Why Your Baby Won’t Starve
By Brenda Nixon
“I’m worried. What if my baby starves at my breast?” “How can that happen?” “I’m told my milk won’t come in for several days.” “That’s true. But you’ll have colostrum.” Have you been a part of or overheard a similar conversation?
Colostrum is produced by your breasts in the first days after birth. This special, rich milk is low in fat and high in carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and antibodies to help keep your baby healthy. It is extremely easy to digest, and is therefore the perfect first food for your newborn.
“We docs who do breastfeeding medicine consider colostrum ‘liquid gold,’” says Dr. Jeanne Ballard, FAAP, of Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio. “It is a living substance tailor-made for one’s own baby. Colostrum represents 100 percent of the early milk on the first day of life.”
Indeed, colostrum actually works as a natural and safe vaccine containing large quantities of the antibody secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA). It also contains concentrations of leukocytes, protective white cells that can destroy disease-causing bacteria and viruses. “It contains live white blood cells specifically equipped to protect the baby’s bowel from inflammation,” says Dr. Ballard.
With its laxative effect, colostrum helps your newborn pass early stools, which aids in the excretion of excess bilirubin and helps prevent jaundice. It plays a critical role in your newborn’s gastrointestinal tract. Since a newborn’s intestines are porous, colostrum seals the holes by “painting” the GI tract with a protective barrier against foreign substances. The barrier may also desensitize your newborn to foods you’ve eaten. Dr. Ballard says colostrum is “the perfect blend of fat, carbohydrate and protein for the new intestine.”
Low Volume, High Content
“When I hear the phrase ‘nectar of the gods,’ I think of colostrum,” says Bonnie Cable, RN, IBCLC, in Columbus, Ohio. “Research has long shown that babies have a very strong instinct to nurse within the first 30 minutes after their arrival into the world,” she says. Cable recommends putting your baby to the breast as soon as possible after birth.
Low in volume, colostrum is high in concentrated nutrition. “Its smaller volume insures that the infant will nurse frequently,” says Cable. In those first days, nurse your newborn at least 9 to 12 times in 24 hours. This allows him to get all the benefits of the colostrum and stimulates production of a plentiful supply of mature milk.
By the third or fourth day, your breasts will produce mature milk, which will increase in volume and begin to appear thinner and lighter in color. The nourishing mature milk has higher proportions of carbohydrate and fat. “Babies are designed to need to breastfeed 8 to 12 times in the first few weeks,” says Cable. “Breastmilk is produced in response to demand. The greater the demand, the greater the supply.”
Putting an End to Paranoia
Frequent breastfeeding also helps prevent engorgement. “Engorgement is neither ‘normal’ nor desirable,” says Dr. Ballard. “It occurs when milk is being produced, but is not being removed frequently enough from the breast.”
Your baby will survive and thrive even as his nutritional needs change. “A mother’s milk supply changes in direct response to her baby’s,” says Cable. And each mom’s milk is special; some have velvety white, while others have pale yellow, and a few moms’ milk appears bluish.
Many people believe that the size or shape of your breasts affects the milk supply, but that simply isn’t true. “Breasts come in all different shapes and sizes, and so do babies’ mouths,” says Cable.
Some moms fret that their baby is hungry after nursing. If this is the case, it’s usually due to the baby latching on improperly and therefore unable to get all the milk. Reports say up to 50 percent of women believe their milk supply will be inadequate for their baby’s needs. However, only 1 to 2 percent is truly unable to produce enough milk. If your newborn loses 10 percent of his birth weight, then you’ll have a valid concern.
“There are some women who cannot make enough milk despite their best, sometimes heroic efforts,” says Cable. Often these moms report feeling heartbroken and disappointed with their body. Relieve your angst by consulting an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in your area. An IBCLC will take a full history and assessment of both you and your newborn to determine if there is reason for concern and/or how to have a good breastfeeding relationship. “Mothers have amazing instincts that serve a purpose,” says Cable. “They can alert us to potential problems.”
Because breastfeeding is a learned art that has been lost to many mothers in a bottle-feeding culture, all moms should be prepared to deal with some breastfeeding problems. “It is more than just feeding,” says Cable. “Babies are learning. Mothers are learning, and like a dance, they have to learn to do this together. There is a synchronicity involved that is sometimes easy and sometimes not.”
Breastfeeding is a natural, mutually beneficial way to feed your baby. To start right, Cable encourages pregnant women to take breastfeeding classes. “If they take one thing away from the class, I want them to feel confident in their ability … I want them to feel empowered and feel good about being a mother,” she says.
“The bottom line, don’t let the inconvenience or possible pain of nursing stop you from one of the most incredible experiences of your life,” says nursing mom Trish Berg of Dalton, Ohio. “When you hold your baby close, and he suckles at your breast and looks into your eyes, the world seems to stop, if just for a moment, and suddenly you know you are exactly where you were meant to be.”