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How Babies Eat

How Babies Eat




After the first few days, once your milk supply increases, you may begin to notice things about the way your baby eats.  Here are some of the patterns and some of the reasons:


My baby takes some chattery little sucks first, and then takes long, slow sucks.  Bring glass of water to your mouth.  Make some chattery jaw motions at the rim, then start swallowing.  You can make those first motions as fast as you like, but once you start swallowing, you just can’t go faster than about one suck per second.  The same with your baby.  Those early, quick sucks get everything arranged in his mouth and alert your breast to release the milk.  Once your milk is flowing, your baby can’t suck nearly as fast.  That change in the rhythm shows that your baby is taking milk.  With each swallow, you’ll hear a whispered “kuh” sound –more of a glug for some babies, very quiet for others.  Most babies swallow with every suck or two during this phase.  Active feeding is a slower rhythm than“priming the pump”.


My baby doesn’t take more than a dozen or so long sucks before he pauses.  Try eating a big meal without ever putting down your fork to rest.  Unpleasant for you, unpleasant for a baby.  And he’s still new to sucking, swallowing, and breathing all together.  It makes sense for him to take pauses.  But you’ll notice he doesn’t let go!


My baby often wants to eat again just 10 minutes or so after he’s finished.  In the early days, his hunger is driven partly by a hormone called (get ready) cholecystokinin, or CCK.  A high level tells him he’s full, a low level tells him he’s hungry.  After roughly 20 minutes of sucking, his level of CCK tells him he’s full… but it drops again after another 10 or 20 minutes, so he thinks he’s hungry again.  He may go through this loop several times, in what’s known as “cluster feeding,” before dropping into a solid, longer sleep.  Perhaps this system allows him to fill his whole digestive system so that he can afford to take a longer sleep without risking excess hunger.  Your milk is fully digested in about 90 minutes, so you can see why he might want to tank up several times before taking a serious break.  And you can see why fooling him with a pacifier can interfere with his weight gain. Remember, it was sucking, not swallowing, that made him feel full.


My baby wants to eat a lot more often than I was told to expect.  Right now, your baby is growing faster than he ever will again. That’s why weight charts are so steep at first and taper off later.  His system is less mature than it will ever be again.  That’s why he has so many poopy diapers right now compared to a few months from now.  And he’s less efficient at eating than he will ever be again.  That’s why he needs more help getting and staying latched than he’ll need in a few weeks.  Put those three reasons together, and you have a whole lot of eating going on.  Follow his lead, and you’ll have a happier, better-growing baby.  Why deny a child food and his greatest comfort, at the time when he’s growing his absolute fastest and learning about love?


My baby cries when I take him off the first side in order to give him the second side.  Name any other mammal that takes a baby off one nipple in order to make him take another!  This is just one of those silly rules from the years when no one understood breastfeeding.  If your baby is nursing happily on Side A, let him be.  Side B will be there when he needs it – maybe right away, maybe the next time he eats. 


How do I know when my baby’s finished?  He may just drop off by himself, relaxed and loose-limbed.  But it doesn’t really matter!  Think dog, or horse, or gorilla.  If a gorilla Mama can’t reach that banana with the baby attached, she just takes him off.  She doesn’t worry about whether or not he’s full.  If he fusses, she puts him back on after she gets the banana.  Dogs don’t think about milk; they nurse because it feels good and keeps the puppies from yapping.  A mare may walk right away from a nursing foal to reach a better patch of grass.  The foal has to trot along and re-attach when mama stops moving. 


In the same way, you don’t have to glue yourself to the couch until you’re absolutely sure your baby is totally full, so long as you’re willing to nurse him again when he asks.  He may have been having dessert in a happy haze of occasional swallows but be willing to go to sleep ifyou take him off.  Or he may want to nurse again in 5 minutes because he just wasn’t finished.  You won’t hurt him either way.  The problem in the past was that we didn’t allow babies back to the breast for 2 or 3 or even 4 hours.  Nursing works for other mammals because they don’t stick to rules.  Forget the rules and enjoy your baby.


I never know if my baby’s hungry, or if something else is bothering him.  Be a good hostess: offer the snack tray.  If your guest refuses, then you can think about other issues.  If nothing seems to suit, offer the snack tray again.
You’ll never do harm by offering your breast to a baby.  If he doesn’t want it at that moment, he’ll Just Say No.


Is something in my diet bothering my baby?  Probably not.  Most babies do fine with beans, broccoli, chocolate, caffeine (after thefirst month), spices, and other foods you’ve heard bad things about.  It’s more likely that your milk is too fast or too much for him to handle.  Call your breastfeeding helper for simple ways to smooth out this common problem.  If there is a food in your diet that’s a problem, it’s most likely to be dairy, with soy maybe running second. 


My baby isn’t happy unless she’s attached to me.  Some babies simply love to nurse.  They’re gaining fine, but they need lots and lots of time at breast.  They’re nursing for food, for security, for love, for entertainment, and they won’t do it forever.  But other babies nurse for hours on end because they’re not getting milk very well, and their weight gain shows it.  Or they nurse a great deal because of some intestinal distress.  Your breastfeeding helper can help you sort out problem from personality.  To find a breastfeeding helper near you, contact the International Lactation Consultant Association,
or La Leche League International.


©2010 Diane Wiessinger,MS,IBCLC  www.normalfed.com

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