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What to Expect During the Early Weeks of Breastfeeding

Normal Weight Patterns in Breastfed Newborns
The most reliable indicator of the success of breastfeeding is your baby's weight. A baby who is thriving is sure to be getting enough milk. On the other hand, a baby who has lost excessive weight or who is gaining too slowly most likely is consuming too little milk. Not only is the baby's welfare of immediate concern, but the mother's milk supply can decline rapidly if her baby isn't removing the milk from her breasts effectively. Use the Successful Breastfeeding, Breastfeeding Chart and Weight Loss and Weight Conversion Chart to make sure you and your baby are feeding often enough.

Infant weight loss after birth. All babies lose some weight in the first days after birth. On average, breastfed babies lose a little more than bottle-fed infants. This is probably because the volume of colostrum, or early milk, is relatively low before mother's milk comes in abundantly. Many health professionals consider it acceptable for babies to lose up to 10 percent of the original birth weight within the first three days after birth (see Weight Loss and Weight Conversion Chart, below). I consider 10% to be the very outer limit of acceptable loss, as most babies will not lose this much weight before they start to gain. Larger babies can lose a greater number of ounces than smaller babies, yet still be considered to fall within the range of normal.

WHEN TO SEEK HELP: If your infant loses more than 8 to 10 percent of his original birth weight or continues to lose weight beyond four days, it is very probable that he is not obtain-ing sufficient milk by breastfeeding. If a baby doesn't take sufficient milk, a mother's breasts won't continue to make sufficient milk. Your baby's doctor should evaluate your infant, assure that he starts to receive adequate nutrition, and help you obtain assistance with breastfeeding technique and proper breast emptying.

Rate of Weight Gain
An infant should stop losing weight once the mother's milk comes in. At this point, a baby should be consuming adequate quantities of milk to begin steady weight gain. Young breastfed infants gain weight at a surprisingly rapid rate, especially during the first six weeks of life. Most will regain their lost weight and surpass their birth weight by ten to fourteen days. Although every baby's growth pattern is unique, an average weight gain of an ounce each day (beginning by four or five days) is typical during the first three months of life. Between birth and three months, most babies will gain two-thirds of a pound to one pound (ten to sixteen ounces) every two weeks. Thereafter, the rate of weight gain tapers somewhat.

WHEN TO SEEK HELP: If a breastfed baby is under birth weight by two weeks of age or has not started to gain at least five to seven ounces a week once the mother's milk comes in, the infant should be evaluated and breastfeeding assistance provided. Inadequate weight gain is a strong indicator of low milk intake by a baby and requires prompt investigation. Taking a wait-and-see approach can lead to diminished milk supply and an underfed, unhappy baby.

In-home Weighing of Your Baby
Several commercial electronic infant scales are available for in-home weighing of your infant. In the past, new parents commonly used in-home baby scales, even though some were notoriously inaccurate. Many contemporary health professionals discourage the use of in-home scales because they assume they are still inaccurate. Some of the modern instruments, however, are accurate to ten grams (just one-third of an ounce) and even to two grams. While a few parents find an in-home scale to be intimidating, most who have used the new, state-of-the-art, digital instruments report that they can breastfeed with greater confidence knowing their baby is gaining weight. As mentioned earlier, your baby's weight is closely linked to the adequacy of breastfeeding. The early recognition of inadequate infant weight gain not only protects your baby's well-being but also improves your chances of succeeding at breastfeeding by identifying potential problems early. Of course, a scale can never substitute for visits with your baby's doctor, but it can provide valuable information about the success of breastfeeding and alert you to the need for medical attention or additional assistance with breastfeeding. Lightweight, user-friendly, affordable, accurate baby scales can be rented for home use.

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From Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding by Marianne R. Neifert. Copyright © 1998 by Marianne R. Neifert. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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