Newborns : Nutrition
Updated: Feb 5
Good nutrition is essential for your baby’s survival, physical and mental development, productivity, performance, and health and wellbeing for their life ahead.
Breastfeeding, complimentary feeding, and/or non-breastfeeding are critical aspects of newborn and baby development. Feeding stimulates bonding, promotes healthy growth, reduces susceptibility to illness and disease, and increases their resistance. Breastfeeding is regarded to be the ‘best’ source of sustenance for Newborns and Babies, ideally up to at least 6 months of age. However some women are not able to Breastfeed, and we will discuss the appropriate substitutes later on in the article.
Babies require regular feeding throughout the day and up until 6-9 months, during the night as well. Your baby’s appetite will vary from day to day and month to month. You will begin to recognise his cues and may be able to tell when your baby is hungry.
How much milk your baby needs will depend on his weight, age, and development. See our breastfeeding and formula feeding guidelines below for information regarding the amount of milk to feed your baby.
Breastmilk is the food designed by nature for your baby. From the moment your baby is born your breasts generally produce Colostrum: the thick nutrient-rich beginnings of your breastmilk, which will nourish your baby until your hindmilk appears a few days after birth.
For their first 6 months, babies require nothing other than milk to eat or drink. Breastfeeding is convenient and free, and your milk is perfectly suited to your baby’s nutritional needs and plays a large role in protecting your baby from infection, illness, and disease.
Most women can breastfeed without too many problems. It is vital to receive the right help and support as Breastfeeding is not without its challenges.
It is crucial that you are healthy and eating the right foods, as the quality of your milk will largely depend on your diet. A balanced diet and a high intake of food rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein will help you be optimally healthy for you and your child. Likewise, there are certain foods and drinks which are best avoided while you are breastfeeding.
How often should you Breastfeed?
Generally, breastfed babies require 8-12 feeds per day for the first month. Breastfed babies may require more milk than formula-fed babies as it digests more easily and therefore may make your baby hungrier more often. Babies tend to communicate when they are hungry. This may be by crying in the first few months, but it's important to remember that crying may not the first indication your baby will give that she is hungry. Smacking her lips, opening and closing her mouth, ‘rooting’ around on your chest while being held, or putting their hands or fingers to their mouth can all be indications of hunger.
Generally, a newborn will require feeding every 1.5-3 hours. It is important to note that newborn babies should not go more than about 4 hours without feeding, even overnight. How long your baby spends feeding on each breast depends on what works for you and your baby. Some babies may be satisfied after 5 minutes on each breast, others may need 15 minutes on each side. By 1-2 months of age, you may be nursing your baby 7-9 times a day.
It's important to note that the intervals of time between feeds are generally calculated from when your baby begins to nurse, rather than when the feed ends. In other words, if you are feeding every two hours and you start feeding at 6 am and finish at 6.30 am, your next feed is due at 8 am.
From around 3 months of age and onwards your baby's feeding patterns will continue to develop, and you will start to gauge their feeding needs and routines. They will begin to feed less number of times while ingesting more milk each time. Eventually, by around 6-9 months you may be incorporating solids in with your Breastmilk feeds – read more on Complimentary Feeding
Some women find breastfeeding does not begin smoothly and maybe physically uncomfortable or difficult at first. It may take learning and practice by you and your baby. Even when you are getting it right it may still be uncomfortable. Always refer to your lactation consultant or child health nurse to get the help and support you need for successful feeding. Breastfeeding problems for women can include sore nipples, issues with latching on, or mastitis. These problems can usually be sorted out with the right care.
Your baby too may have difficulties feeding. There are techniques to adjust and perfect their ability to ‘latch on’, speak to your lactation consultant or Nurse for support. Your baby may also suffer from Reflux – where your baby spits up large amounts of their milk during most feeds. This is generally not cause for concern, but if you feel your baby is not gaining enough weight or seems to be in pain, don’t hesitate to consult your healthcare provider.
If you are breastfeeding it is recommended to express your milk either by hand or by using a Breast Pump. Expressing your milk can alleviate pressure if you have a lot of milk or to store and use for feeds at a later date. You can express your milk by hand, or by using a manual or electric pump. As with Breastfeeding, expressing takes some practice and patience.
If you are unable to feed on your breasts for any reason, you may be able to express your milk into a bottle for feeds. Read more on bottle-feeding. This will help maintain your milk supply while still ensuring your baby is getting the benefits of your breastmilk.
Experts agree that breastfeeding has many benefits for both you and your baby. But some women aren’t able to breastfeed and may need to feed their babies a formula supplement. If you are breastfeeding but don’t produce a lot of milk if you become ill or have had previous surgeries, then you may be advised to supplement your babies feeds with Formula, and there are many brands available which contain many of the nutrients, minerals, and vitamins a new baby needs.
If you are breastfeeding but are required to regularly supplement feeds as well, this may make it more difficult for you to continue producing breastmilk. When your baby feeds on formula from a bottle and not from your breast you may notice your milk supply reducing, your breasts becoming engorged or your baby preferring the formula to your milk. One way to avoid your milk reducing is to express your breastmilk into a bottle, as the more milk you take from your breasts the more your body will make to replace it.
Cleanliness and safety are hugely important when feeding your baby from a bottle. Babies are susceptible to illness during their first year as they start to build immunity and resistance to infection and disease. Obviously, it is impossible to provide a germ-free environment for your baby, but by sterilising your babies feeding equipment you reduce the risks while your baby is at their most vulnerable.
How often should you formula feed?
Full-term newborns require between approx. 30 mls and 60 mls at each feed. By the time your baby is one month old, they may be having from 90 ml-120 mls at each feed. At this stage, babies may consume anywhere from 400ml – 800ml in one day. You’ll sense when your baby wants more if they feed quickly and look around for more.
Night Feeding – What to Expect
During the first few months, you will find yourself waking every few hours during the night to feed your baby. After your baby is around 6 months of age you may find they are beginning to sleep through the night – defined as uninterrupted sleep between around midnight and 5 am, with two or three naps during the day. This is an important milestone not just for your baby, but for you as well, allowing you both to get restful sleep and feel fresh and rested in the morning. If your baby is not sleeping through the night at this point, don’t despair. Many babies will still be waking for one or two feeds during the night, but generally, a full-term 6-month-old baby may be ready for night weaning at this stage.
If you enjoy nursing at night and are not sleep deprived or feeling stressed, then you may feel there’s no reason to stop. But if you are exhausted, then you may wish to begin the process of night weaning. Take into account that your baby may still be needing night feeds for a variety of reasons. If you work during the day you may like to feed at night as a way to connect and spend time with your baby. You may also notice your baby wake more often if they are teething, ill, or going through a developmental change.
It is important to approach the night weaning process gradually and gently. Your baby is still very young and has a tremendous need for comfort, closeness, and reassurance. Even if your baby does not need to feed in the middle of the night, they may still wake up wanting to. Babies will wake out of habit and it will take some time to adjust this routine.
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