There are three ways to tell if your baby is getting enough food overall diapers, weight gain, and infant behavior.
Of the three, infant behavior is perhaps the most important, even though it's the least measurable. But what does a satisfied and thriving newborn baby act like? There are signs during and after each feeding that provide clues, such as quiet alert time, hiccupping and deep sleep. However, you also want to ensure that your baby is getting enough nourishment overall, beyond his individual feedings.
These two scenarios can help you figure out if your newborn isn't getting what he needs from breastfeeding:
It isn't normal for your baby to feed non-stop around the clock or to cry and root when taken off the breast. Although there will be periods of "cluster feeding"—times when he feeds more frequently throughout the day and night—these generally occur in the early days and weeks. Once your mature milk comes in, each feeding should have a beginning, duration and end. After feeding is finished, your baby should either have some quiet time when he's looking around, hiccupping or in a dreamlike deep sleep, which are all signs of satisfaction. However, if your baby cries constantly between feedings and you feel like you can't put him down, it might mean he's still hungry. If this behavior is consistent, you can look at different ways to fix it.
At the opposite end of the scale is a baby who "shuts down" and doesn't wake for feedings very often. This could be because he's premature or has jaundice. Both of these situations will cause a baby to sleep more. However, it could be because breastfeeding isn't going well, and his nature is to shut down when that happens. If his diapers are scant, his weight gain so-so and he's sleeping for long periods of time, he's probably not getting enough nourishment. The easiest thing to try is to wake him more often to feed and to be careful he's feeding effectively, including latching properly and swallowing.
If your baby is showing either of these signs of not getting enough overall, don't worry that the two of you will never get the hang of breastfeeding. These are merely "pink flags" for you to monitor so you can manage the process properly.
There are many ways to ensure that your baby is getting what he needs. Some are as simple as increasing your flow rate through switch nursing and breast compression, while others include supplementation and a plan to increase your overall milk supply.
Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)