It is way too easy to question yourself when it comes to feeding your baby. Way too easy. Between well-meaning people (and some of them very, very dear to us) and not being able to measure just how much milk your baby is getting when they are latched (and also those 500 feedings per day), you may be left feeling really unsure about how breastfeeding is going or if your baby is even getting enough milk.
While you can’t really measure what’s going in there during a feeding without a super precise scale (and even if you DID have a scale, most people really don’t need them to make sure feeding is going well) there ARE some pretty great ways to know that this breastfeeding gig is an OK deal.
And before you read all of this, know that if you see signs that feeding isn’t going well, that doesn’t mean you aren’t the most spectacular parent on earth or that breastfeeding just won’t work for you. It means you’ve done an excellent job reading your baby, and you know when and how to ask for help.
1. Does breastfeeding hurt?
I know that many veteran breastfeeders will say that breastfeeding just hurts for the first couple of weeks and that there’s no way around it. And for a lot of people, it does! But it doesn’t have to hurt. In fact if you are having pain that is more than some initial soreness when you are feeding your baby, we can take a look at that. It can be as easy as finding a more comfortable position for your baby or helping them control the flow of your milk. The point is you do NOT have to suffer through terrible pain just so that you can breastfeed.
2. Is your baby peeing AND pooping?
When your baby is born, they will probably be weighed right around birth or within a day or so, and they might not have another weight check for a week, maybe more. So how will you know your baby is getting enough milk if you can’t be sure they are gaining weight just yet? Pee. And poop. A bunch of it.
Here is the thing though, it is a common misconception that if your baby is peeing, everything is good! That breastfed babies can go 10 days to 2 weeks without any poop and be perfectly fine. While some older babies may begin to space out their stools (and I would really like for them to continue stooling regularly), little babies, new babies need to poop. Peeing will tell you that your baby is hydrated, but pooping will tell you -hey, my baby is PROBABLY getting enough fat and calories to grow well.
So if your new baby is not pooping at least one time per day of life (once on day one, twice on day two, etc), and then at least 3-4 times once your milk increases in volume (around day 4 or so), let’s get that checked out. It is so much easier to fix things when we spot them early as opposed to waiting.
3. Is your baby gaining weight?
Babies need to gain weight. I hear in online groups all the time about how some babies are just small, and yes, that’s true! But even small babies need to follow their own growth curve. This means that babies need to gain weight. Not just a little over time, and not just maintain, but they should be gaining well.
What is normal gain? After an initial weight loss following birth (see an explanation below), your baby should be gaining steadily and back to birth weight by the time they are about 10 days old. Once your baby is gaining, they’ll continue to gain about 5 ounces per week or so (sometimes more) until they are closer to four months old.
In the early days your baby may lose a bit of weight following birth, and this can be OK. If they begin to lose too much weight, this is a sign that feeding may not be going as well as it could be. Again there might be a simple fix like adding in more feedings or adjusting baby’s latch, but this is a great time to find support so that you can meet your feeding goals. A 5-7% weight loss can be normal. 10% means let's pay attention to what’s going on here, and anything more says we need to see what baby is doing and make a feeding plan that works for the family.
4. Is your baby satisfied after feedings?
Does your baby wake to feed for you at least 8-10ish times per day? Does your baby actively drink while they are latched (not just kind of suckle there)? Does your baby have wakeful peaceful periods between feedings? Chances are, feedings are going well. Throw in some cluster feeding, usually in the evening hours, and you have a very normal baby.
Would you describe your baby’s feedings as long and endless? Does your baby latch on and fall asleep quickly? Do you have to always wake your baby to make sure they are getting in enough feedings per day? Feeding might be going OK, but I bet we can make some changes to make sure your baby is feeding effectively and feeding well.
5. Do you feel like something is just off?
Something changes when you become a parent. Parents are really, really good at reading their babies. If you don’t feel sure about how feeding is going, that’s OK. That’s why we have La Leche League and Breastfeeding USA and WIC peer counselors and Baby Café. That’s why we have IBCLCs and CLCs and breastfeeding helpers. You’ve got support here, and if you feel like something isn’t quite right, that’s your gut telling you it’s time for some help. Sometimes it’s just a quick call to know that something is super normal. Sometimes it’s to fix a feeding problem that’s there but that you just couldn't put your finger on. You’ve totally got this, and we’re here to help.