“Didn’t You Just Do That?” On Nursing Frequency and Newborns

When my firstborn was just under two months old, we were visiting my father for the afternoon. The baby began smacking her lips, and I began to hike up my shirt.

“Didn’t you just do that?” asked Dad.

“Huh? No, that was, like…” I looked at a clock. “Twenty-five minutes ago.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “She can’t possibly be hungry after half an hour. Maybe she’s just making faces.”

Gentle reader, she was hungry.

Gentle reader, your newborn is hungry. I know you only just clipped your bra, sprinted to the bathroom to brush your teeth and refill your water bottle, didn’t even get a chance sometimes to pee. And still. Your newborn is hungry.

Here’s the thing about newborns, and about breastmilk: Newborns are used to the steady intravenous nourishment of the umbilical cord. Hunger is an entirely new sensation to them and, I think you will agree, it is not a particularly pleasant sensation. It is, however, one with which they are rapidly becoming familiar. After all, on the first day baby’s stomach holds only 1/2 tsp of milk; by a week it holds a scant quarter cup; by a month half a cup. This may seem a considerable size, given the small size of an infant. However, babies this age are growing and developing faster than they will ever again in their lives, so they need more calories per bodyweight than they ever will again.

Human milk is magnificently rich in calories, including all the nutrients a healthy baby needs for the first six months of life, plus a plethora of immune factors. Moreover, it is uniquely digestible, which means all those calories are maximally beneficial. Yay, right? Well, yes. However, “highly digestible” also means it passes from baby’s stomach fast. And then baby is hungry again. For real and true, not as some sort of elaborate manipulation (worry not, that will come later, when you are parenting a toddler).

That sunny afternoon on my father’s porch, I was thankful (and, I’ll admit, smug) that I’d read as much as I had before my daughter’s birth about breastfeeding. This was the first time anyone had questioned my breastfeeding practice, and here I was with the knowledge to respond. Knowledge, gentle reader, is power. Do read up on lactation before your baby’s arrival.

If you are not expecting a baby, either because your baby has arrived or because you plan not to have one soon/again/ever, go ahead and read about lactation anyhow. Breastmilk is the natural food of our young, and we should all have at least a passing familiarity with this basic biologic function. Study after study finds that one of the primary determinants of a mother’s ability to meet her breastfeeding goals is the quality of professional and social support she receives. Be part of that social support, for yourself or for someone else.

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