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Make Breastfeeding Enjoyable, Not Hard Work

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

The New Year is off to a quick start and my office is busy with so many new babies. Such fun, and happily most of my new babies are being breast fed, which is the best source of nutrition for a new baby.

The most interesting phenomena to me is that over the last year or so I have noticed many young mothers are “breastfeeding” their babies, but they really just pump breast milk and then give the expressed breast milk to their baby in a bottle. Now, in some circumstances, such as an infant in the NICU, or a baby who has difficulty with sucking and swallowing, it may be a necessity for a mother to pump her milk and then the milk is given in a bottle to the baby. But, these are perfectly healthy babies, and the mothers really want their babies to receive breast milk, but the moms are so concerned about the amount of breast milk that their baby is getting that they want to pump and measure it and quantify their baby’s intake. What happened to just putting the baby to the breast and feeding the baby every 2 -3 hours?

I know I must be getting old, but half of the fun and enjoyment from breastfeeding came from having skin to skin contact with the baby, as well as the ease of just lifting the nursing bra and putting the baby to the breast. I don’t think I even thought about pumping breast milk until I was heading back to work. I never really “knew” how much milk they received, but they were nursing and gaining weight and I guess I just “believed” that it would all work.

Now, it seems that so many of my young mothers cannot stand not knowing how much milk their baby is getting, even if they are gaining weight and are thriving. They just want to quantify every ounce and it makes them feel better to pump and then bottle-feed. That just seems like SO much work to me. It is not an exact science. Sometimes they probably receive a different amount of milk than at other feedings, but an infant is like the rest of us in that they too may eat different amounts. I use the analogy of “sometimes I order a salad at lunch and sometimes a double cheeseburger” it just depends how I feel that day. Your baby is the same; he or she does not “have” to take the same 4 ounces at every feeding. That is the wonder of breastfeeding; you just nurse for 10 to 15 minutes per side and “voila” the baby wets and poops and gains weight. Unless there are problems with weight gain it really doesn’t matter how much the baby gets at every feeding. It is not an exact science.

This concept of breastfeeding and not knowing the exact amount has been driving many new mothers crazy, as they want to put the exact amount down for each feeding and are “sure” if their baby only took 4 ounces instead of 3 that their baby would sleep better. The parents have also been able to enter all of this information into their iPhones and they have spreadsheets and calorie counts to show me. What I wouldn’t have done for that when I was a resident and had to calculate how many calories a sick baby had eaten in the last 24 hours. Again, this was only done for sick babies in the hospital, not a healthy newborn or infant.

Too much information is not always better. Relaxing and enjoying your baby is so important. Try to make it easier rather than harder, and just nurse your baby and pump occasionally to give the baby a bottle if you plan on being out, or just need to take a relaxing bath and let your husband feed the baby. But counting every ounce and calorie in a normal healthy newborn and measuring breast milk for each feeding is not necessary. And you know what, the baby will not sleep any better either!

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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