Breastfeeding – Being Confident With Your Baby’s “Normal”
So it is with much excitement and a fair amount of anticipation that I find myself at the cusp of hitting that glorious 28 week mark in pregnancy. The third trimester. The final race (or quick waddle) to a finish line that will reward me for all my discomfort, awkwardness and rollercoaster of emotions with the ultimate prize you can be given. A miraculous, squishy bundle of wonder and innocence that will leave my body and enter my heart forever. And all this regardless if I cross that line ahead of time or with a slow crawl a week or so later. Life is beautiful, and amazing, yes?
The Anticipation of Things to Come…
Well, right now, I definitely believe so. But then I am still basking in that pre-baby glow. That joy of not-here-yet but oh-its-going-to-be-incredible-in-every-way-possible smugness that many pregnant mummy’s secretly radiate. And I am excited. I absolutely can’t wait. But then, I am also about to become a third-time mummy which basically means that deep down, hidden amongst all that joy and elation is a well-lived knowledge of the reality I am about to step into in a few short months. The fact that alongside the breathtaking beauty and heart-soaring love that this little person will no doubt bring there will also be the gift of very real exhaustion and frustration with moments of fear and guilt thrown in there too.
Every Baby is Unique
It doesn’t matter how many times you have been a mum to a newborn baby, each child in themselves is unique and different from the last and you learn quickly that what worked for one does not necessarily work for the other. Yet whilst most mums know this, we still can’t help but try to fit our child into what is considered the acceptable norm for things like sleep and feed patterns. In fact, for most new mums there is very little in those early, sleep-deprived days they worry about more. Is bub feeding correctly and are they getting enough milk? Was their last feed too long or too short? Are they crying because in some way I have not provided as they fed only briefly, are not sleeping for a long enough period, so therefore must be hungry?
And as we are bombarded with the opinions of experts and the advice of well-meaning (and sometimes no-so-well-meaning) friends there really is no harsher critic than the person who we glance at warily in the mirror. Why are we so damn hard on ourselves? And sadly for some this self-doubt leads to a breastfeeding journey cut short by guilt when bub in most cases was doing completely fine. Well, I think we need to cut ourselves some slack. For while all the recommended routines and guidelines are useful they are not the bible of facts. They are just that – a guideline. And actually the truth is the range of “normal” when it comes to successful feeding is actually extremely wide and chances are you are sitting quite comfortably within that. It’s just that glorious self-doubt and a little babies cry that makes us question things.
So, What Statistically is the “Normal” Range?
And here’s some proof. The lovely team at Medela, the makers of products you find in 80% of hospitals and many homes in Australia that help aid us in that breastfeeding journey have recently completed a study on breastfeeding and what our averages are and you may be surprised with the outcome. The new research helps illustrate that every breastfeeding relationship between mother and baby is unique and that it will adapt and change throughout the breastfeeding period. These differences while extreme are natural and not necessarily an indication of insufficient milk supply or other problems. They believe, as do I, that better knowledge of the variability and expected changes in breastfeeding patterns will help improve mothers’ confidence about their milk supply. All of these tests were carried out here in Australia on healthy infants ranging from 1-6 months of age. The infants were all full-term, breastfed on demand and growing according to the WHO growth charts. Here are some of the results:
- Number of breastfeeds per day ranges from between 4 – 13
- The average duration of a breastfeeding session ranged anywhere from 12 – 67 minutes
- Infants will drain the breast once a day, but usually they feed to appetite and stop feeding when they have had enough or want to change to the other breast. From a single breast, the average volume an infant drinks is 75ml but the range can be anywhere from 30-135ml.
- It is normal for one breast to produce more milk than the other.
- An average breastfeed removes about 67% of the milk from the breast. The average amount of milk per breastfeeding session (1 or 2 breasts) can range from 54 – 234ml.
- All infants have varied feeding patterns. 30% always take just one breast. 13% always take both breasts and 57% of babies mix it up!!
- Night feeding is NORMAL. The majority (64%) of infants breastfeed day and night. These infants spread their milk intake evenly throughout the 24 hours. Only 36% of infants don’t feed at night (between 10pm – 4am) and these infants have a larger feed in the morning.
- Boy bubs drink more than girls! Boy infants on average drink 76ml more than girl infants.
- On average boys drink 831ml per day compared to a girl’s average of 755ml. Even so, the range of daily milk intake of exclusively breastfed infants who are growing according to the WHO charts can range anywhere from 478ml to 1356ml per day!
The Definition of a Healthy Baby
As you can see, these bubs were all thriving and yet their routines and intake were extremely different. If there is one thing I hope this article brings to even one mum of a newborn out there it is the reassurance that only you and your bub know what works best for them. To not be disheartened if things are not exactly as you thought they would be or what others say they should be. They can only really go off their own experience with their child – which is definitely not yours. And as long as your bub is gaining weight in that healthy range then your bub is thriving in the routine you have established. Whether that results in 10 minute or 40 minute breastfed bub or even a bottle or formula fed bub – the main thing is to be confident that you know what is best. There are more than enough pressures society places on our role as a mother today without us adding to it ourselves and so have faith that your love and natural instincts will help guide you and bub through any early hurdles. Yes, it’s going to be tough, but it’s also going to pass and man is it all going to be worth it. Once that initial cloud of exhaustion begins to lift and the radiance of this perfect little being YOU have created and who loves you more than anything is unobstructed in your view you will know the only perfect mother for that bub is you.
So it is with this thought firmly in my mind that I continue on with my waddle to that prize. I know it’ll be an experience filled with much frustration and emotion but none more so than love. And I am excited. I absolutely can’t wait.