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Frequent and Unrestricted Nursing
by Elaine Moran

For the breastfeeding pair the first six-weeks postpartum is a very crucial time for both mother and baby, and how successful you are at establishing your milk supply during these first few weeks will play a major role in your future breastfeeding success. During this time your milk producing hormones are setting the stage in establishing your milk supply. The more often you nurse your baby during this early period, the more efficient your milk producing hormones will be--throughout lactation. When you encourage frequent and unrestricted nursing, your "milk-producing factory," so to speak, sets itself up in a way that it will have the capacity to produce a high volume of breast milk that is high in fat concentration, which is important for satiety and to support your baby's rapid growth.

On the other hand, if your baby is put on a restricted feeding schedule with intervals of more than 2 1/2 to 3 hours, your "milk-producing factory" will only produce just enough breast milk to keep the factory running and it won't be as high in fat concentration. Furthermore, if the intervals between feedings are consistently more than 2 1/2 to 3 hours, after a couple of months, your "milk-producing factory" will eventually shut down and go out of business. So, I guess you could say that during the early days of breastfeeding you are "priming the pump" and the key to your future breastfeeding success is frequent and unrestricted nursing.

Because babies grow so rapidly in such a short period of time, they go through occasional growth spurts. During these periods their appetites greatly increase and they may want to nurse quite often. Their more frequent nursing will increase your milk supply to meet their growing needs. Growth spurts usually last for about two to three days or until your milk supply catches up with your baby's increased needs. Growth spurts are fairly predictable and usually occur around two weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months. I believe that the first couple of growth spurts are Mother Nature's way of helping to "prime the pump."

Another factor to consider is the variation in individual storage capacities of mother's breasts (which is not related to breast size). Some mothers' maximum storage capacities (the maximum amount of milk a mother is able to store and deliver at one feeding) may not be adequate enough to hold a baby over for more than 2 1/2 to 3 hours, thus causing serious nursing problems. But even though some women have smaller storage capacities, it does not effect their ability to produce plenty of high quality (high fat) breast milk--as long as it is delivered at more frequent intervals. In addition, since breast milk is more quickly and easily digested than formula (which takes almost twice as long as breast milk for a baby to digest), it is completely normal for a baby to request to feed more often than the 3 to 4 hour schedules usually followed by formula fed infants. Besides this, circumstances that cannot be controlled such as weather conditions, activity level, teething, or signs of illness can also cause normal fluctuations in a baby's nursing pattern.

One of the most important aspects of parenting is learning how to recognize and accept your child's unique character. Your newborn will develop a feeding pattern that is uniquely his own. It is best to observe and follow his nursing style by feeding him on request whenever he shows signs of hunger instead of trying to change his natural feeding pattern by putting him on a schedule. By observing your baby's natural feeding, sleeping, waking, and elimination patterns, you will soon become aware of what is normal for your individual baby, and you will be able to detect any problems that may merit medical attention--especially during the critical early weeks of life. By monitoring and tracking your baby's behaviors you will eventually begin to see patterns start to emerge. Within a couple of months, as your newborn's digestive system matures, his tummy grows, and he becomes a more efficient nurser, the length of time between feedings will become more regular, his sleeping and waking periods will become more predictable, and his elimination patterns will become more regulated. Learning his natural patterns by monitoring his behaviors will help you to gently guide him towards a more flexible routine that will meet the daily needs of your family.

For example: Your baby is 5 weeks old and you are planning to go back to work when he is 8 weeks old, so you begin keeping a journal of your baby's daily routine. After a few days, you can see from your notes that he usually wakes up around 7:00 a.m. to nurse and falls back to sleep until about 8:30 a.m., but you now have to be at work by 8:30 a.m. To gain more time, you can try pushing up his 7:00 a.m. feeding by half an hour. (You can start this a week before you go back to work.) So you wake him up at 6:30 a.m., he nurses until 7:00 a.m. and then goes back to sleep, which gives you an hour and a half to get everyone ready, take him to his daycare provider, and be at work by 8:30 a.m. If he needs to nurse again before arriving at the daycare provider, a bottle of expressed breast milk can be offered. It is important to find a daycare provider that has experience caring for breastfeeding babies and is able to meet your specific needs. Develop a pumping schedule when you are away from your baby that works to maintain your milk supply. In the evenings and during the times that you are with your baby it is important to continue to nurse him on request. You may find that your baby will "save up" for "you" and may nurse more frequently during the evening and late night hours. You can be reassured that he is on the right track by getting a daily report from your daycare provider. Tracking feeding times and wet and soiled diapers, as well as monitoring weight gain, will offer you reassurance that your baby is thriving.

Feeding your baby on request whenever he shows signs of hunger will allow him to learn to satisfy his own appetite and develop his own natural feeding pattern. And remember, as with all of us, your baby's appetite will vary from day to day depending on the circumstances. Besides offering nourishment, nursing offers your newborn a great source of peace and security when he becomes overwhelmed with his new environment. Showing compassion and empathy towards this new little being by responding to his needs will allow him to develop a sense of trust in others, and knowing that he can influence his world will help him begin to build his own self-confidence and give him a sense that people care about how he feels and are there for him. Remember, we as parents set the example for our children--they learn from what we "do," not from what we "say."

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Learn as much as you can about parenting and the facts regarding breastfeeding, but remember, there are many things about your baby that you just can't learn from a book. What works for one baby may not work for another. Trust your own instincts in caring for your child--they are usually right. As long your intentions are in the best interest of your child and what you are doing feels right in your heart, no one should judge or criticize your mothering style. But in caring for your infant, just remember to put yourself in your babies "booties" and treat him the way you would want to be treated. These feeling of love, security, and belonging are the qualities that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

Here is one of my favorite quotes:

We can't form our children on our own concepts;
we must take them and love them as God gives them to us.
      --Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Elaine Moran is a veteran breastfeeding mother and author of Bon Appétit, Baby! The Breastfeeding Kit. She developed the idea for this wonderful book while nursing her first child, the book she wishes existed when she was a new mother learning how to nurse. After sharing her idea and receiving positive feedback from other new mothers, and reading newspaper articles about breastfed babies who became dehydrated, she realized that there was a great need in the market for a book like this. Three years later, Bon Appétit, Baby! The Breastfeeding Kit was born. Please read our interview with Elaine Moran and visit Elaine's website.

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