One of the most common questions about breastfeeding is, “How do I know if my baby is getting enough to eat?”
First, let’s look at what your baby’s needs are. In the womb, babies never feel hungry. The get all the nutrition they need from you. A newborn’s stomach can hold about 5-10ml and does not stretch. Anything more than this will come right back up. During pregnancy, your body started producing colostrum, and this is all your newborn really needs right now. Since they can only take so little, babies need to eat often, which can make it seem like they are not getting enough. Every few days, your baby’s stomach expands to hold a little more and it will seem like they are always hungry! These frequent feedings are how your baby transitions from being constantly nourished in the womb to life in the outside world. They are also helping build your milk supply. Hang in there if you can, it does get easier!
So how can you be sure that your baby’s nutritional needs really are being met? A hungry baby will give you feeding cues such as fussing, rooting, or putting his hand to his mouth. Feeding your baby when you notice these cues and before he becomes distressed and crying, will make it easier to get a good latch and much less stressful for you and your baby. After the first week, your baby should be feeding 8 or more times per day with 10 minutes or more of active suckling. It is also helpful to keep track of how many diapers you are changing a day. In the first week of life, the number of wet and dirty diapers will slowly increase. You can expect about one more wet diaper for each day of life for the first week. Very absorbent diapers can make it hard to tell how many times your baby has actually urinated though. Your baby’s stools are much easier to keep track of. After the first week, your baby should be having 3-4 or more stools about the size of a quarter. These are all good indicators that your baby is getting what he needs, but the most important thing is that your baby is gaining weight. It is normal for a baby to lose a small amount of weight in the first few days of life, reaching their lowest weight on day 3 or 4. The average weight gain for an exclusively breastfed baby is around 7-8 oz each week. Follow your pediatrician’s recommendations for when to bring in your newborn to check for weight gain and other developmental milestones.
If your baby is not gaining weight as he should, you can contact a lactation specialist to help find solutions for breastfeeding problems, or you can consider supplementing with formula. The most important thing is that your baby is fed, and that you do what feels right for you and your family.
This blog is just a quick summary. For more detailed information, I recommend the book, “Breastfeeding Made Simple” by Nancy Mohrbacher. You can also get more guidance from a lactation consultant, or contact Hava Doula to set up postpartum care.