Babies come with a lot of questions — starting with how to feed them. Get answers to the most common queries mothers have about nursing their newborns.
by Featured Provider Amy McEntaffer on Monday, May 17, 2021
After you give birth to your bundle of joy, you immediately get to bond and enjoy your first moments together. Shortly thereafter, the responsibilities of motherhood kick in. Away from the nourishment in your womb, the first cries of hunger come quickly.
It’s time to feed your baby.
Even if you’ve done all your homework, there’s still a learning curve — for both of you. You’ll have stops, starts and plenty of questions. And that’s completely normal.
These are just the first of many questions you’ll have in motherhood.
1. What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is a personal decision. You can nourish your newborn with formula. But breast milk is produced for this sole purpose, so it carries the essential nutrients your baby needs to grow.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and World Health Organization recommend breastfeeding because the medical evidence shows a number of benefits for mom and baby.
How Your Baby Benefits
Baby formula is designed to mimic breast milk. But you can’t beat the real thing. While formula is supplemented with the essential nutrients your baby needs, research shows that breast milk offers several additional advantages:
- It’s easier on the tummy.
- Antibodies passed from you to your child help build her immune system and protect from illnesses.
- Your baby will have a lower risk of a variety of health issues like type 2 diabetes, obesity, allergies, SIDS, asthma and ear infections.
Why You Benefit Too
Feeding time is bonding time. You have your child in your arms multiple times a day for some one-on-one interaction. In addition to the emotional bond you’ll create, breastfeeding provides benefits that help your short-term recovery and long-term health:
- It’s a stress reducer.
- You’re at a lower risk of getting postpartum depression now and ovarian and breast cancer later.
- You recover from pregnancy and childbirth quicker because a hormone released during breastfeeding helps ease the bleeding and returns your uterus to normal size.
Not only that but you save time and money — two things you’ll have less of with a new baby around.
2. How do you actually breastfeed a newborn?
Sure, breastfeeding is a natural process. But that doesn’t mean it always comes naturally to you or baby. You both have some learning to do.
The first step is getting your baby to latch on to your breast so they can feed properly. When your baby opens her mouth, bring her to your breast. It’s a good latch if your baby’s nose and chin touch your breast and her tongue pulls your breast deeper into her mouth.
Positioning is also important. You don’t know it yet but your baby may have a preference for how they like to eat. A good breastfeeding position keeps your child’s head, neck and back in a straight line. Test out the four main breastfeeding holds to see what works best:
- Cradle hold – Hold baby in front of your body using the arm that’s on the same side as the nursing breast.
- Cross-cradle hold – Support your baby in the same position but use the opposite arm.
- Clutch hold (football hold) – Tuck your baby under your arm and hold her like a football on the side she’ll be nursing from.
- Side-lying hold – Lie down on your side, face-to-face with your baby, and support her with one hand.
3. How much should my baby eat?
A lot! Newborn babies can eat up to 12 times a day. That’s every two hours. At times, it can feel like you’re always nursing.
You don’t need to set an alarm or a timer during nursing sessions though. Your child will let you know when they’re ready and when they’re done. You know it’s time to eat when he gets restless or starts to make sucking motions before he’s in your arms.
When you’re nursing, time and volume don’t matter much either. Some babies eat more. Some take longer to do so. You can’t really gauge volume well without a bottle anyway. Instead, look for these other signs that your baby is getting enough to eat:
- He’s happy between feedings!
- You’re changing six or more wet diapers and three to four poopy ones every day after the first week.
- Your breasts feel softer and emptier after nursing.
- You’re nursing at least eight times in a 24-hour period.
- He’s growing at a healthy clip, showing weight gain at well child visits with your pediatrician.
4. How often should you pump?
At some point, you’ll be back to work or otherwise away from your baby. Since you won’t be around to nurse her, you’ll have to invest in a breast pump to keep up your milk production and have a stash of breast milk to nourish your baby.
You can time your pumping schedule to your baby’s normal feeding schedule to stick with the routine. Or you can do whatever works for you at the office. As long as you’re able to produce 25 to 35 ounces of breast milk a day, either exclusively through pumping or a mix of breastfeeding and pumping, you’ll have enough for your child.
Pumping after breastfeeding empties your breasts and helps you stockpile milk for your time away from baby. As long as you finish pumping at least an hour before the next feeding, you should have plenty of milk for when your baby is hungry.
How to Store Breast Milk
With that extra supply of milk, you have to have proper storage. You can store it in breast milk bags or bottles. Like any other food, it has a shelf life. And that changes depending on how you preserve it:
- Countertop – Warm breast milk can keep for up to four hours at room temperature. If the bottle goes unused in that time, throw it out.
- Refrigerator – Place your breast milk in a sealed bottle or bag in the fridge. It says fresh for up to four days.
- Freezer – Breast milk can be frozen and heated when you need it. It can keep in your freezer for up to a year but it’s best if you use it before six months.
5. How long do I need to breastfeed my baby?
It’s up to you. Just as breastfeeding is a personal choice, so is how long you do it. The AAP recommends that you exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of your baby’s life. At that age, you’ll start introducing foods but you should still continue nursing until your child’s first birthday. You can continue on after that if you so choose.
6. How many calories does breastfeeding burn?
Breastfeeding is not a weight loss plan. But it sure can help you shed that baby weight after pregnancy. All those feedings add up and you can burn 200 to 500 calories a day through breastfeeding alone.
Exercise and diet are the real keys to weight loss. While it can be hard to find the time to exercise after having a baby, getting out and working out can help boost your mood and your energy. Pregnancy forces you to be conscious of what you’re putting in your body because it affects the body. The same is true for breastfeeding. The baby eats what you do.
Eat a healthy diet to supply yourself and your baby with the right nutrients. You can worry less about caffeine and alcohol than you did during pregnancy. There is no evidence to suggest consuming caffeine while breastfeeding affects a baby’s sleep. A cup of coffee or two to help stay alert won’t hurt.
Alcohol, on the other hand, still has some serious effects. It’s always safest to abstain from drinking while breastfeeding. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moderate drinking is still safe. If you choose to have a drink, wait a couple of hours before nursing to be safe. It’ll give your body time to metabolize the alcohol. If you have more than one drink, it can take much longer and you should instead feed your baby clean breast milk from your refrigerated or frozen supply.
7. What if breastfeeding hurts?
It’s not always comfortable. Sometimes, it can be downright painful. Most issues are normal parts of breastfeeding that you’re likely to experience at one point or another, including:
- Mild tenderness – Your breasts and nipples may be tender from all the nursing, especially in the first few weeks.
- Breast engorgement – When your breasts are too full of milk, they may hurt. Nursing or pumping is the only source of relief.
- Cracked nipples – Your nipples may be more than tender. They become irritated and dry, which leads to cracking. It usually improves over time but there are creams and ointments you can apply that are safe for nursing babies.
Breast infections are also normal. The symptoms can bring more than pain and should be treated right away. Thrush and mastitis are the two most common infections associated with breastfeeding.
Thrush is a fungal or yeast infection that spreads in moist, dark environments. The pain is severe. Your areolas swell, turn red, become inflamed and may even blister. Mastitis is a bacterial infection of the breast tissue that causes fevers and pain. You may think you have the flu but the redness and pain in the breasts are a giveaway that it’s an infection. Mastitis requires an antibiotic that is safe for breastfeeding, so be sure to contact your doctor if you think you have it.
It may hurt breastfeeding with thrush or mastitis, but it’s still recommended. Since you and your baby share antibodies, when you get treatment, she does too. Mastitis results from clogged milk ducts so nursing actually gets to the root of the problem to relieve your issues.
When you have more questions, you have breastfeeding support.
You probably heard every pregnancy is different. That doesn’t suddenly change after childbirth. Even moms who’ve been through it before experience troubles with breastfeeding or have a host of new questions they never thought to ask the first time around.
Your health care team is your resource. Talk to your pediatrician, your primary care provider or even your OB/GYN at your six-week check-up. They can give you reassurance, provide resources or line up additional support to help you breastfeed successfully. Amy McEntaffer, MD, an OB/GYN at The Iowa Clinic's West Des Moines location, has encouraging advice for new moms: “In the end, the best feeding solution is the one that works for you and your baby, whether that’s breastfeeding or formula. Caring for a newborn is hard work. Your care team understands that you’re doing your best, and we’re here to support you."