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Newborn feeding

By Angie Taylor

Your newborn baby is a blessing, a joy, and a gift from God. They’re also a huge undertaking, and it can be difficult to know whether you’re giving the best possible care to your newborn. With sleepless nights, struggles with self-care, and the need to stay steadfast in your relationship with God, it’s important to get a handle on feeding a newborn as well as their sleep schedules.

How often to feed your newborn

Feed your baby when they show signs of hunger rather than putting them on a newborn feeding schedule. Your baby may cue you by turning their head in search of the breast, sucking on their fingers or hands, making sucking noises, or opening and closing their mouth. Try to recognize these feeding cues and feed your baby before they start crying, which is a late sign of hunger.

Babies often feed irregularly. Sometimes they go an hour or less between feedings and other times they might go as long as three or four hours between feedings. The length of each feed also varies. You should continue feeding as long as your baby is actively sucking and swallowing. Most babies signal that they’re finished by relaxing their face and hands, and no longer showing any feeding cues.

Generally, a newborn baby should be fed every two to three hours, so if you don’t see feeding cues by hour three, try to feed the baby—even if it requires waking them up. If your baby seems satisfied, produces about six wet diapers and several stools a day, sleeps well, and is gaining weight regularly, then you’ll know they’re eating enough.

Breastfeeding tips

Breast milk is the optimal source of baby nutrition. It meets their nutritional needs for their first six months—the age when solid foods are usually added to the diet. Your baby doesn’t require any additional water or food before then.

While breastfeeding is natural, it’s still a learning process for you and your baby, and it may take weeks before you both get the hang of it. If you’re feeling lost or confused along the way, there are many people who can help:

  • A nurse at your delivery location
  • A lactation consultant
  • Your midwife or doctor
  • Your baby’s pediatrician

Getting started

It’s important to start breastfeeding within the first few hours after birth, if possible. Early and frequent breastfeeding after birth is important because this signals the breasts to produce more milk.

It’s also important for the baby to get the colostrum that’s produced in the first few days after birth. Colostrum is a concentrated yellow liquid that’s rich in nutrition and healthy antibodies that help protect your baby from infections. If you need to be separated from your baby for medical reasons, you can still release the colostrum, either by hand or with a pump.

How to breastfeed

While breastfeeding is a natural process, it’s normal to feel awkward at first. It’s helpful to keep some basic principles in mind and be prepared to handle common problems.

  • Positioning: A good position is one where you and your baby are comfortable. It’s helpful to try different positions, especially if you are experiencing any discomfort or your baby is having problems feeding.
  • Helping your baby latch on: The key step in breastfeeding is making sure your baby properly “latches on,” so that their mouth forms a seal around the areola (dark area of skin around your nipple). A comfortable latch protects you from sore nipples and pain during breastfeeding and allows for good milk flow. Signs that your baby has a good latch-on include:
    • You’re comfortable during breastfeeding. You may feel some tugging, pressure, or tingling, but you shouldn’t feel pain or nipple soreness.
    • The nipple is high and deep in the baby’s mouth.
    • The baby’s top and bottom lips are wide open (like a big yawn), with the lower lip turned outward against the breast.
    • The baby’s tongue comes out over the lower lip during latch-on and stays below the areola during nursing.
  • Adjusting the latch: Any time you feel pain, it’s important to adjust the baby’s latch to protect your nipple and allow good milk flow. To adjust the latch, gently insert your finger in the side of your baby’s mouth to break the suction.
  • Sucking and swallowing: When your baby is feeding well, you can usually hear them swallow. At the beginning, they’ll suck rapidly without swallowing to get the milk flow started.

How to increase milk supply

Throughout breastfeeding, the amount of milk you produce depends on how often your breasts are emptied. Your body adapts to meet your baby’s needs. You can help increase milk supply by doing the following:

  • Feed your baby frequently.
  • If you need to be separated from your baby, pump at your baby’s usual feeding times.
  • Don’t give your baby formula unless your healthcare provider advises that it’s medically necessary—this may cause you to produce less milk.

While breastfeeding is natural, it’s still a learning process for you and your baby, and it may take weeks before you both get the hang of it.

Formula feeding

Breastfeeding might not be a viable option for you. The good news is your baby can still get good nutrition from formula. Baby formula is designed to give babies all the calories and nutrients they need. However, please ask a lactation consultant, nurse, midwife, or other trusted resources for help before you make the switch to formula.

Baby formula and baby bottles

Choosing formula and equipment can be overwhelming because there are so many options. For the most part, you can make choices based on the preferences of you and your baby. Here is some basic information to keep in mind:

  • Formula: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates commercial infant formulas to make sure they meet minimum nutritional and safety requirements. These formulas have added iron, which babies need. Varieties available include cow’s milk, lactose-free, and soy-based formulas. Don’t use homemade baby formula, such as those made with evaporated or raw milk. Homemade formulas do not contain the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals your baby needs.
  • Baby bottles: There’s no evidence that one brand of bottle is better than another. It’s ideal to have at least six to eight bottles to start since your baby will need to eat six to eight times a day.
  • Bottle nipples: Most babies will need a standard nipple. Nipples usually come with numbers on them—often referred to as “stages” or “flow rates.” These numbers reflect the size of the nipple’s hole, which affects how fast the formula or breast milk flows out of the nipple. Flows that are too fast can make younger babies gag by giving them more milk than they can handle. Slower flows may frustrate some babies and make them suck harder and gulp too much air. Try nipples with bigger or smaller holes and different shapes until you find one your baby likes. Some babies may be content to use the same kind of nipple throughout infancy.

Follow the directions on the formula can or bottle to mix the formula with water. If you are using powdered formula, measure the water first, then add the powder.

Infant formula should be at room temperature at feeding time. If you decide to warm the bottle, don’t use a microwave. The easiest way to warm a bottle is to place the bottle under warm running water, making sure not to get water in the bottle. Put a couple of drops of formula on the back of your hand to make sure it’s not too hot before feeding it to your baby.

Newborn babies will likely take only 1-2 ounces of formula at a time, 8-12 times in a 24-hour period. It’s best to use it within two hours of preparation. Prepared formula that is left out at room temperature for too long will spoil.

Bottle-feeding your newborn

Once the formula is safely prepared, it’s time to feed your baby. Support your baby in a comfortable, semi-upright position. Most people find it easiest to cradle the baby’s head in the crook of the arm. Hold the bottle so that milk completely covers the nipple so your baby doesn’t swallow air. Don’t bottle-feed your baby while they’re on their back, because this increases the risk that they’ll choke.

Contact us

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have any questions about newborn feeding, call CHM’s Maternity Support Team at 1-800-791-6225 for medical and program-related support.

Maternity Guide

CHM Maternity Guide

When you’re thinking about starting a family, considering all your options is a great first step.

Learn more about CHM’s maternity program and make sure you’re prepared by signing up to receive the Maternity Guide.

Angie Taylor
Angie Taylor is one of CHM’s Maternity Nurse Navigator. She is a registered nurse that has supported thousands of women through pregnancy and beyond. She enjoys empowering people with information that they can trust so they can make informed decisions about their health and the healthcare services they receive.