Learning how to care for your baby is a process for each parent. Each baby is different, with varied needs and temperaments.
But one of the universals about babies is that they need to eat. A lot! They won’t eat large quantities all at once, but rather in small or moderate amounts throughout the day and night. (Yes, it is healthy and good for babies to eat in the night.)
My goal today is to light some light on the mystery of infant feeding. We’ve heard your questions and have broken down some simple answers/solutions to help with infant feeding.
If you still have questions or concerns after reading this, Doulas of Shanghai has infant feeding specialists who can help you during an in-person visit in your home or virtually.
How often should my baby eat?
Babies should eat a minimum of 8-12 times per day. Note that this is a MINIMUM.
In the early weeks of life, a growth spurt, or during a time of change, many babies will want to eat more than 8-12 times per day. This can leave you feeling exhausted or even frustrated, but it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you or your baby. Frequent feeding can be natural and normal.
If your baby is eating very frequently for an extended duration, with little time between feedings, you may want to consult with a feeding specialist to make sure her needs are being met. If your baby is premature, had jaundice, or other health needs, they may need to be awakened and fed every 2-3 hours before showing you any hunger cues.
Can I spoil my baby by feeding her too often?
The short answer is—no.
While at times you may be able to plan for feeding your baby once every two or three hours, there may be times in the day or night when baby will want to eat every hour, or cluster feed. This is simply how baby meets the needs of her growing body and brain, and doesn’t mean that she is manipulating you or will become “spoiled.”
Responding to her needs will only help to optimize her development.
How much should my baby eat?
In the first weeks of like, your baby’s stomach is tiny. On day one, her stomach is the size of a marble, and will only hold 5-7 ml at a time! So don’t worry if your baby isn’t eating much in the beginning, or it appears that your breasts don’t make much milk in the first few days. It is enough for your baby.
By the end of the first week, her stomach has grown to hold 30-59 ml per feeding, and will continue growing in capacity. This increase in the amount of milk a baby can drink coincides perfectly with the timing of mother’s milk coming in.
See that big range in the amount your baby can eat? Your baby’s consumption is going to vary from day to day, and even feed to feed. For those of us who like to look at the numbers and know exactly how much to feed baby, it can feel frustrating to know that there could be a lot of variation from feed to feed.
One of the best ways to know that your baby is hungry or has had enough is to learn to read her hunger and fullness cues.
Your baby has several ways to show you that she’s hungry before she ever starts crying. I like to look for these hunger cues soon after baby wakes from a nap.
Sucking on fingers or fists
After your baby wakes up or while cuddling, you baby may start to suck on her fingers or fists. If she is craving your breast or a bottle she may initially satisfy this craving by trying to suck on her fingers.
Pursing lips and sticking the tongue out
Pursing her lips and sticking her tongue in and out is a similar movement to what she does when feeding. This is a good indication that she would like to eat, as she is mimicking the feeding movements.
Turning towards the breast
When holding your baby, you may find her rooting and turning towards yours or your partner’s chest, as if she’s looking for a nipple. That may be exactly what she’s doing! You can try offering her the breast or bottle to see if she wants to feed.
Even wiggling or becoming restless can be a sign that your baby is hungry. Keep an eye on her to see if she settles. If she doesn’t, there’s a good chance she’s hungry.
Crying is your baby’s last-ditch effort to get your attention, not the first one. Feeding a crying baby can be more challenging since it’s difficult for them to latch on. Learning to read your baby’s cues before they start crying will make feeding smoother for both you and your baby.
Just like with hunger, your baby will try to show you they’ve had enough to eat. Following your baby’s fullness cues will limit overfeeding, spitting up, and general stomach and digestion discomfort.
If you’re unsure if your baby is really full, you can try burping and changing your baby’s diaper before again offering a breast or bottle. If they’re still not interested, they’re likely full.
Baby releases the breast
Your baby may let go of your breast or the bottle they’re drinking from as a sign that they’re full. If you try to give them the breast or bottle again, they may push it away with their tongue.
Baby relaxes their body
Your baby may become relaxed, open her fists, or even fall asleep to show that she’s full. It’s very common for babies to fall asleep straight away after being fed.
Baby loses interest
Your baby may let the nipple slip out of her mouth and not seem interested in latch on again. You can hang out with her and try feeding her again if she shows more hunger cues or interest in the nipple.
Note: Some babies are very sleepy, and may need stimulation to help them feed. If your baby is difficult to feed because of little interest, contact an infant feeding specialist to help.
I have more questions, who should I contact?
If you have additional questions or concerns about your baby’s feeding patterns, contact a lactation or infant feeding specialist for more help. She will be able to reassure you while helping to find solutions to the challenges you and your baby may face.
-Support feeding beliefs/philosophies
-Emotional support through frustration
-Creating a feeding plan/schedule
-Recognizing hunger cues
-Help through breastfeeding obstacles
-Breast pump set up and support
-Milk pumping and storage
-Paced bottle feeding
-Increasing milk supply
-Decreasing milk supply
-Formula or mixed feeding
-Introduction of solids
Pregnant? Doulas of Shanghai has birth doulas to help you prepare for your labor. Our doulas help to reduce anxiety and fear through emotional, informational, and physical support, leaving you feeling more calm and confident.