After having your first baby, you’re likely to have a lot of questions, especially regarding breastfeeding.
First-time parents are often surprised by just how often their newborns need to feed, and it can be a little bit daunting.
How often should your newborn be breastfeeding? Is there a newborn breastfeeding schedule? Should you wake a sleeping baby to feed? Is my baby getting enough breastmilk?
This in depth guide covers all these questions and more to help you really understand how often your baby should be feeding in its first days, first weeks and first months.
When Should I Start Breastfeeding?
Ideally, you should begin breastfeeding within the first hour of your baby's birth. It’s recommended to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby immediately after giving birth. This will help to keep your child calm, can help build their immune systems and promotes the start of the mother-baby bond.
For optimal skin-to-skin contact, hold your naked baby (or your baby dressed in only a nappy) against your skin. This tends to be under your clothing or under a blanket.
This immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth is also linked to an increased chance of babies breastfeeding, extended length of breastfeeding sessions and an improved rate of exclusive breastfeeding.
How Often Should a Newborn Feed in the First Few Days?
In the first few days, it’s likely that your baby will want to feed often, some parents even report their baby wanting to feed every hour. But, on average, a newborn will generally want to feed about 8-12 times every 24 hours, including during the night.
This is because newborn babies have very small bellies. So they’ll likely want to feed little and often, and they won’t need much feeding to be full.
Remember the Baby Fruit Size Chart that lets you see how big your baby is in the womb? Now there’s a baby tummy fruit size chart as well !
Always feed your baby whenever they’re displaying hunger cues, such as sucking on their fist or fingers or rooting. More on this later.
It’s not recommended that your newborn goes more than 4 hours without feeding, even during the night. Some newborns may be sleepy, so you may need to wake your baby to feed. Try gently patting, stroking or undressing to wake your baby to feed.
How Often Should I Feed My Baby in the First Few Weeks and Months?
As your baby gets bigger, their stomach also gets bigger. Over time your baby will be able to drink more breastmilk at each feeding. This can cause nursing periods to extend.
Generally, you should continue to nurse your newborn 8-12 times a day but this can vary depending on the baby. It’s important to maintain frequent feeding during these first few weeks to encourage good milk production.
Cluster feeding tends to start occurring at 3 weeks, in line with your baby’s first growth spurt. This is when your baby wants shorter feeds more often, and it usually lasts for a couple of hours at a time. This is normal behaviour and is not a sign that something is wrong with your baby.
How Often Should I Breastfeed After Six Months?
By now your baby’s feeding is likely to be much more routine and you should continue to breastfeed your baby whenever they display hunger cues.
From 6 months old you can also start introducing solids into your baby’s feeding routine. If your baby seems to lose interest in breastfeeding because of this, try breastfeeding first. Your breastmilk is still an important source of nutrition for your baby.
It is recommended that you exclusively breastfeed your baby up to at least 6 months, if possible, because of the positive effects it has on your baby.
How Often Should I Breastfeed After the First Year?
For toddlers, breastfeeding is less common. Some toddlers prefer to breastfeed first thing in the morning or last thing at night, while others want to feed more often. Pay attention to your child’s hunger cues to know when they’re hungry and want to breastfeed.
When Should I Stop Breastfeeding?
This is a personal choice.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding (supported by complementary feeding) for a further two years or more.
This is because there are many benefits to breastfeeding such as:
- Reducing the chance of a baby developing diarrhea, ear infections, and bacterial meningitis.
- Protecting your child from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), diabetes, obesity, and asthma.
- Lowering the risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease for the mother.
- Continuing to develop the mother-child bond.
How Long Does Nursing Take?
For newborn babies, breastfeeding sessions can take from 20 to 45 minutes (20 minutes per side). As babies get older, they may only take about 5–10 minutes on each side.
These times can vary depending on the state of the baby. As mentioned above, newborns can be very sleepy and this can affect the time required for nursing. Some feeds can last a long time with your baby napping between wanting more milk.
While feeding, the quality of your milk will actually change. The milk at the end of the feed also known as Hindmilk, is more filling than milk at the start of your feed. Some babies may be satisfied after just one breast. In this case start with the other breast next time.
How long it takes to breastfeed depends on a number of factors:
- Your milk supply
- Your let-down reflex (which causes milk to flow from the nipple)
- The speed of your milk flow
- The quality of your baby’s latch
- Whether your baby begins gulping straight away or takes it slower
- If your baby is sleepy
One tip for getting your baby to feed is to gently stroke their cheeks with your fingers. Or, stroking their top lip with your nipple also works.
Why Is My Baby Hungrier Than Usual?
When your baby goes through a growth spurt they tend to eat more than usual. Growth spurts aren’t fixed events and vary from baby to baby, but they tend to happen when a baby is:
- 7–14 days old
- 6 - 8 weeks old
- 4 months old
- 6 months old
As always, follow your baby’s hunger cues. You may need to breastfeed more often for a while.
Should I have a Breastfeeding Schedule?
Most experts agree that It is not necessary to have a breastfeeding schedule for your baby. Your baby will probably give you a sign when they are hungry; this is known as on-demand feeding. They also tend to wake up from their sleep when they’re hungry.
But, sometimes your baby won’t wake up for feeding. This can be because they're sleepy or could be because of a medical issue, such as an infection or a heart problem, or jaundice.
If you’re worried your baby might be sleeping too much, talk to your GP.
How do I know if my Baby is Hungry?
When your baby is hungry, they will tend to give you little signals, known as hunger cues. It’s important to look out for these cues and respond to them to prevent your baby becoming upset and frustrated.
The infographic below displays the different hunger cues:
Can I Overfeed My Baby?
This is very rare. Most babies know when they’re no longer hungry and will give you a sign to let you know. Some babies will even fall asleep at the breast once they’ve nursed fully.
Overfeeding is more common in formula fed babies.
How do I Know When my Baby is Full?
Generally your baby will remove themselves from the breast if they’re full. Here are some other signs to let you know that they’re sated:
- They fall asleep.
- They stop breastfeeding on their own.
- They stop sucking
- They remove themselves from the breast.
- They turn their head away from the breast.
Is my Baby Getting Enough Breast Milk?
You may be worried that you’re not satisfying your newborn, especially at first when your milk intake hasn’t kicked in. But if you’re feeding your baby on demand, you should be producing enough milk to satisfy your baby’s needs.
If your baby isn’t getting enough milk then there are signs:
- They’re gaining weight slowly.
- They have dark, dry stools, or blood in their stools.
- They have fewer than six wet nappies a day.
- They have not returned to their birth weight after two weeks.
- They have a high temperature.
If your baby is meeting its growth targets and isn’t displaying any of these signs, then they’re likely to be getting enough milk.
Below is a baby milk intake chart, which can be used to track how much your baby is drinking, if you're using a baby scale.
Do you have any questions that haven't appeared in this guide? Comment them below and we'll make sure to answer them.
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