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Clocking Baby’s Feedings

Clocking Baby’s Feedings

by Wendy Wright

A year ago

You’ve been timing contractions. You wrote down the time of birth. You got to be skin-to-skin for the first hour. Now the nurse tells you to feed your baby for 10 minutes on each side. The staff wants to know how often your baby is feeding and for how many minutes. So you’re writing everything down – the time a feeding started, the time a feeding ended, wet diapers, dirty diapers, and more. But was your baby actually feeding for the whole 20 minutes, or just nibbling? How can you be sure that he got enough in that 5 minutes he was at the breast an hour ago? It’s time to put the clock away and follow your baby’s cues. This is hard for many of us … the clock informs everything we do … when we wake up, when we go to work, when we come home, when we eat, when we go to bed. But baby isn’t interested in the clock, and feeding by the clock can often undermine breastfeeding. Newborns need to eat often – 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. Mothers are often told baby should nurse every 1 ½ to 2 hours - which is timed from the start of one feeding to the start of the next. While this clock watching can be important for a baby who isn’t gaining weight, breastfeeding may be easier if you watch your baby for early hunger cues and get him to the breast anytime he shows signs that he might want to eat, even if it’s only been a short time since the last feeding. There may be times of day when your baby sleeps for a longer stretch, and times when he wants to nurse nearly non-stop. In fact, most newborns ‘cluster’ their feedings. As he gets more coordinated and his stomach starts to grow, your baby will eventually start to fall into more of a pattern with his feedings. But even some older babies continue to want to nurse every couple of hours. Following his cues will ensure a plentiful supply and a satisfied baby. If you’re following your baby’s cues for how often and how long to nurse, the next piece of the puzzle is knowing that he’s actually feeding (rather than just pacifying at the breast). Learning to recognize signs of milk transfer is an essential skill. Some babies can get what they need in very few minutes, while others might need twice the amount of time to take half the amount of breastmilk. Some babies will seem to be feeding, when most of their time at the breast is simply non-nutritive – or comfort – sucking. You should see or hear swallows when he’s feeding – these may sound like soft, rhythmic ‘kah’ sounds or may sound like gulping, or you may just see them as pauses mid-suck as he swallows mouthfuls of milk. Your breasts should feel fuller before and softer afterwards, especially in the early weeks of breastfeeding. Your baby should have at least 5 wet diapers each day and at least 3 yellow bowel movements per day (though some babies begin to have fewer bowel movements after the first month or so of life). Your baby should be gaining about 1 ounce per day after regaining birthweight. All of these signs will show baby is getting enough no matter how many minutes he nurses. Once your milk supply becomes established and your baby gets the hang of feeding, the average is about 16 minutes per side for each feeding (sound like a familiar number?). There may be times of day when he wants both breasts, and times when he only wants only one. There may be shorter feedings and longer feedings – babies are just like the rest of us where sometimes we want a snack and sometimes we want a large meal. Your milk supply continues to be dependent on milk removal, no matter how old your baby. The amount of time a mom can go between feedings and maintain the same milk supply is individual for each woman. Some women have a larger storage capacity and can go longer between feedings. Other moms have a smaller storage capacity and need to feed frequently to avoid a dip in supply. The amount of milk your body can store is not necessarily related to breast size. If you are scheduling feedings – maybe you’re watching the clock and feeding your baby on an every three hour schedule – your supply could drop. Again, watch your baby rather than the clock, and your supply should even out to exactly match his needs. Trusting your body and your baby rather than the clock can be a challenge for some moms. But seeing a healthy, thriving baby growing on your breastmilk alone can be a good reminder that not everything needs to be timed!


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