Feeding your newborn: Tips for new parents

A newborn’s feeding pattern can be unpredictable. We also understand that many questions surround the topic of newborn feeding. Paediatrician, Dr Moore answers some of your most frequently asked questions on what, when and how to feed your newborn.

What does a typical baby feeding schedule look like?

Feeding during the first few weeks with your newborn baby can feel overwhelming at times. Many new parents may feel pressure to do this with ease or feel that breastfeeding “comes naturally”. In actual fact, infant feeding, especially breastfeeding, is a process that both the nursing mother (and her partner) and newborn baby develop over time. While your baby will develop into his or her own feeding pattern, your baby will initially want to feed regularly and frequently (2-3 hourly), starting as soon as possible after birth. This will depend, among other factors, on how well they are suckling and how much milk they are getting in with each feed.

What is the difference between feeding on-demand and on-schedule?

Schedule-feeding involves feeding at regular intervals (for example 4 hourly) on the dot, while on-demand feeding involves following your newborn baby’s cues which indicate that he or she is hungry. Some cues may be subtle (sucking, rooting, hands moving to the mouth, cooing sounds, mouth and tongue movements) while crying is a late sign, and your baby may then take more time and patience to get on to the breast.

Should I feed on-demand or on-schedule?

Although new mothers might prefer their baby to feed at regular, predictable intervals, it helps to remember that babies are not like motor cars that run out of fuel every four hours – they are developing humans with varying appetites at different times. Sticking rigidly to a feeding schedule may result in the newborn becoming hungry and crying by the time of the next feed, resulting in tears for the nursing mother and father. Babies should feed as long and as often as they need to while the new mother and baby get to know each other and develop their own system – before long you may see a pattern emerging where your baby sleeps for reasonable periods between certain feeds so you can get things done. Small babies or babies with certain medical conditions (for example, infants of diabetic mothers) may need to feed regularly.

When are newborn growth spurts, and how do they impact feeding?

There is no widely accepted convention describing growth spurts during the newborn period. Typically term newborn infants (born at 9 months) may lose up to 10% of their birth weight (preterm babies may lose even more, up to 15%) but regain their birth weight by 10 days of life. In general, we aim to limit this weight loss’s degree and duration, particularly in preterm infants. After the birthweight has been achieved, It is usual for a term infant to gain 20-30g per week in weight and approximately 1cm per week in length. As a paediatrician I always like to monitor these growth parameters on a standard infant growth chart.

Can thrush cause feeding problems?

Oral thrush (also known as oral candidiasis) is common and rarely causes serious problems in the term newborn, which may also be associated with thrush in the nappy area. It can be caught from the birth canal or the hands or breasts of the nursing mother. We easily treat it with an anti-fungal medication given orally (called Nystatin), and breastfeeding should continue during treatment. It helps to treat the mother as well to prevent re-infection.

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