What could be more affirming to a woman’s confidence than gazing into the deep navy blue eyes of her newborn, knowing that everything he needs comes from her – security in her arms as he drinks in her smell, her loving gaze and her milk?
Conversely, a new mother’s self- confidence can be so easily undermined as well-meaning voices suggest, “ are you sure you have enough milk?” or “perhaps your milk isn’t strong enough,” any time her baby so much as whimpers (by the way, this second comment is never true, even though it was commonly expressed when your own mother was a new mum).
A new mother’s vulnerability runs deep: no mother can bear to question her ability to nourish her baby or even worse, to feel that she could be starving her child. Feeding your child is the most basic instinct. As a mother’s confidence is eroded, her breastfeeding experience can also be affected – as you become stressed about your milk supply, this tension can affect hormones that elicit milk flow and, if you begin to offer your baby bottles of milk as well as breastfeeds, it isn’t long before your body gets the message that it doesn’t need to make as much milk. Then, sadly, your baby could be weaned before you are ready to let go of this special relationship.
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Breast milk production works on a supply and demand basis: Your baby’s sucking at your breast stimulates milk production which means that the more your baby drinks, the more milk your breasts will make and according to research by Dr Peter Hartmann and associates at the University of Western Australia, an empty breast will make milk more quickly while a full breast will make milk more slowly. This means that milk production will speed up or slow down according to how hungry your baby is. This is particularly important to remember when your baby has a growth spurt and wants to feed more often for a few days to keep up with his needs. Although it is fairly common for babies to have growth spurts and corresponding appetite increases at 2 weeks, 6 weeks and 3 months, these can happen at any time.
How often should you feed your baby?
After birth your baby’s stomach is only the size of a marble and about 10 days later is only the size of his tiny fist (or a golf ball). Also, breast-milk is very quickly and easily digested so your baby will need frequent feeds, at least in the early weeks. It is perfectly normal for a breastfed baby to need 8 to 12 feeds in 24 hours in the first few weeks. This could mean that he will feed as often as every two hours – and that means two hours from the beginning of one feed, to the beginning of the next - not two hours between feeds.
Hungry or Thirsty?
Whether he is wanting to feed because he is hungry or simply thirsty, your baby will be able to regulate the type of milk he needs, if you allow him to set the pace. The composition of breast milk changes throughout the course of a feeding. The first (fore) milk, is rather like skim milk. This will quench babies’ thirst, which is why they often have very short, frequent feeds on hot days (if you feed your baby according to his needs, he won’t need bottles of water). As the feeding progresses, the fat content increases and more closely resembles whole milk. Hunger will be satisfied by longer sucking periods when baby gets the fatty, hind milk (like a rich, creamy desert) that is squeezed down into your ducts by the ‘let down’ reflex . Your baby needs to ‘finish’ the first breast first, in order to get the hind milk, but if she is satisfied with only one side, you may need to express a little for comfort off the fuller breast. One solution, is to feed baby on one side until she chooses to drop off your breast, then burp her and/or have a little play and a nappy change, then give her the other side before you put her back to bed. This way she will seem to sleep longer before waking for another feed,
Watch your baby, not the clock
If you learn to identify your baby’s hunger signals (squirming, sucking on fingers and ‘rooting’ at the breast) and allow your baby access to the breast when you see these early signals, you will be able to avert hunger cries (crying is a late hunger signal for most babies) and you can be reassured that she will take exactly the amount of milk that she needs.
Above all, rather than worrying about how much milk your baby is getting, try to relax and enjoy each feed as a time of loving interaction between you and your baby. By watching, listening and getting to know your baby’s nonverbal cues that say, I am hungry, tired, I want to play or please give me some quiet space, you will realise that you are the expert about your baby and you will be able to turn a deaf ear to negative voices. This is self- confidence!
Pinky McKay is an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant and author of several books including, Sleeping Like a Baby and 100 Ways to Calm the Crying (Penguin Australia) as well as an ebook ‘Breastfeeding Simply’.