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Breastfeeding and baby basics

Mother breastfeeding baby

Learning the facts about newborns and being a new mom is important. Understanding how your body and your newborn baby work together is useful in two ways. First, before you have your baby, these facts might help you make the decision to breastfeed. Then, during those first few days and weeks when you are learning to breastfeed, remembering these facts can help get you through the rough patches. When you know what to expect beforehand, you can sidestep common pitfalls and have more confidence in your ability to breastfeed. Here is what every mom-to-be needs to know about the mom-baby connection.

Your baby was born to breastfeed.

Within a few minutes of being born, babies will automatically look to get milk from their mother's breast. Babies don't need to learn how to latch — it's Mom who may need some training. The challenge as a new mom is learning how to tell the difference between a baby who is hungry and one who is tired or just uncomfortable. Breastfeeding on cue will help you recognize some of your baby's hunger signs, such as lip smacking and fist gnawing. When in doubt, always offer the breast. A baby who isn't hungry won't eat. Think of breastfeeding like a dance and let your baby lead. Be patient. Keep trying. You will get it.

Your baby's tummy is tiny. 

At birth, your baby's tummy can hold only about one or two teaspoons. At one week old, your baby's stomach expands to somewhere around two ounces — about the size of an almond. Newborns typically lose a little weight in the first few days after being born. To make sure everything is on track with your baby's growth, have the first visit with your baby's doctor three to five days after coming home from the hospital. Meanwhile, by keeping a record of your baby's dirty diapers and feedings, you can tell whether your baby is eating enough. Use the feeding and dirty diaper charts below.

Do not give cereal to babies less than six months old, and don't supplement with formula without checking with your baby's health care provider. Remember, a baby's digestive system is still undeveloped, so you don't want to cause any unnecessary tummy troubles.

How to check if your baby is eating enough

Use both charts to keep track of how often you are feeding your baby and changing diapers. Share completed charts with your doctor or nurse during checkups.

Dirty diaper chart — Keep track of how many wet and/or dirty diapers your baby has each day. (PDF file, 325 KB)

Feeding chart — As you breastfeed on demand, keep track of when and how often your baby is nursing. (PDF file, 110 KB)

Your breast milk is unique. 

Unlike formula, your breast milk adjusts according to your baby's needs and is easy to digest. Also, there's no weighing, measuring, or warming with breast milk. So you don't have to obsess over how many ounces your baby is drinking. Just breastfeed as often as possible, whenever your baby shows signs of hunger. In the first few days of life, your colostrum (the thick golden liquid that your breasts produce) provides all the nutrients your baby needs. And the volume of your breast milk grows along with your baby's needs in the following weeks and months. It's very rare that a mom doesn't make enough milk to feed her baby, so trust your body. (Read more about making plenty of milk.)

Your baby likes your skin on his or her skin. 

In those first few weeks, newborns don't need all those cute little outfits. Skin-to-skin contact is important for your newborn's health and has emotional and bonding benefits for both parents. It's good to get Dad involved. For example, ask him to hold the undressed baby on his bare chest, maybe even right after a feeding. There's no such thing as spoiling a newborn, so hold your baby as often as you like.

Your baby likes to be snug. 

Hold your baby close to your body when breastfeeding, with your baby's belly button facing toward you, not toward the ceiling. For large-breasted women, if your baby has trouble reaching your nipple when placed against your chest, try the football hold or side-lying positions until you find a position that's comfortable for both of you. (Read more about breastfeeding holds.)

Your baby will cry. 

Crying is how babies communicate. But babies don't cry just because they're hungry. They also cry when they're sleepy, gassy, or sick; have a dirty diaper; or just need to be held. Crying out of hunger is the last straw for a baby, who is just letting you know that Mom is late for a meal. It's always harder to nurse a baby who is crying and wound up, but you'll soon figure out your baby's nursing patterns and hunger cues so you can keep those hunger tears in check. (Note: If your baby is crying excessively, to the point of vomiting and weight loss, it could be colic. As always, check with your baby's doctor or nurse.)

Your baby needs sleep (and so do you!) 

Babies can't tell time. In the first few weeks, there's no such thing as a baby “sleeping pattern.” Instead, new babies go through many little bursts of being awake and asleep throughout the day and night. Often, there are just a few long stretches of sleep. During those weeks, most of your baby's awake time is spent feeding. So, as long as your baby has plenty of urine and stool output, you only need to wake your baby to feed if it's been longer than four hours since the last feeding. If your breasts get very full, especially at night, try expressing some milk either by hand or with a breast pump. And remember to sleep when the baby sleeps. Your sleep is important too!

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Content last updated: April 10, 2013.

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