I love numbers. They are dependable, absolute and quantifiable. Medicine however, is an art as much as a science, and there is a particular instance where numbers are not the be all and end all. In the first few weeks of a baby’s life, parents often are keen to “know the numbers” in order to have some certainty in what is a very uncertain time. Whether it be grams on the scale or millilitres of milk, we often have parents that are very keen to have these figures on board to provide some clear direction. I was one of these parents! I weighed my babies a lot (in retrospect, far too much!) and relied primarily on the scale as a means of how my babies were travelling. I would now argue your baby’s behaviour, as well as its output is a far better indicator of how a baby is going. You cannot rely on your baby gaining x grams/day and there will be some weeks where your baby may not gain much weight at all, to be followed by a week of a huge weight gain. If your baby is happy, feeding frequently and providing several wet nappies, these are all fantastic signs that things are on track.
I often talk to families about how we would all like to have xray vision to know how much milk a breastfed baby gets each feed. The thing is, this is likely to be highly variable – you don’t eat exactly the same amount every time you sit down to eat! As challenging as it is, we encourage families to trust their baby’s cues and know that, unless unwell or premature, babies will cue for feeds as required. The same goes for bottle fed babies – just because you made up 120ml of milk, the baby doesn’t need to knock off every last drop, which is where paced bottle feeding (see link here) is very helpful for allowing a baby to determine how much they take during a feed.
Another aspect of this to consider is timed or scheduled feeds. Often Mums are given advice to give “15 minutes each side” or “wake at 3 hours to feed”. Frequent and flexible feeding is the best way to optimise supply, as well as allowing babies to “finish” before taking them off the breast. For some babies, they may feed 2 hourly or even more frequently, others quickly have longer stretches at night (not mine!!). By following these cues, Mum are less likely to have mastitis or supply concerns. I acknowledge that this is very unpredictable and it is easy to doubt yourself in these circumstances, but you will be surprised how feeding frequently and flexibly makes families feel far more empowered and confident.
Numbers definitely have their place, but can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. Don’t weigh too often and trust that your baby (except in the circumstances outlined above) will feed when it needs to. You’ve got this! We are more than happy to worry about the numbers for you, so you can focus on enjoying your baby.
By Rhiannon Smith