How long should each breastfeeding session last? Do you have to give water or other liquids to a baby who is breastfeeding? Should I wake up the baby to eat? If you are a new mom, you've probably asked yourself these questions on more than one occasion because breastfeeding, along with co-sleeping, is one of the most-debated topics of motherhood. The truth is that breastfeeding has a host of benefits for both mother and baby. In addition to the bonding that occurs with the babies, breastfeeding benefits include protecting the child from infections and reducing the risk of illnesses like diabetes.
Mom also gets some positive effects, including a reduced risk of diseases such as breast cancer. Once you've decided to breastfeed, what worries many parents is knowing whether the baby is reacting in the right way – although there are no set rules on what's right or wrong. Studies have show that what is considered "normal" covers a wide range of possibilites, all that respond to the baby's needs. To help make sure that breastfeeding doesn't add to your list of concerns as a new mother, Medela lactation consultant Montse Robles has some guidelines to make things easier.
1. There's not a fixed number of times to breastfeed per day
The first thing to keep in mind is that it will be the baby who will mark the rhythm of feeds, as breastfeeding is on demand – its the baby who will decide when it's time to eat! According to experts, the number of feeds usually ranges between four and 13, although that number will depend on how much the baby eats each time. You also don't need to worry about how much time the baby suckles. There are some little ones who can take up to an hour, but those children are often the ones who move away once they are full. That's why there's no sense in comparing babies, it doesn't matter if your child wants to feed often, or in shorter spurts. What matters is that the baby is growing and gaining weight as s/he should. Also keep in mind that due to metabolism, boys tend to ingest more than girls. You also shouldn't worry that your child will sleep too much and not wake up to eat, as that will be compensated by the baby taking longer feeds.
2. Don't worry about running out of milk
A mother's milk production takes a few weeks to regulate itself, so there is nothing to worry about if you have some ups and downs at first. In any case, keep in mind that your milk production will be greater than the baby will demand. Babies consume approximately 67% of milk produced during a feed, yet there are a number of signs that indicate that the baby is drinking enough milk, for example, producing two to five stools every 24 hours, gaining between 120-210 grams per week and that you can hear them sucking and swallowing during the feed.
3. Alternating breasts is not necessary
Although it is advisable to alternate the breasts for each feed to avoid the discomfort due to milk accumulation, it is not an absolute requirement. In fact, only 30% of infants are exclusively breast fed, and babies have different patterns of breastfeeding behavior.
4. Pumping is also an option
There is nothing that should prevent combining breast and bottle feeding. In fact, today's bottles are better designed than ever, mimicking the shape and functionality of the nipple, allowing the baby to suck in the same way as if it were the breast. Bottle feeding is also useful for those times when you cannot feed the baby yourself, or even if you would like to pump in order to reduce the breast discomfort that is caused by the accumulation of milk.
5. Six months is key
Breastmilk is all your child needs during the first six months of life. After six months, you can combine breastfeeding with water or diluted fruit juice. When it comes to introducing solids into your baby's diet, s/he will likely give you signs of being prepared. For example, the baby holding up his/her head, sitting without assistance or opening up his/her mouth when food is offered.