Mama, set the clock down and walk away slowly. Please, I am begging here. Just stop with the timed feedings and the constant clock watching or you’re going to drive yourself mad. (Ask me how I know…) I know that in the hospital you likely had to time feedings. I know that your pediatrician is most likely asking you how often your little is nursing and for how long on each side, maybe even going so far as to require that you nurse a set amount of time per breast. But hear me out here… if you do a little research you will find that timed feeds are not only unnecessary, they are often harmful to the breastfeeding relationship. Babies are born with instincts. The breastfeeding relationship is amazing and the benefits for both Mom and baby are mind blowing. Trust your body, and trust your baby. Your baby may nurse for 5 minutes at each breast and be satisfied for 3 hours! Your baby may nurse for 20 minutes at each breast and then nurse again 2 hours later (or less!). Babies nurse for so many more reasons than hunger alone, and the bottom line is that your baby will let you know what he or she needs. Your baby may cluster feed in the beginning and that cluster feeding may last weeks and then re-emerge with growth spurts – NORMAL. Baby may wake every two hours all through the night to feed – NORMAL. Baby may go 4 hours between one nursing session and then only an hour and a half between the next – NORMAL. Let your baby be your guide. Do yourself a favor and set the clock aside.
Before we dive in on this one let me just say, there ARE legitimate indications and warning signs that your little one may not, in fact, be getting enough breastmilk. But the majority of the time your body is doing exactly what it was designed to do and providing exactly the amount your baby needs (especially if you are letting baby take the lead as explained in Myth #1). It is important to remember that pump output, feeding frequency, fussiness, and soft breasts are NOT good indicators of milk supply! Many well-intentioned husbands, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, friends, and even pediatricians suggest formula supplementation as the answer to breastfeeding woes. Listen here mamas, there is nothing wrong with formula (I nursed and supplemented my first for the first six months of his life), but if you do wish to continue breastfeeding, supplementing can certainly hinder you from reaching that goal.
The “top off trap” is real: baby nurses, you give formula to “top off” baby, baby stays fuller for longer due to formula being digested more slowly, baby goes longer between nursing sessions, breasts aren’t emptied soon enough signaling body to produce less milk, baby gets less from breast, is still hungry afterwards, you top off with more formula and the cycle continues. Moms, there is not a dang thing wrong with supplementing. There’s nothing wrong with formula, either. But if you are trying to succeed at exclusively breastfeeding then know this: usually supplementation leads to a lessening of milk supply and can hinder your breastfeeding goals. Trust your baby. Trust your body. If your little one is having adequate diaper output and weight gain, chances are he or she is getting exactly the right amount!
We are surrounded by well-intentioned people, many of whom believe that the only reason a baby could possibly be crying is because baby is hungry. Mama, hunger is not always the answer! Baby could actually be over-full, baby could have gas, baby could be tired, baby could be uncomfortable in baby clothes, baby could be wanting to be held a certain way… baby could be crying for a million different reasons, so you get the gist. Now, don’t hesitate to put that baby back on the boob if it satisfies and calms, but don’t be afraid to explore other things, too! With my second child it was bouncing. She scream-cried for her first 9 weeks of life because, sadly, she had an un-diagnosed milk protein allergy. The ONLY thing that calmed her besides nursing was constant bouncing. Like, CONSTANT BOUNCING. My husband brought home a yoga ball. Magical. That thing was magical. Yoga ball and boobies were the only things that ever worked in those early weeks to soothe her. My point is: the well-intentioned input from others about how baby MUST be hungry if he or she is crying (as if we don’t fret enough about starving our child) often leads to the introduction of supplementation, which, as we discussed in Myth #2, can harm your breastfeeding relationship.
The amount of breastmilk you are able to pump does not actually indicate how much you are producing. Some women simply do not respond well to a pump. In fact, for many women it takes practice with a breast pump to begin effectively extracting your breastmilk. Typically, babies get far more milk than a pump is able. (I’ve read before that pumps only extract 60% of milk! I can’t find that info again so I can’t link it here, but if that’s even close to true we definitely cannot trust a pump as an indication of milk supply.) Moreover, moms who breastfeed and also pump (i.e. are not exclusively pumping) tend to pump an average of 1-3 ounces COMBINED from each breast. All the times I cried over how “little” I had managed to pump with my first were for nothing… I was actually pumping a perfectly normal amount! Go figure. If you don’t absolutely need to pump, my personal advice is to just nurse, nurse and nurse some more. You don’t need a pump to tell you if you are producing “enough” breastmilk, and most often it’s a liar, anyhow!
With my first I remember receiving this advice, sadly. I thought that my breasts didn’t have “enough” milk in them unless they “felt full.” So I tried to stretch out the time between nursing sessions to give them time to “fill up.” This could not be further from the truth. First, nursing breasts always have milk in them. Always. They’re never fully tapped out as your body continually produces milk. You’re like a human milk fountain right now. It’s always flowing, and it’s always in there! It may take longer for your little one to get your milk to let down (aka come out) but it’s in there. Also, breasts don’t always “feel” full! In fact, once your milk regulates, they may not feel full at all. With my second I rarely, if ever, felt like my breasts were heavy and full. And she nursed exclusively for 12 months. Listen closely here, all stretching feedings out will do is LESSEN YOUR MILK SUPPLY. Yes, it actually DECREASES production! Most women have a hard enough time feeling like they aren’t producing enough to meet their baby’s needs. Breastfeeding is a supply and demand game. The more milk is extracted from your body the more milk your body will produce. Let that baby nurse as often as he or she would like!
Sweet mama, breastfeeding is HARD. Like, really hard! I always tell people that after I gave birth I thought, “That is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life,” … and then I started breastfeeding. That’s when I realized how wrong I was. Nursing was most definitely the hardest thing I had ever done. But I did it. I’m so proud that I made it work. And it was worth every minute. Hang in there, it WILL get better and you are doing a great job!