As you sit down to breastfeed your baby for the nth time in the last 24 hours, at some point someone is bound to suggest at least one of these unhelpful comments:
“Surely he cannot be hungry again?”
“Perhaps your milk is too watery?”
“Are you sure you have enough milk?”
They can rattle your breastfeeding confidence, especially if you are a first time mother.
To prevent this from happening, here are some essential breastfeeding facts to help you confidently answer the question, ‘is my baby hungry?’
How Often Do Babies Feed?
Of course, it is very normal for breastfeed babies to feed 8-12 (or more) times every 24 hours. Particularly for a young baby, this typically means feeding every 2 to 3 hours, with one longer stretch in between feeds (up to about 5 hours) and one or two periods where they cluster feed. Time between feeds is counted from when the last feed began.
How Do You Know When Your Baby Wants To Feed?
Your baby shows she wants to feed when she shows feeding cues. Early feeding cues include when a baby:
- Turns head to side with open mouth
- Licks lips
- Sticks tongue in/out
- Has elbows bent up, hands clenched over chest and fingers/hands to mouth
- Fusses, squirms and makes squeaky noises
Feeding your baby when she is showing these early feeding cues will help her feed better and get what she needs.
It’s Important To Understand: Supply = Demand
In the early weeks, mothers tend to make more milk than their baby drinks due to the high hormonal drive pushing milk production.
After this time, this high hormonal drive ceases, and milk production is controlled entirely within the breast on a supply-equals-demand basis. When milk is removed from the breast (the ‘demand’), it stimulates the breasts to make more milk (the ‘supply’).
After the early weeks, a mother’s breastmilk supply usually settles down to match her baby’s needs. Many mothers worry about their supply around this time because their breasts start to feel comfortable and soft. If you had previously felt your let-down reflex, you may begin to feel it less or not at all. If you express, you may notice that you are not getting as much milk. These changes are all perfectly normal. They just mean that your body has figured out how much breastmilk is being removed from the breasts and is no longer making too much.
Know That A Breastfeeding Mother’s Breasts Are Never Empty
It’s important not to wait for your breasts to ‘fill’ before feeding your baby. A breastfeeding mother’s breasts are never completely empty. Breastmilk is continually being made.
The more drained a breast is, the faster the milk is made. The less drained a breast is, the slower the milk made. The reason for this is thought to be due to a small protein called Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation (FIL) in breastmilk. Milk production slows when the breast is less drained (and more FIL is present), and speeds up when the breast is more drained (and less FIL is present). Breastfeeding your baby whenever she wants to, helps ensure you make the amount of milk to suit your baby.
Also, the more drained a breast is, the greater the concentration of higher-calorie/higher fat-rich milk in that breast. The less drained a breast is, the greater the concentration of lower-fat/lower-calorie milk in that breast.
There is typically more breastmilk in a mother’s breasts in the morning, and gradually less as the day goes on. The fat content typically increases as the day progresses. These observations are consistent with a fairly typical breastfeeding pattern of babies, whereby a baby gradually decreases the time between breastfeeds as the day progresses and has a longer sleep period at night.
To help ensure at least one breast is well drained at every second feed, it is helpful to alternate from which breast you begin a feed. This can help prevent blocked duct(s) or mastitis.
Feeding When Your Baby Wants A Feed Is Normal and Natural
Breastfeeding is more than just the perfect nutrition; it is also very nurturing for a baby. So if your baby wants to breastfeed due to whatever reason, this is perfectly normal and natural. When you breastfeed your baby whenever she wants to, you are not teaching her a bad habit; you are teaching her that you are there for her when she needs you… and that’s a wonderful thing.