Newborns often lack stamina when they breastfeed and are largely "flow-dependent," which means they need your breasts to have a good flow, or milk supply in order for them to keep going. If your milk flow starts to slow down, your baby's sucking-and-swallowing pattern will also slow. This means he'll either stop swallowing at regular intervals or fall asleep at your breast.
In a nutshell, babies want their food to come fast and easy—a theme that will no doubt repeat itself well into their teen years and beyond!
Here are two important points to remember about breastfeeding, especially during the first few weeks:
- Successful breastfeeding is a combination of both your baby's skill at sucking and swallowing and your supply of milk. If a baby isn't swallowing, it means he isn't eating.
- If your baby isn't swallowing regularly in the first few weeks, or if he keeps falling asleep before filling up, you can try the following simple ways to ensure that he's feeding effectively:
- Once your baby is latched on correctly, check to see if he's swallowing regularly. Keep in mind that it can take a minute or two for you to have "let-down," when your milk is first released, so don't expect him to start drinking right away unless you're very full of milk.
- If your baby slows or stops swallowing, pull him in closer by gently pressing the palm of your hand between his shoulder blades.
- Once you've pulled him in closer, compress your breast; when you do this, you're actually hand-expressing some milk into his mouth. Swallowing is a reflex, and if he gets a mouthful of milk, he'll swallow it. This will also help wake him up a bit and remind him of what he's supposed to be doing.
- Keep watching for swallows and compressing as needed until he no longer responds.
- If your baby isn't responding to breast compression anymore—so falling asleep or not swallowing—it's time to switch breasts.
- Before switching, wake him up a bit by burping or undressing him.
- When your baby latches onto your other breast, he's getting a whole new supply of milk, one where the flow rate is faster. This is because let-downs happen at the same time. So while your baby was drinking from your first breast, milk was also pooling in the other one.
- You can switch breasts 3 or 4 times per "meal" to help your sleepy newborn get a full feeding.
- Don't be concerned about foremilk and hindmilk at this point because your baby is getting the nutrients and fat content he needs. Think of it this way: The foremilk in your breast is the hindmilk from the last feeding.
Tips for success
- If you help move the milk into your baby's mouth by compressing your breast he'll swallow it, because swallowing is a reflex.
- Don't worry about draining each breast or only feeding from one breast during each feeding. When your baby is a newborn, he needs prompt and fast-flowing milk to help him stay awake and swallow properly. Switching breasts during feeding will help with this.
- Switch nursing can be helpful during the early, sleepy days to ensure a full feeding.
Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)