Dad’s Guide to Feeding a Newborn - dummies

By Sharon Perkins, Stefan Korn, Scott Lancaster, Eric Mooij

Dads can find that feeding a newborn is often overwhelming or intimidating. Feeding your baby to help her grow and be healthy is an absolute given. But how do you feed her and when?

Breast or formula?

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding as the best way to provide nutrition for a baby. Breast milk is the ideal food for your baby for the first six months of her life, providing targeted nutrition for her age and boosting her immunity. Breast milk is always at the right temperature and generally readily available. Breastfeeding encourages bonding between mother and baby, and last but not least, breast milk is free.

However, this isn’t an ideal world, and sometimes the situation just doesn’t allow breastfeeding to work. Breastfeeding may not work for your family for many reasons. That’s okay — there’s an alternative to breastfeeding. Formula is a milk substitute — babies under one year should never have actual cow’s milk — with added vitamins and nutrients to support growth and development, and plenty of babies thrive on it.

Whatever you and your partner decide to feed your baby, there are pros to both breastfeeding and formula. In some cases, both breast milk and formula can be fed to your baby, which means dads get more time in the feeding seat. Breastfeeding moms can also express milk using a breast pump, which means you can help with the feeding even if there’s not a can of formula to be seen.

As a dad, you can get out your advocating shoes again and support your partner in whichever method of feeding she prefers. If your partner has given breastfeeding her best shot but it hasn’t worked out, it can be tough emotionally for her. Your partner may feel like a failure, or less like a “real” mother to her child. She may be sensitive to the opinions of others around her, family and health professionals included, who don’t understand the decision.

Don’t worry about the opinions of others; you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone. Be confident that you’re doing the best for your family.

Before deciding what and how to feed your baby, get as much information as you can so you’re fully informed of the choices and their implications.

Bottle feeding

If you’re bottle feeding, you need the following gear:

  • Bottles and nipples: There are numerous baby feeding “systems,” so check them all out before buying the first one you see.
  • A way to clean the bottles and nipples: A bottle brush works to get inside the bottle. You don’t have to sterilize bottles anymore.

Formula should be made up right before a feeding according to the instructions on the can or container. Have a supply of bottles and nipples ready to go for when your baby’s hungry, to save time — and your eardrums.

Even if your partner’s breastfeeding, getting the bottle feeding equipment anyway is a good idea. Your partner may want to express breast milk, in which case you’ll need the equipment listed for bottle feeding.

Feeding your baby is about creating a nurturing relationship between you and your child, as well as food. Your baby is held close when being breastfed, and the same should go for bottle feeding too. You can hold your baby in the same loving way as if she were breastfed, sing to her, or have a little chat while she feeds. You’ll find she gazes up at you adoringly and checks out every little nook of your face.

Never, ever prop a baby bottle. Your baby could choke and aspirate formula, causing a potentially life-threatening situation.

How much and when?

Newborn babies love to eat. They grow rapidly and their stomachs are small, so they need regular feedings to keep them tanked up. Having regular feedings also encourages milk production. If your partner is breastfeeding, her milk supply adjusts to meet baby’s demand.

Your baby tells you when she is hungry by

  • Opening her mouth and thrusting her head to the side, as if rooting around to find your partner’s breast.
  • Sucking her fists or clothing.
  • Crying, which is a late sign of hunger and means feed me now or else! Try not to let your baby get to this state before feeding her.

A good sign that you’re on the right track with feeding your baby is that he’s putting on about the right amount of weight for his age. Babies usually lose weight in the first two weeks after birth. After the first few weeks, baby usually gains around ½ pound per week. Don’t worry; this rate slows as they get older.

Newborns usually need to be fed every two to three hours, or about eight to ten times in a 24-hour period. You’ll know your baby is getting enough to eat because she’ll have at least six to eight wet diapers a day; her urine will be light yellow, not dark; and her stools will be soft. If you’re concerned, call your healthcare provider.

Burping it up

Bringing up a good hearty belch may come naturally to you, but for baby, whose digestive system is still immature, a bit of air caught in her tummy or gut needs help to come out or it can be very painful. Usually a gentle pat on the back or a gentle rub counterclockwise does the trick. Your demure little princess will come out with a burp to make you proud.

You can use three good positions to burp your baby:

  • On your lap with baby facing down
  • Sitting on your thigh facing out
  • Over the shoulder, with baby’s head held upright on your shoulder
Burping
Illustration by Kathryn Born, MA
Three good positions for burping your baby.

Don’t forget to support baby’s wobbly head. To protect yourself against any spit-up, drape a flat cloth diaper or receiving blanket over your shoulder or lap.

Your healthcare provider may suggest trying drops that help reduce gas production and discomfort. Babies that cry more also suck down more air, which distends the abdomen and causes discomfort. A baby who spits up frequently or writhes and cries after a feeding may be suffering from reflux, a painful sensation caused by the regurgitation of gastric acid.