- Breastfeeding by Stages
- Signs of Hunger
- Signs of Adequate Feeding
During your baby's first weeks of life, you should breastfeed on demand whenever your baby shows signs of hunger. Avoid sticking to a strict schedule during the first few months of your baby’s life, since this can affect your milk production or lead to breast engorgement.
How to breastfeed your baby as they grow
The best approach with breastfeeding is to develop a flexible routine that can accommodate your changing schedule. While it may take some time to develop the confidence in understanding your baby’s needs, you can establish a feel for when your baby is hungry as your milk supply becomes established
During the first few weeks
- Feed your baby according to their appetite.
- Your breast milk may be initially thick and concentrated. This first milk, called colostrum, is extremely beneficial to your baby for its immunity-developing properties and high protein content.
- During the first few days, your baby may sleep for long hours or be awake and require regular feedings. Both are perfectly normal.
- Over the first few weeks, your milk will gradually lighten and become more plentiful. Most newborns will feed eight times every 24 hours.
- Some babies may want to feed less than this, whereas others may choose to feed more.
During the first few months
- During the first few months, a few babies develop a feeding and sleeping schedule. Most, however, like to feed and sleep on an erratic schedule.
- Many newborns have a growth spurt at 3weeks and again at 6 weeks, which causes them to want to feed more frequently.
- Everything is normal if your baby is gaining weight and is content.
Up to 6 months
- Feeding becomes more predictable as you and your baby grow to know one another.
- Your baby may become more gregarious and less interested in eating unless they are extremely hungry.
- Most infants become quite efficient at breastfeeding and do not require lengthy feeding times to meet their nutritional demands.
- Breastfeeding alone provides all the food and liquid required during the first 6 months of life.
- When your baby is about 6 months old, introduce semi-solid foods after consulting with your doctor.
After 6 months
- Many experts advise continuing nursing and introducing solid foods for at least 12 months or longer.
- Breast milk can continue to be an important source of nutrients for your child during their second year of life.
How to tell if your baby is hungry
Many new moms find it difficult to understand the difference between their newborns' cries. Over time, however, you will be able to discern early hunger cues that can help you anticipate your baby’s needs.
Signs your baby is hungry may include the following:
- Opening their mouth
- Placing their hands and fists in their mouth
- Moving their head toward your chest
- Moving their head from side to side
- Whimpering or making grunting noises
You don’t need to worry about your baby becoming overly full. When your baby is content, they will likely let you know by ceasing feeding or pulling away from the breast or bottle.
How to tell if your baby is getting enough milk
Since it is difficult to determine how many ounces your baby is consuming during a feeding session if you are breastfeeding, here are signs your child is getting enough (or not enough) milk.
Signs your newborn is getting enough milk:
- Produces four to six diapers a day
- Produces regular bowel movements
- Sleeps well
- Stays alert when awake
- Shows weight gain at routine doctor visits
Signs your newborn is not getting enough milk:
- Unsatisfied after feedings
- Little to no weight gain
- Cries or fusses often
- Seems hungry often
If you have any concerns about your newborn's eating habits, consult your pediatrician.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding your baby?
Breast milk is quickly absorbed and unlike formula, unlikely to cause constipation. Breast milk also evolves in response to your baby’s changing needs. The amount of milk and its composition vary depending on the time of day, frequency with which you breastfeed, and the age of your infant.
Your protective antibodies are abundant in the first milk (colostrum), which can protect your baby from diseases, including gastrointestinal and respiratory problems, as well as allergies and asthma.
There is even evidence that breastfeeding mothers who have been immunized against COVID-19 can pass on the antibodies through their breast milk. If your child is still too young for immunization, these antibodies may help protect them.
Breastfeeding is also good for mothers. Mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of the following:
- Type II diabetes
- Some types of breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- High blood pressure (hypertension) and cardiovascular disease
- Hip fractures and reduced bone density (osteoporosis) in later life
Why may some mothers choose to stop breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding has the downside of causing less vaginal lubrication, which may make intercourse unpleasant. Breastfeeding also takes a lot of time and energy.
Parents may choose not to breastfeed for the following reasons:
- Personal choice
- Low milk supply
- Issues with your baby latching
- Lack of community support
- Medical conditions
- Lack of support in the workplace
Some people are more fortunate than others due to social, economic, and environmental factors that make breastfeeding easier. For others, it may be more challenging.
While breastfeeding is beneficial for both you and your baby, it is important to have both practical and moral support. If you are having trouble nursing, do not struggle alone; seek assistance from a midwife or lactation consultant.
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Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Academy of Family Physicians. "Breastfeeding: Hints to Help You Get Off to a Good Start." <https://familydoctor.org/breastfeeding-hints-to-help-you-get-off-to-a-good-start/>.
BetterHealth. "Breastfeeding." <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/breastfeeding>.
Bouchez, C. "Getting on a Breastfeeding Schedule." WebMD. <https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/features/establish-a-breastfeeding-schedule>.
La Leche League International. "Frequency of Feeding." <https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/frequency-feeding-frequently-asked-questions-faqs/>.
United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "How Much and How Often to Breastfeed." <https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/breastfeeding/how-much-and-how-often.html>.
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