While underfeeding your newborn is an obvious concern, overfeeding can put her at risk for being overweight later in life, so it’s important to establish healthy eating patterns right away. Joseph Kahn, MD, Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at St. John’s Mercy Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, recommends, “Whether you are breast- or bottle-feeding, feeding ‘on demand’ is recommended rather than forcing your baby to keep an artificial schedule. Feeding on demand reduces the risk of overfeeding and developing bad habits which lead to overeating later in childhood and into adult life.”
How do you know when your newborn is “demanding”? She’s less enigmatic than you think. Every newborn comes equipped with a range of physical indicators to keep you on the right track. When she’s hungry, you’ll see your baby “rooting,” opening her mouth and turning her head from side to side. She may stick out her tongue, suck on her hands, or nuzzle toward you. And when those tactics fail, she’ll soon resort to escalating cries—babies have built-in alarm systems that are hard to ignore.
Your pediatrician may ask you to keep track of feedings and diaper changes to make sure baby is getting the food she needs. “If your infant has had an adequate amount at a feeding, she will appear satisfied, fall asleep, be happily contented and alert, or turn away from the breast or bottle when full,” says Dr. Kahn. “Your baby will have four to six wet diapers daily and will have regular bowel movements.” Your doctor will also watch your baby’s progress on the scale.
Because those first weeks may be kind of hazy (lack of sleep does that to a person), it’s wise to keep a log of feeding sessions and diaper episodes, beginning in the hospital. Once baby has developed healthy patterns, and you and your doctor are convinced she’s getting plenty to eat, it’s OK to slack off on the bookkeeping.
Taking it easy
Don’t worry: Although adjusting to baby’s eating schedule may be stressful in the beginning, it does get easier! Feeding your baby should be an enjoyable experience for you both—it’s a great excuse to take a break from your busy day and share some quiet bonding time. You may even find surprising satisfaction in meeting your little one’s needs.
Take your time and try not to become anxious over other tasks left undone, especially in the beginning when baby’s consumption is all-consuming. Voice any medical concerns to your doctor, but otherwise keep on, enjoy and know that you’ll have this mom thing mastered soon enough.
When it’s time for baby to start solid foods, follow the same “on demand” principle you used during her newborn days. Kahn suggests, “Begin solid foods at 6 months of age, not earlier, and breast- or bottle-feed exclusively until then. I tell my patients that unless their babies need fruit juices to help regulate constipation, there is no need to offer fruit juice … Avoidance of juice and sweetened drinks will help avoid childhood obesity.” In other words, if you don’t indulge your baby’s natural sweet tooth, she will be healthier through childhood—and you can avoid years of Kool-Aid stains on the carpet!