One of the biggest worries of a new, exhausted, sleep-deprived mom is whether their baby is getting enough milk to support their growth and development in those first critical weeks of life. Among the most common reasons I hear from mothers who give up breastfeeding early are “I just wasn’t making enough milk.”
More often than not, milk supply may not have truly been a culprit of experienced difficulties, or supply issues could have been corrected with proper education and support. There are several myths that need to be dispelled surrounding early milk production and signs to watch for in your baby to know if you have a problem.
Here are four important things you (or your friends) should know, and some further resources to consult (find links to referenced materials at the end of the article) :
1) It is normal for babies to lose weight in the first several days following birth.
A close friend of mine was recently forced to supplement by the hospital because the baby had not regained his birth weight before checking out. With hospital stays for a vaginal birth at only 2 days, this is completely normal! On average, normal babies lose about 7% of their weight in the first week of life, and especially while waiting for milk to come in. In general, babies will be back up to birth weight on or before they are 2 weeks old (see #4 below on weight gain).
Recommended Resource: For some insight on why this is, check out Lactation Consultant Marie Davis’s explanation of “Neonatal (Newborn) Weight Loss.”
2) It is normal to produce only colostrum for the first 3-5 days. Supplementation with formula is NOT routinely needed while waiting for breastmilk to come in.
Women often cite milk not coming in as a reason for starting to supplement with formula, and sadly, hospital nurses will often use this reason to push supplementation. I’m not sure why hospitals persist in recommending routine formula feeding, but we know that it may interfere with the successful establishment of breastfeeding. Things are slowly changing for the better as restrictions are being placed on free formula samples in many states and UNICEF’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative reaches more hospitals.
Recommended Resources: “Why We Don’t Routinely Supplement Breastfed Babies” by the Breastfeeding Committee of Saskatchewan and details about the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and finding the Baby-Friendly Hospitals nearest you.
3) Newborns Feed Frequently and May Be Fussy or Sleepy. This does not mean they are hungry or starving!
Newborn babies seem to want to nurse all the time, cry frequently when awake, and can be overall fussy or sleepy. If the baby is otherwise healthy, this is normal. My best friend called me beside herself, convinced she was starving her baby by holding back on formula. Remember at this stage you are still getting to know a new baby’s signals and cries. As feeding is often the number one concern of new breastfeeding mothers (especially those waiting for milk to come in), it is easy to project those concerns onto newborn cries, which are not likely about hunger in those first days. Colostrum is exactly what newborn babies need, which is exactly why it is what our bodies produce for them!
Recommended Resource: For great information and techniques on soothing a newborn and an insightful look at why babies cry (sometimes constantly), explore books/DVDs like “The Happiest Baby on the Block” by Harvey Karp.
4) Weight is not the only (or even most important) way to determine if your baby is getting enough to eat.
Yes, weight checks are a key factor in determining if your baby is getting enough and developing properly, and it is absolutely important to watch this, but not obsessively. When evaluating weight gain, also remember that babies come in all weights and sizes, and grow differently depending on where they start and their genetic makeup. Tracking wet diapers and bowel movements, watching development and interaction, and observing other body signs are just as, if not more, important. It is also worth knowing that those growth charts at the pediatrician’s office are largely tracking formula-fed babies, who grow on a different curve than exclusively breastfed children.
Recommended Resources: Some of my favorite online guides for determining if a baby is growing properly include “Look at the Baby, Not the Scale” by Dr. Jay Gordon, “How to Tell if Your Baby is Getting Enough to Eat” from The Pump Station (my personal lactation consultants who helped me when my first daughter WASN’T getting enough) and “Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk” by Dr. Jack Newman. Also helpful are the growth charts for breastfed babies and guidance on how to use them.
Breastfeeding can take some time to establish, and hiccups in the beginning like sore nipples, breast refusal, poor latch and even true supply problems can occur. However, with the assistance of a trained Lactation Consultant, most problems can be overcome with little or minimal supplementation and CAN result in successful, long-term breastfeeding. I’ll be writing on how to find and select breastfeeding support resources in your area in next week’s article.
Links for Recommended Resources and Referenced Materials:
• “Neonatal (Newborn) Weight Loss” by Lactation Consultant Marie Davis
• “Why We Don’t Routinely Supplement Breastfed Babies” by the Breastfeeding Committee of Saskatchewan (PDF)
• Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and Hospital Locator
• “Look at the Baby, Not the Scale” by Dr. Jay Gordon
• “How to Tell if Your Baby is Getting Enough to Eat” from The Pump Station
• “Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk” by Dr. Jack Newman
• Growth charts for breastfed babies and guidance on how to use them
• Books and DVDs by Harvey Karp
Disclaimer: All material on the BellaOnline.com Breastfeeding website is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Although every effort is made to provide accurate and up-to-date information as of the date of publication, the author is neither a medical doctor, health practitioner, nor a Certified Lactation Consultant. If you are concerned about your health, or that of your child, consult with your health care provider regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation. Information obtained from the Internet can never take the place of a personal consultation with a licensed health care provider, and neither the author nor BellaOnline.com assume any legal responsibility to update the information contained on this site or for any inaccurate or incorrect information contained on this site, and do not accept any responsibility for any decisions you may make as a result of the information contained on this site or in any referenced or linked materials written by others.