If your baby is very sleepy or jaundiced or they are any other concerns, your midwife might suggest you offer the breast or encourage your baby to feed even if they aren’t showing obvious signs. Frequent feeding helps your supply, gives baby energy and helps them to poo often which is a sign everything is going well. As your baby gets older, you might notice that they fall into a pattern of feeding less often and things are more predictable but every baby is different. Babies might want to come to breast more often if it’s a warm day or if they are looking for a cuddle. Time at the breast is more than a food delivery system – it’s a drink but it’s how we nurture and calm our new babies.
As you and your baby get to know each other, you will recognize behavioural cues as well as feeding cues. Remember you can’t overfeed or ‘spoil’ a breastfed baby and as time goes on you will be really glad that you can provide comfort for your baby at any time by simply offering your breast. The term ‘responsive feeding’ is used to describe this approach and it also means that you can offer a breastfeed when it suits you too, such as before you do the school run or when you have one to one time with your baby when other children at nursery/school. Think of it as a lovely partnership between you and your baby.
Giving lots of short feeds in the early days is really important because you want to establish a good milk supply. Frequent feeding gives your body the message that it needs to make milk. Offering your baby your breast also provides them with a source of comfort and security which is really important for their ongoing brain development and the development of your loving relationship.
UNICEF Baby Friendly encourages mums to be attentive to the signals their babies give when it comes to feeding. These are known as feeding cues. Often people think that babies cry when they’re hungry, but actually, they give lots of other little signs to indicate they’re due a feed before they start to cry.
Your baby will fidget around, open her mouth and and lick her lips as she looks for the breast, or she might suck on her blanket or a finger. You’ll quickly start to recognise your baby’s cues and she’ll gradually develop her own feeding pattern. All babies are different – some might continue with frequent feeds and some might start to space their feeds out a little bit. It’s all very normal behaviour. Remember you can’t spoil or overfeed a breastfed baby and the more often you cuddle your baby to your breast the better it will be for your milk supply, their nutrition and their brain development and the development of your loving relationship.
Lots of babies have growth spurts in the first few weeks, which is when your breasts are learning to become super-efficient. As weeks go by, your breasts might feel softer or smaller but it’s not because your milk supply has dried up – to the contrary, your body has finally mastered the ‘supply and demand’ scenario and is producing exactly the right amount to milk to satisfy your growing baby’s needs. The result is a baby who is happily gaining weight and a mum who (slowly) begins to recognise her breasts as her own once again! If you’re worried your baby isn’t gaining weight, however, visit your local breastfeeding drop-in clinic for peace of mind. If he’s putting on enough weight, he’s feeding properly.
Growth spurts and the extra feeds that come with them usually only last for 24 or 48 hours, after which everything settles down again. It can often be a time when baby is more unsettled and parents worry something is wrong with their milk supply. In fact, baby is putting in an order for future production and helping your breasts to continue to meet their needs in the future.
‘Cluster feeds’ are also very normal for growing babies. It’s a term that describes a particular time of day (often late afternoon or early evening) during which babies want lots of feeds, very close together.
Why does it happen? Nobody really knows, and some mums sometimes worry that their milk can’t be satisfying their babies if they want to feed again so quickly. However, that’s unlikely to be the case. The clever thing about cluster feeding is that if your baby is doing this in the evening, it means that you might have a slightly longer sleep at night.
After a straightforward birth, most babies are very alert and it’s really helpful to let your baby try to breastfeed within an hour of the birth, or as soon as you can.
Initially, you should offer your baby frequent breastfeeds. This helps to establish breastfeeding and stimulate milk production.
As your baby gets older you may notice that she settles into her own pattern where she only feeds every 2-3 hours.
Her feeds will probably become a bit easier as she becomes more efficient at feeding.