There is a heartbreaking article going around right now about a mother who attempted to exclusively breastfeed her child but wasn’t producing enough milk, causing the child to die from dehydration. Reading articles like this is heartbreaking, but the awareness that they raise is powerful.
While breast milk is absolutely the most nutritious thing to feed your child, having a child that is well fed is far more important. For many women, breastfeeding is difficult or even impossible. Whether it’s because their milk doesn’t come in until late or dries up for some reason, these women are thankful that modern formula offers a healthy and nutritious alternative to breast milk. For others, formula feeding allows them to get a full night’s sleep while another family member handles the night feedings. Using a combination of breast milk and formula allows some mothers to go back to work or take a break to take care of themselves.
Being a new parent is hard enough, but the pressure from doctors, family, friends, and advisers can be overwhelming and confusing. You’ll hear how you should breastfeed, how you should put your child on a schedule right way, and how you should help them go to sleep. All the advice is backed by science or experience and is, of course, well meant.
So the first lesson you need to learn as a parent is that it’s your job to filter through all the options and decide what is best for you and your child. If your milk comes right in and your child is 100% breast fed, great. If not, that’s perfectly OK. A fed and healthy child is the goal. Find the mix that works for you and your child.
If you’re worried about whether your child is getting enough milk, especially in the early days when it’s hard to tell, then talk to a pediatrician or lactation consultant. They can help you weigh your child before and after feeding to determine how much milk they’re ingesting. You should also make sure your baby is eating regularly and sleeping well. For newborns, this means they should eat everyone one to three hours and nap only for only three hours at a time during the day. If your baby is feeding well during the day, letting them sleep a little longer at night is ok.
While you’re breastfeeding, listen to make sure they’re swallowing. It may be soft, but you should hear some liquid going down. After they’ve finished, check to see if your breasts feel lighter. If they’re still full, your child may not be getting enough.
Another way to make sure your newborn is eating enough is to track how many times you have to change their diaper. Depending on whether you’re using disposable or cloth nappies, another debate in itself, you should be changing five to eight wet diapers and two to four dirty diapers per day.
The biggest indication may be your child. If, like the baby in the article, they feed constantly and otherwise cry inconsolably, this may be an indication that something is wrong. If your child is content between feedings, they’re probably eating enough.
Whatever you decide to do, you’re likely going to have critics and people putting pressure on you to do something else. None of this well-meaning advice makes being a new mother any easier. Having the confidence to do what you think is right for your child is the first step towards becoming the best parent you can be.