the number of stools for that day. So day 1, he should have at least one poop, day 2, at least two, etc.
- Weight gain. Babies have a birth weight and then they lose a little, with their lowest weight being on day 3. In general, if a baby is back to birth weight by day 10-14 (or earlier!), then he is doing great!
- Infant behavior. This is the least measurable of the three, but is an important one. Does the baby SEEM satisfied? Is he giving you some dependable breaks in between nursing sessions? Is he having quiet alert time where he looks around and doesn’t root or cry when you touch his lips? Recognizing your infant’s particular behavior is an integral part of getting to know him.
So there you are. A quick postpartum trip down breastfeeding lane. Remember that breast-feeding advice tends to be general and applies to most mothers and babies, but that you and your baby are a unique nursing dyad.
If you have questions about something specific, there is always help out there. Look for breastfeeding support groups in your area, or call a lactation consultant. There are many wonderful resources online, or seek help the old-fashioned way: ask another mom!
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Heather Kelly, CLC, IBCLC is a board certified lactation consultant in New York City. She is the mother of four children and does lactation home visits in NYC. You can find her at www.NYClactationhelp.com.
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