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Breastfeeding Your Baby
The studies are overwhelming - if you are physically able and willing to breastfeed your baby, it's the best food for baby's early days of life. That doesn't that your baby won't thrive perfectly well on formula if that's what you need use, but simply that breast milk is preferable if at all possible. Although this article is written specifically about breastfeeding, many of the suggestions made here will also apply to bottle-feeding, so read on!
For the first few days of baby's life, mum produces a substance much thicker and creamier than milk, which is called colostrum. Even if you don't nurse your baby, see if you can collect some of this colostrum through expressing, as it's wonderful food, full of nutrients and other good stuff for baby. If you're nursing, it will most likely be that you need to feed your baby frequently, and on demand, for these early days.
When babies are born their digestive system is very underdeveloped, and it takes a little while for baby to get used to having food pass through his system. Many babies seem to automatically regular their intake of food, almost as if they know their stomachs need time to get then hang of food. Small, frequent feeds helps get the digestive system up and running without overwhelming it.
After about 1-2 weeks, the baby's digestive system should have settled down, and you can start to work on creating a feeding routine. Most new babies work well on a schedule of feeds every 3-4 hours. Now, this doesn't mean that you start a stopwatch at the end of one feed, and refuse to feed baby again until the correct amount of time has passed! It does mean, though, that you can try and plan your day with a view to needing to feed your baby at about those intervals. Also, if baby grumbles in between feeds, it's worth trying to find other ways through it, stretching the gap between feeds, until you reach somewhere around 3-4 hours. Apart from anything else, this means that you're not tied down to always feeding baby. It also means that your body gets to rest and make more milk, and baby's stomach is given time to digest each feed before having another one.
If you find that baby just can't seem to go 3-4 hours between feeds by the time he's a month old, it may be worth checking this with your health professional. Not all breast milk is the same, and it may be that either you're not producing enough to keep baby satisfied, or perhaps that the milk's quality isn't quite sufficient for baby's needs. Sometimes in this type of situation a little supplementation may be required. Only do this with guidance, however.
From this point on almost every baby comes up with its own schedule for feeding, but the first big advance is to go without a night feed. You can progressively work on moving the last feed at night to around 10.00 or 11.00pm. Initially that means you'll get woken for a feed around 2.00 or 3.00am, and again for an early feed around 6.00 or 7.00am. The good thing, though, is that at some point the 3.00am feed will stop, and you'll be able to get a stretch of unbroken sleep for 7-8 hours. Bliss! Of course, the first time it happens, you'll probably wake up at 4.00am anyway, and race into baby's room in a panic because you're sure something's happened to him!
You can start to think about introducing solid foods somewhere around 6 months of age. Sometimes you can start a little earlier, and sometimes you need to wait another month or two. But that's a topic for a whole new article!
One of the most important things to remember in breastfeeding is YOU. If you're tired, or unwell, or stressed, your body will struggle to produce enough high quality milk to feed your baby. It's vital that you eat well, rest whenever you can and just generally look after yourself. Both you and your baby will be much happier that way.
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