The majority of newborn babies take to the breast or bottle quickly and easily. Unlike the new mother, who has much to learn about feeding, the baby instinctively knows what is expected of him. However, there are some babies who, from day one, will fuss and fret within minutes of being put on the breast or being offered the bottle. I often find that some babies who have undergone a particularly hard birth can be more difficult to feed.
If you find that your baby becomes tense and fretful at feeding times, try to avoid having visitors then. No matter how well-meaning family and friends may be, it will be impossible to keep things completely calm and quiet if you are having to make conversation. The following guidelines, regardless of whether you are breast- or bottle-feeding, should help make feeding a tense baby easier:
- It is essential that the handling of tense babies is kept to the minimum. Avoid overstimulation and handing the baby from person to person, especially before a feeding.
- Whenever possible, try to nurse in a quiet room with a calm atmosphere. Apart from perhaps one person to offer practical help and emotional support, no other person should be allowed in the room.
- Prepare everything needed for the feeding well in advance. Try to make sure that you have rested and eaten.
- Avoid turning on the television during a feeding; unplug the telephone and play some calm music while feeding.
- When the baby wakes for his feeding, do not change his diaper as this may trigger crying.
- Try swaddling him firmly in a soft receiving blanket to prevent him from thrashing his arms and legs around. Make sure that you are comfortable before you start feeding.
- Do not attempt to latch the baby onto the breast or put the bottle straight in his mouth if he is crying. Hold him firmly in the feeding position and calm him down with continuous gentle patting on the back.
- Try holding a pacifier in his mouth. Once he has calmed down and has sucked steadily for a few minutes, then very quickly ease the pacifier out and offer him the breast or the bottle.
If you find your baby is fussy when feeding and taking a lot longer than an hour to eat, try allowing him a short break halfway through the feeding. It is better to let your baby eat in two shorter spurts than spend a lengthy time trying to force him to eat.
If your baby has been eating well and suddenly starts to refuse the breast or bottle, it could be because he is feeling unwell. Ear infections can easily go undetected and are a very common cause of a baby not wanting to eat. If your baby shows any of the following signs it would be advisable to consult your doctor:
- Sudden loss of appetite, and becoming upset when offered a feeding.
- Disruption to the normal sleep pattern.
- Suddenly becoming clingy and whiney.
- Becoming lethargic and unsociable.
Low Milk Supply
As they grow, all babies will drink more. However, the feedings must be structured to coordinate with the baby’s growth, thereby encouraging him to take more milk at each feeding. If not, he will be very likely to continue to feed little and often.
All too often, I get calls from the parents of older babies who are still following the demand rules of milk feeding. While the majority of these babies are more than 12 weeks old and are physically capable of drinking more at individual feedings, they continue to nurse as they did as newborns—often 8–10 times a day.
Many breast-fed babies are still having only one breast at each feeding, while bottle-fed babies may be taking only 3–4 oz. of formula. In order to go for longer spells between feedings, these babies should be taking from both breasts at each feeding, or have a formula feeding of 7–8 oz. It is my firm belief that it is during those early days of milk feeding that the foundation is laid for healthy eating habits in the future. To avoid long-term feeding problems that can affect your baby’s sleep, it is advisable to structure and solve any milk-feeding problems early on.
Not producing enough milk, especially later in the day, is a very common problem for breast-feeding mothers and one of the major reasons breast-feeding goes wrong. I believe that hunger is why so many babies are fretful and difficult to settle in the evening. If the problem of a low milk supply is not resolved in the early days, then a pattern soon emerges of the baby needing to feed on and off all evening to satisfy his needs. Mothers are advised that this constant feeding is normal and the best way to increase the milk supply, but in my experience, it usually has the opposite effect. Because the amount of milk the breasts produce is dictated by the amount of milk the baby drinks, these frequent feedings signal the breasts to produce milk little and often. These small feedings will rarely satisfy the baby, leaving him hungry and irritable.
I believe that the stress involved in frequently feeding a very hungry, irritable and often overtired baby can cause many mothers to become so exhausted that their milk supply is reduced even further. Exhaustion and a low milk supply go hand in hand. I am convinced that by expressing a small amount of milk during the early weeks of breast-feeding, when the breasts are producing more milk than the baby needs, the mother can help avoid the problem of a low milk supply.
If your baby is less than one month of age and not settling in the evening, it is possible the cause is a low milk supply. Expressing at the times I suggest should help solve this problem. The short amount of time you spend expressing will ensure that during any future growth spurts you will be producing enough milk to meet any increase in your baby’s appetite. If your baby is more than one month and not settling in the evening or after daytime feedings, the following six-day plan will quickly help to increase your milk supply. The temporary introduction of top-up feedings will ensure that your baby is not subjected to hours of irritability and anxiety caused by hunger, which is what usually happens when mothers resort to demand feeding to increase their milk supply.