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Amount of breast milk needed

Many mothers do wonder how much milk their baby is actually getting and worry about amounts.

Because we have become used to bottle-feeding babies in our culture the idea of knowing or seeing how much milk a baby is drinking has become something that we are used to and think of as normal.

Trust your body and baby to get it right. If your baby is latched correctly and being fed using their feeding cues then it is unlikely that there will be a problem.

The first few days

Your baby only needs a small amount of breast milk in the first few days. Babies go through a ‘hibernation phase’ after birth, when they live off the fat laid down in the last few weeks of pregnancy.

This is why the early breast milk (colustrum) is not produced in big amounts but is thick and full of specialised living cells that give your baby a big immunological boost. This boost is then continued on an ongoing basis, once breast milk supply is established.

Days three and four

Babies are born with the ability to know when they are full which prompts them to stop breastfeeding.

When you start to make more milk around days three and four, your baby will remove as much milk as they need. This sets up the mechanism whereby more milk is then made.

It’s all about the signals that go from the nipple area straight up to the brain via spinal nerves. The mother’s brain then sends triggers to the pituitary gland which in turn releases the hormones that make milk and start the milk flowing.

If your baby is latched well at the breast, and is breastfed when they show feeding cues, then the synchrony between you and baby should work well.

Trust your baby and your body

Remember a baby who is establishing breastfeeding will not behave like a bottle-feeding baby.

  • There may be a few feeds close together – this is called ‘cluster feeding’ and is normal.
  • Recent research has shown that a breastfeeding baby may take between 6–18 feeds in a 24 hour period. This is a wide variation and shows that individual mother-baby pairs are very different.

Removing the breast milk from the breast is very important for establishing a milk supply so don’t ignore baby’s feeding cues.

If you are worried and baby seems unsettled, ask for advice from your lead maternity carer, or ring a La Leche League counsellor, your Well Child health provider or a lactation consultant.

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