Your goal in baby feeding is to help the baby grow at an acceptable rate and to avoid any deficiencies that cause health problems. Unlike the older baby, the newborn does not have a varied diet. If you are breastfeeding, your baby will be nourished by breast milk. If you are bottle feeding, your infant will be given formula, usually a combination of specially processed cow’s milk, vitamins, and minerals mixed with water. The formula closely approximates the natural composition of breast milk. Whichever method you choose, milk and water (if your baby wants water) are all that a healthy newborn needs to thrive.
Regardless of whether the source of baby feeding is mother’s milk or formula, the following are the components of the basic diet of the newborn.
Water is absolutely essential for human life. Water accounts for 70 to 75 percent of your newborn’s body weight, compared with only 60 to 65 percent of an adult’s body weight. To remain healthy, an infant must take in larger amounts of water per unit of body weight than an adult. The daily amount of water required is between 10 and 15 percent of the infant's body weight, whereas in an adult the requirement is between 2 and 4 percent. Fortunately, the water content of both breast milk and formula is very high. Some babies like to have water from a bottle between baby feeding, although water itself is seldom needed unless the baby has a fever or diarrhea or the environmental temperature is high. If baby feeding is well, the amount of water being ingested is adequate.
Protein is essential for growth and for the repair of cells. Most of the major body organs are composed mainly of protein. If the body does not receive an adequate amount of protein, it begins to break down its muscles to supply protein to the brain and to make enzymes. An infant, or anyone else, deprived of protein for a long enough period will develop lethargy, a distended abdomen, and swelling. The result can be death.
Carbohydrates supply most of the body’s energy needs. If the body has an inadequate carbohydrate intake, it improvises by using protein and fat for energy. Carbohydrates are stored in the liver and muscles. The infant’s reserve is a fraction of that of the adult.
Fats are a concentrated source of energy. They help protect body organs, vessels, and nerves, provide insulation against changes in temperature, act as a vehicle for the absorption of some vitamins, and delay the time it takes for the stomach to empty, thus giving one a "full" sensation. Although it is important for adults to limit their fat intake, infants and young children should not be on a fat restricted diet.
Minerals are important to the structure and workings of virtually every part of the body. For example, calcium and fluoride are necessary for the formation of strong bones and teeth, copper is required for the production of red blood cells, and sodium is needed to maintain the water balance in the body.
Vitamins are substances required by the body in minute amounts if every organ is to work properly. Some of the necessary vitamins include vitamin A, which is needed for the eyes and to keep the linings of the bronchial, urinary, and intestinal tracts healthy; vitamin C, which is needed for the development of bones, teeth, blood vessels, and other tissues; and vitamin D, which is also needed for the development of bones and teeth.
If you are breast baby feeding, the baby is getting the most complete food known. lf you opt to feed your infant formula, your physician will recommend one that will provide the nutritional ingredients that satisfy its needs.
Parents often want to know how one can tell whether baby feeding is enough. The best rule is to trust your baby. He or she knows how much food is needed. When you offer the breast or bottle, your baby will eat as much as is needed, regardless of how much is left. When it is time to eat again, the baby cries. If a baby does not get enough to eat, you will soon know it. He or she screams until you offer more food. An infant who needs more food than is being given will awaken more at night and will decrease rather than increase the time between baby feedings. Moreover, these infants finish their milk to the last drop and still do not seem satisfied. You may even observe the baby chewing his or her fist.
Some parents make the mistake of trying to overfeed the baby. Again, the infant will eat as much as is needed. When the baby stops feeding, do not push further feeding, even if you think it is not full. The best indication that your baby is receiving the necessary nourishment is weight gain. Some babies gain weight slowly, and others gain it rapidly. Sometimes slow weight gain can be attributed to illness, but often nothing is wrong, although a slow gainer may require more visits to the pediatrician or family physician to make sure nothing is amiss. Sometimes these babies will gain weight if you offer more baby feedings. As a rule, the average baby gains 2 pounds a month during the first 3 months of life. Most babies who weigh about 7 pounds at birth (the average weight of a newborn) have doubled their weight by the fifth month.
You have three options when it comes to baby feeding: breast, bottle, or a combination of the two. A generation ago, breastfeeding was not the norm for many American women. Today, it has become a popular method, and it is believed by many to be the ideal baby feeding method because of its nutritional advantages and its enhancement of the mother-child bond. Even so, some women who decide to breastfeed need more flexibility than that method normally allows. Thus, they also introduce the infant to the bottle. If you want to supplement one or more breastfeedings a day with a bottle, you can pump your breasts and store the milk, which later can be given by someone else. Have your physician demonstrate the proper procedure for pumping your breasts. Or you can use formula, although this is not recommended for more than one or two daily baby feedings because your milk supply will be diminished.
Many parents prefer, and physicians recommend, that the newborn be allowed to set the schedule of feedings-—at least to some degree. This method takes into account the differences in babies. Many newborns may be content to be fed every 4 hours, whereas other infants may demand a feeding every 2 or 3 hours. Even if your infant has been on a 3-hour feeding schedule, the rules may suddenly change; he or she may shorten the time between feedings to every 2 hours. In short, a parent should be prepared for some ups and downs at baby feeding time during the first month of life.
Many breast fed infants are allowed to nurse for the first time immediately after birth. Although a mother’s milk does not fill the breasts until the third day after birth, bonding between mother and child is facilitated and the infant gets the health benefits of the mother’s colostrum, a lemon-colored breast liquid believed to be beneficial in protecting the baby against some diseases.
If you choose to breastfeed your infant, you should know that breast milk is digested more easily than formula, the result being that you will be feeding more often than a mother who bottle-feeds. Do not be surprised if initially you are feeding the baby every 3 hours and sometimes every 2 hours.
It is important for a nursing mother to learn to relax. This enhances the ability of the "let down" reflex to fill your breasts with milk. Make sure you are comfortable, either lying down or sitting in a comfortable chair, preferably with an armrest. Support the baby comfortably with its face held close to your breast with one arm while the other hand supports the breast so the nipple is easily accessible to the infant’s mouth. Make sure the nipple does not cover the baby’s nose. Nursing time per breast varies. Most physicians recommend that you start nursing gradually. Five minutes a side is generally a good start. Some babies can empty a breast in that time, but it may take more leisurely eaters 20 minutes a side. At any rate, half the milk is drained within the first 2 minutes and 80 to 90 percent within the first 4 minutes. Be certain to empty at least one breast at each baby feeding, otherwise it will not be stimulated to refill.
Initially, a nursing mother may have sore nipples. Keep your nipples as dry as possible. Rubbing small quantities of lanolin on the nipples (after, not before, nursing) can help prevent cracking.
Your diet is important if you choose to nurse. Be wary of taking any medication unless approved by a physician. Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake.
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