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Is My Newborn Getting Enough to Eat?

Updated: Apr 28

If you are asking this question, you are probably seeing hunger cues despite constant breastfeeding, or you can't get much colostrum from your nipples.

drop of colostrum on mother's nipple

Trust your instincts!

If your baby is acting hungry, they are hungry. If you don't see any (or just a little) colostrum, trust your own eyes. If you want to know the scientific information that confirms your gut feelings, click here when you have time; right now you're just trying to survive on very little sleep, so here is the bottom line:

Feed your baby until they look like this:

Here is a video of a baby getting full from breastfeeding; it looks the same when a baby is bottle-feeding:

Feed them until they are satisfied and can sleep a few hours (see milk calculator for amount to supplement if you think they need it).

It will not wreck breastfeeding to:

  • Give one bottle a day (if your long-term plan is exclusive breastfeeding, pump once a day to make up for it.)

  • Try pumping to see if you get enough colostrum to satisfy your baby (don't worry if you don't; your body is working on it).

  • Provide formula after each feeding when your baby seems to need it (breastfeed on each side first, for at least 15 min).

  • Play it by ear and supplement and/or pump as needed. Make sure you understand the basic principles of milk production if your goal is to continue breastfeeding.

[Note: everyone's body and baby are different. While this advice will work for most moms/babies, nothing is guaranteed. Fortunately, most breastfeeding issues can usually be fixed if you catch them early and get personalized help.]

Don't ignore your own needs. Good quality sleep can help milk production by reducing stress hormones... and you deserve it!

Most parents are not aware that:

  • Newborns will not be offered additional milk unless there is proof of dehydration or other medical complication first, and the doctor may need to write an order first.

  • Hunger and thirst are not considered medical reasons to give even a tiny amount of formula, not even a couple of teaspoons.

  • You have the legal right to feed your baby as you wish, breast milk, formula, or both, and you don't need the hospital's permission. You can acknowledge their recommendations/policies and then state what you want to do.

  • A lot of breastfeeding education and policy are based on beliefs (like natural is always best, and low milk supply is rare; in fact, it is common).

  • Around the world and throughout human history, babies are given more calories/fluids when breastfeeding isn't enough, usually in the first days of life.

    • This is called "prelacteal feeding," meaning "before the milk comes in." Many of these prelacteal feeds, like honey or animal milk, are unsuitable or even dangerous, but sterile formula is safe for newborns.

    • Once mother's milk starts full production between 2 and 5 days, prelacteal feeds are stopped and exclusive breastfeeding starts.

This is your baby, not the hospital's. Ask yourself the following questions, and then do what seems right for your baby, yourself, and your new family:

  • Does what you have been told about your newborn's feedings ring true to you?

  • Have you had enough sleep in the last 24 hours to feel ok?

  • Are you getting time to just cuddle your baby and enjoy the first days of your baby's life?

New parenthood is a scary time for many people. But it's hard to go wrong by listening to your heart and honoring your baby's hunger cues.

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