Are you a breastfeeding mama struggling with a perpetually-hungry baby like me?
I’ve often wondered why my breastfed babies never seemed satisfied after most feedings. They never appeared to get “as full” as formula-fed babies. They would fuss after a feeding, have trouble sleeping through the night and continue to reach for the breast after nursing.
In fact, this is the routine each and every evening. I’m exhausted, nursing around the clock every two hours, surviving on a few snacks and my nursing mama vitamins. Once I think I can sit down and get some chores done or play with my toddler and preschooler, that ravenous hunger strikes again. My bundle of joy wiggles from side to side, arching his back and neck, head bopping and mouth rooting.
And I think: Didn’t I just feed you? How are you still hungry?? Why is my breast milk not filling you up? Am I doing something wrong??
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When Your Breastfed Baby Is Always Hungry
Is your breast milk enough?
All these breastfeeding struggles that come to mind may make us feel inadequate and lead us to question whether our milk supply is even best for our baby. But it’s important to not compare ourselves to others too much (despite the tendency to do so!).
You hear stories from mom friends or see their proud parenting moments on social media that contribute to these moments of frustration and feelings of inadequacies. Maybe they’re bragging about a 4 month old sleeping through the night, or sharing pictures of their girls night out adventures…when you wonder how the heck baby isn’t waking from hunger AND wish you could sneak away for just a couple hours without a hand pump in tow, and then race back home to feed a hungry baby.
So you start doubting yourself…and asking questions like:
Am I producing enough milk for baby? Should I be supplementing and feeding baby formula to keep him full for longer chunks of time??
Breast milk vs. Formula
While supplementing may be necessary in some cases, it isn’t always true for every baby, as some babies may have a bad (reflux) reaction to formula.
We know how beneficial it is to be able to breastfeed baby those first few months — the “breast is best” phrase is touted everywhere by pediatricians, lactation consultants and even written on various baby products and formulas! But breast milk is also lower in fat content and easily digested…which may inevitably leave your little one looking for more.
So playing the breast vs formula game can be a slippery slope. And probably something you shouldn’t do. It’s a decision only mom can make best.
But why do some breastfed babies appear to be fine, while others are just never satisfied, always wanting more?
Well after some struggling with my youngest, I found the answer right at my breast.
Breastfeeding tips for moms
After nursing two kids (before my most recent baby), I thought I had this whole breastfeeding thing figured out. The lactation consultants at the hospital would always meet with new nursing moms to review the basics and help them through any new breastfeeding challenges. I always appreciated their tidbits of wisdom when they stopped by.
Start each new feeding with the breast you left off.
Nurse on each side if baby is still hungry after first breast.
Finish feeding one full breast before moving on to the other.
Okay, got it. I thought I was already doing that each time.
But it turns out I wasn’t exactly. Yes, I’ll blame it on the dreaded engorged breast that may have caused a nursing mother to move to quickly onto the next breast before finishing feeding one breast, even if it already felt “empty” to me.
Related: Breastfeeding Video Course
How to keep a breastfed baby full
But here’s the deal.
The first bit of milk that each breast produces is called foremilk. It’s a lighter substance that contains smaller amounts of fat. My pediatrician compared it to apple juice, where a kid drinking apple juice may quench their thirst, but doesn’t really feel like he had a meal after drinking.
That last bit of milk that comes after the foremilk, is the golden liquid: hindmilk. This thicker milk contains a bit more fat and therefore is the milk more likely to keep baby full.
That’s why if your baby always seem hungry even after you’ve offered BOTH breasts, it may simply be because you moved on to the next breast too quickly, and didn’t let him drink that filling hindmilk!
KellyMom, a top breastfeeding resource or moms, describes the process between feedings where “milk collects in the breasts and gradually moves out toward the nipple, leaving more and more of the fat “stuck” further back in the milk ducts.”
What?!! Is that why my baby always gave off those hunger signs? Oh my!!
It’s quite eye-opening actually!
I really wasn’t emptying that first breast completely before offering up the next, so it was no surprise baby was telling me he was really hungry!
Are you feeding one breast entirely before offering baby the next?
This is something all mamas should pay attention to each time they feed — it may truly be the answer to your struggles.
Quick Tip –> If you can’t remember which breast you left off last, get this super helpful feeding clip to keep track. You can also download my FREE breastfeeding success kit that includes a feeding tracker!
But I don’t want you to feel discouraged if this doesn’t work right away…because in reality, it may take some time.
Baby may cluster feed during a growth spurt.
Baby may use the breast as a pacifier for comfort.
Or mama could be misreading the signs all together, as breastfed babies may often reach for the breast for comfort when trying to communicate other needs — like help-me-go-to-sleep-mama, I’m exhausted (this is actually a big thing that happens to a lot of us!)!
So the next time you find yourself struggling to feed a “hungry baby” keep in mind what breast you started with and make sure baby drinks up every last drop before switching sides!
Note: If you’re feeling super engorged on one side and need relief, express a little manually or with a trusted breast pump (my favorite one). Then you can offer the rest to baby afterwards
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Ana, a mom to three rambunctious little boys, has supported thousands of women throughout their pregnancy and motherhood journey since 2012 as a prenatal and postpartum educator at MommysBundle.com.