SingaporeMotherhood | Baby & Toddler

April 2013

Breastfeeding Your Newborn: Frequent Feeding

New breastfeeding mothers often wonder about the frequency of feedings. Find out why a newborn needs to breastfeed often during the early days after birth, and how your milk supply benefits.

Transition to the Outside World

Your body was your baby’s nest throughout pregnancy. In the first weeks after birth, your baby is adjusting to life outside the womb. Life is now filled with new sounds, smells and sensations. When he breastfeeds, your baby is surrounded by your closeness and your familiar smell. He feels the security of being held in your embrace. So he breastfeeds often. Breastfeeding helps to ease his transition from womb to world.

Newborn Stomachs

Consider the size of a newborn’s stomach after birth:

Day 1 – size of a marble, 5-7ml
Day 3 – size of a golf ball, 22-27ml
Day 10 – size of a large chicken egg, 60-81ml

It is apparent that the amounts of colostrum, the first milk produced in the days after birth, are perfectly matched to your infant’s stomach size. So there is no need to worry unnecessarily if there does not appear to be much colostrum. Your baby is filling his tummy according to his physiology, and frequent feeding enables him to do this perfectly.

Your Breast Storage Capacity

A mother’s breast storage capacity also determines how often her baby will need to feed. Nancy Mohrbacher, a lactation consultant and author of breastfeeding guides, defines breast storage capacity as the amount of milk in a mother’s breasts when they are at maximum fullness.

Storage capacity varies significantly among mothers, and is determined by the amount of glands within the breast, rather than its external size. Mothers with smaller storage capacities will need to breastfeed more frequently as their babies will have smaller meals at each feeding. Your individual storage capacity influences your baby’s breastfeeding pattern.

Milk Production in the Early Days

In late pregnancy and immediately after birth, milk production is regulated by your hormone levels. An increase in breastmilk secretion, also known as your milk ‘coming in’, usually occurs on over days three to five.

That is why new mothers are often encouraged to put their newborn to the breast within half an hour after birth. Lactation consultant and midwife Betty Lee explains, “This helps to stimulate the hormone, prolactin, which is responsible for milk production.”

Frequent sucking and nipple stimulation also raise prolactin levels. This will help your milk to ‘come in’ earlier. Betty adds, “With frequent feeding, your oxytocin levels rise, facilitating milk ejection and milk flow from the breast.” Hence, breastfeeding your newborn frequently also means that the milk being produced in large volumes will be removed comfortably, relieving breast fullness.

Feed Often Early On For More Milk Later

In the early weeks, your body is laying out prolactin receptors in your breasts. In their book Making More Milk, lactation consultants West and Marasco say that the development of these receptors is determined by how often your baby breastfeeds in the early weeks. They go on to say that good receptor development supports long-term milk production.

Milk Production in the First Weeks

After your breastmilk ‘comes in’, the production of breastmilk depends largely on milk being removed from the breast. If milk accumulates in the breast, your body receives the signal to slow down production.

Frequent Feeding & Nipple Soreness?

Mothers sometimes wonder whether frequent breastfeeding contributes to nipple soreness. However, breastfeeding experts say that nipple soreness is caused by poor latching. Of course, frequent sucking with a poor latch causes more soreness than less frequent sucking with the same poor latch.

close-up portrait of mother breast feeding her baby infant

Night Feedings

At night, your prolactin levels are higher as you sleep. Your biological response to your baby’s sucking stimulation is also greater. Letdown occurs and milk flows more easily. This is why night feedings promote milk production.

However, some mothers can be so tired that their milk supplies are affected, shares Ms Lee. It is thus helpful for mothers to find creative ways to rest while meeting their baby’s needs.

This may mean experimenting with breastfeeding while lying sideways or laid-back breastfeeding. It could involve sleeping arrangements that have your newborn closer to you in a co-sleeper or a bedside crib. It could also be asking helpers to change diapers or burp your baby while you do the actual breastfeeding, maximising your sleeptime.

Foremilk & Hindmilk Balance

Foremilk is the watery breastmilk that your baby receives at the beginning of a breastfeed. As breastfeeding progresses, the fat globules that had previously adhered to the sides of the ducts further back in the breast are washed back into the milk, resulting in a higher fat content in the milk later in the feed. This high-fat milk is hindmilk.

The change from foremilk to hindmilk happens gradually during a breastfeed. There is no moment when foremilk ends and hindmilk begins. This makes any time restrictions for how long your baby should feed on each breast irrelevant.

Feed your baby as much as he would like on the first breast, switching sides when he indicates that he has drained that side.

When feedings occur close together, there is less separation of the fat particles between feeds. The difference in fat content between foremilk and hindmilk is less, and your baby receives foremilk with a higher fat content.

Colic & Frequent Feeds

If breastfeeds are spaced far apart, your baby is likely to consume large amounts of foremilk in a feed, leading to a foremilk-hindmilk imbalance. Your baby may experience colic-like symptoms and frothy, greenish stools.

New parents and babies often have to cope with crying and colic. Theories about the cause of colic range from intestinal gas to an immature nervous system. Or, your paediatrician may diagnose reflux.

Whatever the cause, small, frequent feeds ease your baby’s discomfort. A baby who is not frantically hungry is also less likely to gulp air while feeding, preventing discomfort and further crying later.

Jaundice & Frequent Feeds

Newborn jaundice occurs when bilirubin builds up in your baby’s blood. Bilirubin is excreted in your baby’s stools, so getting breastfeeding established early helps to prevent and resolve jaundice.

Also, your colostrum has laxative properties. Ensure that your baby has unrestricted opportunities to breastfeed, enabling him to receive colostrum to aid bowel movement.

The biggest challenge for many new mothers is adjusting their expectations of their newborn. A bottle-feeding culture has resulted in ideas for how often a ‘good’ baby feeds and how long he sleeps for. Many of these ideas could be complete opposite to how your breastfeeding newborn behaves.

Well-meaning family or friends may also comment about your newborn’s frequent feeding patterns. You may feel discouraged or somehow obligated to heed their advice. However, responding to your baby and getting breastfeeding established is your priority. Feel comfortable about creating time and space for yourself, your baby and your blossoming nursing relationship.

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Breastfeeding Your Newborn: Frequent Feeding