By Guest Blogger Michelle Linkous, DO, Wake Forest Baptist Health – Brenner Children’s Hospital

As a pediatrician, I know all of the recommended guidelines for feeding infants. However, I’ve found that some of the most valuable advice I can give new parents is what I learned with my own child. You see, even the most tried-and-true medical expertise can’t compare to the unique knowledge a mother gains as she cares for her new baby. So now, whenever parents ask me for guidance, I draw from my experience as a mom as much as I do from my knowledge as physician.

One area in particular where this information comes in handy is newborn feeding. The details of feeding an infant can confuse parents, so I offer the following tips to help guide them:

Choose the feeding method that’s best for you and your baby.

Breastfeeding offers significant health benefits to both mother and child. For the baby, it reduces his or her chance of contracting infections and long-term illnesses. It can also reduce the risk of SIDS. For mom, breastfeeding can decrease postpartum bleeding and postpartum depression while helping her get back to her pre-pregnancy weight faster. For these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby’s life.

Despite the considerable advantages of breastfeeding, it isn’t the best alternative for everyone. Formula feeding is always an option if breastfeeding isn’t. And of course, some moms may want to do a combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding.

Feed your newborn every two to three hours.

Regardless of which feeding method you choose, you will need to feed your newborn every two to three hours. If you and your baby are sleeping through the night, that means your newborn isn’t getting enough nourishment. So even if your baby is sleeping soundly, you need to wake him or her up for these regular feedings. Because breast milk is digested faster than formula, breastfed babies may need to be fed closer to the two-hour cycle.

Keep your baby awake during feedings.

Babies tend to get comfortable and fall asleep when eating. However, they need to be awake to get the milk they need. When I was nursing my son, I found that the best way to keep him alert was to change him and take his clothes off before a feeding. I would also try to keep him stimulated throughout the feeding by rubbing his head and playing with his feet.

Get to know how much is enough.

If you’re feeding your baby formula, it’s easy to see how much he or she is ingesting, which should be 1 to 2 ounces every three hours. If you’re breastfeeding, it can be more difficult to determine if your baby is eating enough. A good general guideline is to feed your child 15 minutes at each breast during each feeding.

Look for signs that your baby is over- or under-eating.

If a baby is eating well, he or she should have a wet diaper after almost every feeding, and at least one bowel movement a day. If this isn’t happening, he or she may not be getting enough milk. If you’re breastfeeding and your breasts still feel somewhat full after a feeding, that’s another indicator that your baby isn’t eating well. A sign that your baby may be getting too much to eat is that he or she spits up a lot.

Make sure the baby’s weight is monitored by a pediatrician.

The best way to determine whether you’re feeding your baby enough or too much is to see how much weight he or she is gaining. All babies lose some amount of weight in the first days or weeks of their life. However, they should start gaining weight back at a rate of about an ounce a day. That’s why we ask that you bring your baby in for a weighing at about 2 weeks. Breastfed babies may need to come in before that. They also may need to be weighed more often.

Follow formula guidelines to the letter.

If your baby is formula fed, it’s critical to mix the formula exactly as it says on the can. It’s tempting to want to dilute it a bit to make it last longer, but this can get the baby’s electrolytes out of balance, which could lead to seizures or death. So it’s important that you don’t cheat in this area.

Include vitamin D supplementation.

Breastfed babies don’t get enough vitamin D through breast milk. To remedy this, you can get an over-the-counter vitamin D supplement for babies. One dropper full once a day should be sufficient. If you’re feeding your baby a combination of breast milk and formula, you still need to continue the supplementation until your baby is getting at least 33 ounces a day of the formula.

Learn the basics of breast milk storage.

Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. So if you’re alternating between breast and bottle, you need to pump when you’re not breastfeeding. This will ensure your body doesn’t stop making milk at those times. This will also allow you to build up stored breast milk for convenience. Breast milk is good in the refrigerator for 3 to 8 days. It can be stored in a standing freezer for 3 to 4 months, and in a deep freezer for 6 to 12 months.

It will be difficult at first, so don’t give up.

Even as a pediatrician, I had no idea how difficult breastfeeding was going to be. It was painful and exhausting, and I almost gave up. But sticking with it was worth it in the long run. And it gets easier when you get the help and advice you need. Lactation consultants and even other moms can give you advice. If your pediatrician is a mother, she can probably give you great tips in addition to the usual recommendations. Just know that you aren’t supposed to know what you’re doing at first. Then, as you pick up advice and as you follow your baby’s signals and your own instincts, it will get easier. Hang in there!