A lot of mothers and health care professionals like to track progress with numbers. If you are a new mother, you may want to keep track of things like the percentage of your baby’s weight lost after birth, counting the days until your milk “comes in,” and how many wet and dirty diapers your baby has in a day. If you find comfort in numbers, you are not the only one. All mothers want and need reassurance that they are meeting their babies’ needs, and numbers is one way to get hard proof that you are doing everything right.
In the hospital where I gave birth, an infographic about the size of my baby’s stomach was taped to the wall. It read, “On your baby’s first day of life, her stomach is the size of a cherry and can hold about 5 – 7mL of milk.”
I appreciated having a visual to remind me that my baby would need to eat frequently. I also did a little reading on the internet.
Just a quick little Google search.
I say this so nonchalantly, as if googling for information as a new mom is no big deal.
It is a very big deal.
The floodgates of scientific studies burst open and my baby and I began drowning in professional opinions. I learned all too quickly that anything related to birth, babies, and feeding is up for heated discussion, even amongst medical professionals.
So does my baby’s stomach size really matter?
In an effort to calm my nerves and quiet my brain, I decided to ditch those numbers, and if you feel up for it, I’d like to challenge you to do the same. If it makes you feel better, write them down on a little piece of paper, fold it up, and put it in your back pocket. Pull it out only if you are sensing that you or your baby are unwell.
Now that you have your numbers safely tucked away, let’s take a minute to marvel at what is taking place in your and your baby’s bodies during those first hours and days after birth.
For nine months your baby has received all nutrients via the placenta and umbilical cord. During the first few hours after birth, her/his digestive system is getting a revved up for action.
Baby feels the instinct to suck, and will need lots of practice in order to perfect her/his suckle.
Mom is making colostrum, a thick, yellowish liquid packed with antibodies, vitamins, and proteins. It coats the baby’s gastrointestinal tract, serving as a layer of protection. It is a natural laxative that helps the baby push out thick meconium.
Over the course of weeks, mom’s milk will change from colostrum to mature milk. The nature of the milk will miraculously depend on the baby’s caloric and nutritional needs.
Be patient, dear mommy.
There is a huge learning curve here. Your baby may need lots of practice in order to become efficient at breastfeeding. Furthermore, you may also need practice at understanding your baby’s needs and hunger cues.
Focus on your baby’s suckling. Give him/her lots of opportunities to practice this new skill. This first work that you do together is laying the foundation for efficient breastfeeding in the future. During those first hours, learning to suckle is much more important than gulping down milk. Gulping down milk comes later (I know you want to know when! It really is different for everyone).
Your milk will start to change color little by little, and for some it is more gradual than others. There is not one precise moment in which “your milk comes in.” Your milk will continue to change throughout the weeks and months according to your baby’s nutritional needs.
As your baby becomes a more efficient nurser, you will feel a change in your breasts and hear your baby gulping more. Your baby will let you know when she/he is full.
Watching a baby’s hunger cues is no different when feeding from the breast or with a bottle of breastmilk or formula. Turning her head to the side, opening her mouth, and sticking her tongue out are all signs of hunger.
If your baby seems alert and happy, this is a sign that your baby is getting enough milk.
If she seems lethargic or has trouble latching on to your breast, you may want to pull out your little paper with numbers. A lactation consultant or breastfeeding professional may be able to lead you in the right direction.
For me, ditching the numbers freed up brain space so that I could concentrate on my baby.
Maybe my baby’s stomach is the size of an egg at one month of age, or maybe it’s not. Could it be possible that it doesn’t matter? What matters is that I learn to know when my baby is hungry, satisfied, tired, or just needing to change positions. If I follow her lead, she’ll teach me how to meet her needs.
Does keeping track with numbers keep you sane or make you crazy? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below.
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