Understanding Your Breastfeeding Newborn
A guide to "baby talk" at the breast
A newborn baby may seem such a mystery, but he or she does have a surprising ability to communicate. This handout explains how your baby can tell you what is happening while breastfeeding.
Milk Flow Too Slow
Eyes wide open. Looks worried. Little effort to suckle. Long pauses.
The flow is too slow. If you feel that you have a lot of milk, then this baby is telling you that he or she cannot access it. You will need to massage the breast to increase the flow and have the baby's latch reviewed.
Eyes shut. Signs of REM sleep. Still firmly attached to the breast.
The flow of milk slowed down to the point that the baby fell asleep while waiting for more milk. If you remove the baby from the breast he or she will start to root and fuss quite quickly. This is probably a mellow baby who risks becoming an apathetic nurser if the problem is not corrected.
Pulls off breast, screaming. Flails arms. Attempts to relatch.
This aggressive baby is frustrated by the slow flow. He or she is not rejecting the breast at this point but may eventually do so if the flow is not improved.
Sucks and swallows well for a few minutes and then seems lazy.
If you have to keep stimulating your baby to suck, then the milk flow is probably too slow. Most healthy, full-term babies will feed steadily until full as long as there is a good flow. Newborns will only suckle a slow-flowing breast for a few minutes before settling into a drowsy state while waiting for more milk.
Jerks head away from breast but maintains grip on nipple.
The baby is a frustrated and baby looking for a faster flow.
Wants to suck right after feeding. Would suck any time. Feeds are constantly.
This is a hungry baby who is not filling up at the breast. Although babies do find the breast comforting, babies do not use the breast as a pacifier! A safe rule is that a "sucky" newborn is a hungry newborn.
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Milk Flow Too Fast
Appears startled. Eyes wide open. Noisy gulps. Almost no pauses.
Flow is too fast. Hold the baby as upright as possible and lean back after latching to allow the baby's throat to be higher than the nipple.
Pulls off frequently but relatches immediately. Won't maintain a deep latch. Milk drips and sprays each time the baby pulls away.
This baby is probably gaining weight well but is overwhelmed by the flow of milk. To gain some control over the flow, the baby is maintaining a shallow latch. This may eventually result in apathetic nursing and an undersupply.
Acts hungry soon after the first breast but screams when offered the second breast.
Baby is still hungry, but the flow from the second breast is too fast. The baby should be returned to the first breast to complete the feeding at a more leisurely pace.
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Needs to Burp
Swallowing well but upper body is wriggling or twisting.
Some babies just burp while breastfeeding and continue without a pause. Do not interrupt a feeding to burp the baby unless your baby seems uncomfortable.
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A Successful Feed
Although breastfeeding is a different experience for each nursing couple there is a pattern you want to see at most feedings once the milk has "come in" (about day 3 or 4). Let's follow a newborn through a feeding.
The parents notice that the baby is rooting and the mother offers her breast. She does not wait for the baby to start crying because she knows the baby will be disorganized and more difficult to latch if kept waiting that long. For the same reason she delays changing the diaper. The baby looks a little frustrated for the minute or two it takes for the milk to start flowing well, but then starts swallowing audibly and steadily. There are brief pauses that are much shorter than the feeding bursts. The baby swallows almost every suck.
The baby's body is relaxed. Dad picks up an arm and finds it limp. Baby's eyes are probably closed but the baby is not sleeping. The jaw is moving steadily and swallows continue.
When the mother notices that the baby is no longer swallowing at most sucks, she takes the baby off the breast and changes the diaper and/or burps the baby. As she does this she notices that the baby starts to root again. The mother checks to see if her breast feels heavy with milk and notices the first breast is still firmer than it would be if empty. She returns the baby to the same breast. (Note: If the first breast had felt soft, the mother would have offered the second.)
The baby has shorter suck bursts than at the beginning of the feeding and the swallows are quieter. The pauses are longer but the baby is still swallowing most of the time. Abruptly the baby pulls away from the breast, lips pressed together with an expression of contentment on his or her face. He or she may stay quietly awake at this point or sleep until the next feeding.
Some babies do forget to pull away from the breast when full. Instead you may feel the tongue "flutter" against the nipple and find that the baby falls easily away from the breast. Any time a baby will not release the breast that baby is still hungry. You may use both breasts more than once during a feeding, though this is usually not needed.
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