Few things in life are as wonderful and satisfying as nourishing a new baby. But it can also be tricky. And if you're like most new parents, you're probably getting advice from every corner.
"As soon as you have a baby, everyone acts as though they were asked to serve on the committee on how to feed her," says Loraine Stern, M.D., coeditor of the American Academy of Pediatrics's (AAP) Guide to Your Child's Nutrition. "They'll tell you what you're doing wrong, so your job is to nod and smile and to keep doing what's working well for you and your baby."
To get you started on the right track, we've asked the experts for answers to common questions:
How can I tell whether my baby is eating enough?
The best way is to make sure he's growing normally by having him measured and weighed regularly at your pediatrician's office, says Dr. Stern. (This will happen at every well-baby visit anyway.) But remember that it's normal for a newborn to lose about 10 percent of his birth weight in the first few days after delivery. If you're breastfeeding, the doctor may recommend that you bring your baby in for a checkup within two days of leaving the hospital after delivery, to see if he's nursing correctly and consuming enough. A breastfed infant grows more slowly than a formula-fed one; fortunately, the latest growth charts provide measurements for both.
At home, you can do a diaper check. A well-fed baby should produce six to ten wet diapers a day, at least four stools if he's breastfeeding, and two to three bowel movements if he's getting formula. Within the first few days of birth, your baby's stools will progress from a dark-brown or black to a mustard color; they'll be more liquid in consistency if he's nursing than if he's formula-fed.
At the end of a feeding, your baby should also seem contented, not frustrated and anxious. If you're at all concerned that he's not eating enough, call your pediatrician.
I feel as if I'm nursing my newborn all day long. Is this normal?
Most likely, yes. "It can be hard for a first-time mom to understand how big a commitment breastfeeding is," says Judy Hopkinson, Ph.D., lactation physiologist at the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston. "I tell moms to regard the first four to six weeks of their baby's life as a time to nurse, period. Eventually, you'll settle into a more comfortable routine in which you're not feeding quite as frequently."
I've been breastfeeding my 5-month-old since birth. Now my sister claims that he'll sleep longer and more soundly during the night if I give him a bottle of formula at bedtime. Is this true?
Formula takes longer to digest than mother's milk, which makes a baby feel fuller longer; therefore, he may be less likely to wake up hungry. "But giving your baby more breast milk during the day to meet his growing needs can also help him sleep better at night," says William Dietz, M.D., director of the division of nutrition and physical activity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta. "If you can breastfeed exclusively, it's of tremendous benefit." Research has shown that breastfeeding strengthens a baby's immune system, facilitates brain development, reduces the risk of ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome, and helps prevent obesity. It might even cut your baby's risk of developing heart disease when he's an adult.
If you have a larger-than-average baby and he's still waking up hungry during the night, however, it may be a sign that he needs additional nourishment, says Dr. Dietz. If your little one's at least 4 months old, ask the pediatrician if you can introduce one or two servings of rice cereal between bottle- or breastfeedings.