When to Feed
Over the next couple of months, you'll receive a lot of advice about how to feed your baby. You'll be asked if you are feeding “on schedule” or “on demand.” On schedule usually means by the clock. On demand, or “on cue,” is a term used to describe your baby's biological cycle. In the first few days after birth, you will be doing both.
How often you feed will be determined by your baby. She is less likely to be an overweight adult if she is allowed to follow her own body rhythms throughout her life, so it's a good idea to feed on demand as soon as you're able. Feeding on cue will also establish a strong milk supply.
Babies know when they are hungry and will demonstrate hunger cues when they are ready to eat. Put simply, babies eat when they are hungry and they stop when they are full. The only clock your baby cares about is her own body clock.
If, after a week, your baby is still sleepy, take her to your doctor or midwife for a jaundice assessment. If she feeds poorly or has yellow skin, yellow in the whites of her eyes, brick-red or dark urine, or pale stools, she might need bilirubin lights, a form of photo therapy.
At the same time, babies in their first week of life are very sleepy, particularly if labor medications were used during the birth process. If your baby isn't waking on her own every two to three hours during the first week, you'll need to wake her to breastfeed. Now you're feeding on schedule or “by the clock.”
After the first week of life, your baby will be more wakeful and will begin to tune in to her own body rhythms. Until then, you will have to rouse her to reinforce the feeding pattern.
During the early days, you'll realize that there is no schedule. Your baby has her own internal gas gauge. Her body will tell her when she's hungry and she'll show you by demonstrating hunger cues. Your baby is ready to eat when she exhibits these behaviors:
Brings her clenched fist to her mouth
Begins sucking on her fist or fingers
Roots by turning her head to find your nipple
Displays increased activity or movement
Vocalizes and begins to make noise
Crying is a late hunger cue. If you wait until babies cry, you've waited too long. Identifying early hunger cues is an important part of learning to “read” your baby's behavior. Knowledge is power. Anticipate that she will be hungry when she wakes up, or when she displays these cues.
How Long to Feed
Offer one breast first and, when baby is finished, offer the second. Women were once advised to let their babies nurse for just ten minutes at each breast, but recent research suggests that the Ten Minute Rule no longer applies. The composition of breastmilk changes during a single feeding session and your baby needs both the foremilk and the hindmilk you produce. The foremilk comes quickly and is higher in volume and protein and lower in fat. The hindmilk is higher in fat and calories, but there's less of it. It's like having steak and ice cream, dinner and dessert. Babies need both.
Alternate the starting lineup at each feeding. Your baby might prefer one breast to the other or one nipple over the other, and that's normal. It might have to do with the position you hold her, the flow of milk, or any number of factors. You, too, might prefer one breast to the other for the same reasons, but it is important to alternate your breasts to ensure a good milk supply.
Most experts will tell you to feed your infant for fifteen minutes on each breast, but watch your baby and not the clock. It's more important for your baby to remove your milk than it is to follow a predetermined time limit.
Feed for as long as your baby is interested, fifteen to thirty minutes on average during the first few weeks. If your baby is a marathon nurser on one breast, it could indicate that she is not latched on properly or there's a problem with your milk supply. However, babies approach nursing differently. It's a lot like eating ice cream … some of us lick and savor, while others bite and swallow. It rarely takes more than a maximum of twenty minutes per breast to “empty” it. Some babies will continue to nurse for comfort.
Breastmilk is very digestible, so breastfed babies eat more often than formula-fed babies. In the first weeks, your baby will eat smaller amounts, but frequently. Later on, your baby will eat more in one sitting, reducing the number of feedings. Growth spurts happen around three weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months, and usually last about seven to ten days. During this time, you might notice that your baby eats more, and more frequently. Frequent feedings not only satisfy your baby, but they tell your body to make more milk in preparation for your baby's growing demands.