Breastfeeding A to Z

How to Be Sure Your Baby is Eating

You want to hear swallowing when your baby is eating. This tells you milk is going in. If you are having difficulty hearing your baby swallow, find a quiet place with no radio, TV or people noise to listen for it during a feeding. It may be “glug” “glug”—like gulping, at the start of the feeding or more of a rhythmic “ca, ca” sound.

When your baby starts to suck, it sends a signal for the milk producing area of the breast to move the milk towards the nipple. This is called a let-down reflex. As your let-down reflex becomes established, you will have multiple let-downs in a feeding. (1)  You may notice bursts of sucking in the feeding when the flow of milk is greater—this is a let-down of milk. If you feel a let-down, it will usually only be the first one. Some women describe it as a burning or tingling sensation. It is also normal not to feel the let-down sensation. (2)  The important thing is to hear your baby swallowing. As the baby’s sucking starts to slow down and there are several sucks before you hear a swallow, they are most likely finishing their feeding. Let them break the suction with the breast themselves if possible. Sometimes stimulating them by rubbing their feet or stroking their head, as they slow down helps them decide if they are finished with the side or not.

Your baby will gain weight better if they are allowed to breastfeed as long as they want on the first side before you offer the second side. (1)(3)(4) If they are falling asleep as they finish on the first side, you can burp them, and then try changing their diapers to help wake them up before offering them the second side. Always offer the second side. Your baby may eat about the same amount of time on each breast; they may eat most of the time on the first side and very little on the second or just take one side at a feeding. All are normal. It helps to start on the side you left off on for the next feeding. You will know which side you left off on from the previous feeding because it will be fuller or firmer than the other breast at the next feeding. The key is to try and give both breasts equal stimulation. You may notice one breast seems to produce more milk than the other. This is because most women do not come as a matched set; we have one breast that is larger than the other (often it is your left breast), therefore, one side that makes more milk than the other. (5)  This is normal. It is just something that may be more noticeable when you are breastfeeding.

Often people will ask how long they should be nursing or breastfeeding on each side. If everyone were told to breastfeed the same amount of time, one baby may just be getting started and another may be finished.  This is because some babies start and stop, others suck continuously during a feeding. Again, in the early weeks it will probably take 20-60 minutes for a feeding. We encourage you to have them eat at least 8 times in 24 hours and remember: It is best to watch your baby and not the clock.

References:

  1. Wambach, K,  Riordan, J, Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, 5th edition, Burlington, MA, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2016, p 92, 395. (Note: publishing date does say 2016)
  2. Mohrbacher, N, Stock, J, La Leche League International The Breastfeeding Answer Book, 3rd Revised Edition, Schaumburg, IL, La Leche League International Jan 2003, p 41.
  3. Woolridge, MW, The physiology of suckling and milk transfer, Conference of International Lactation Consultant Association, 1989.
  4. Lawrence, RA, Lawrence, RM, Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Professional, 7th edition, Maryland Heights, MO, Elsevier Mosby, 2011, p 264.
  5. Black, RF, Jarman, L, Simpson, JB, Lactation Specialist Self-Study Series Module 2: The Process of Breastfeeding, Sudbury, MA, Jones & Bartlett Publishing International, 1998, p 18.