Breastfeeding can be challenging when you're a nursing parent — especially the first time around. Your newborn, it seems, is always feeding, and you feel like you just can't keep up. You start to wonder if you're even producing enough milk, which can, in turn, make you feel like a failure as a parent. I know — I've experienced this myself. But, the truth is, there's a good reason for your little one to nurse constantly, particularly in the first few days. That's why there's one important thing lactation consultants want hospitals to know about newborns in order to help put new breastfeeding parents at ease.
Infants tend to feed very frequently (very frequently) in their first week, because they have tiny stomachs at birth, which quickly grow in size as the days pass.
It may seem like an obvious fact, but comments on a viral post on Heart & Bloom Birth And Lactation Services' Facebook page would suggest that some hospitals aren't telling new parents about the effect a newborn's stomach size has on their nursing habits. Without this information, many breastfeeding parents are left to feel as if they're not doing enough for their babies, Heart & Bloom Birth And Lactation Services writes in its post from last June, featuring a photo from Christy Jo Hendricks of Birthing, Bonding, and Breastfeeding, originally posted by Placenta Pills and Positivity, which is making the rounds once again.
To illustrate its point, the care organization included a photo where a 2-ounce bottle of formula is placed next to a tiny pink bead on a lanyard. That tiny pink bead, Heart & Bloom explained, represents a newborn's stomach size. The organization continued:
This image is such a powerful visual for new moms to help them see why their baby is nursing so much! It's not because you don't make enough milk or your baby isn't satisfied. It's because her tummy is this small and she needs frequent feeds of that amazing newborn colostrum!
On the first day after birth, an infant's stomach is the size of a shooter marble or a cherry — or about 5 to 7 milliliters, according to La Leche League Canada. By day three, their belly grows to the size of a ping pong ball or walnut — about 22 to 27 milliliters. At the end of the first month post-birth, a newborn stomach can hold 80 to 150 milliliters, or the equivalent of a large chicken egg, according to La Leche League.
In other words: Having a tiny tummy means having to eat more frequently. Most newborns, on average, eat every two to three hours around the clock within the first few weeks, according to the Mayo Clinic. Your baby may continue feeding after depleting the first breast, which takes up to about 20 minutes, or they may be full and satisfied until the next feeding, the Mayo Clinic explained.
It's not just an infant's stomach size that affects how often they need to nurse, though. A newborn also needs a good helping of colostrum, which is the first few drops of milk you produce immediately after giving birth. Colostrum is packed with nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, and antibodies, that protects them against infections, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The special milk, which is thick and typically yellow, also boosts their growth and prepares their stomach for breastmilk. That's why it's often referred to as "liquid gold."
Feeding a newborn can be incredibly stressful at times, no matter if you're nursing or using formula. That's why it's so important for hospital staff to inform new parents about everything they need to know when it comes to feeding, down to the little one's stomach size, and to support parents through that tricky period, whether they are breastfeeding or not.
Editor's Note: This post has been updated.