You're in good company if you decide to breastfeed your new baby. According to the CDC, over 80% of babies start their feeding journey through breastfeeding. With strong evidence supporting its benefits, it's not surprising that most moms breastfeed their babies at birth. But it isn't always easy, and most moms have a lot of questions. Once you've established a good breastfeeding connection with your baby, it's important to understand the frequency of feeding necessary to give your baby a strong and healthy start. Getting the right balance will also ensure your milk production grows steadily so that you can continue breastfeeding your baby for as long as you want.
Here we'll cover how often you should be feeding your newborn as well as how that frequency changes as your baby gets older. We hope to answer your most pressing questions about when you should feed your baby and signs to look for that they're getting the proper amount of milk. Breastfeeding can be a beautiful journey, but it's not without a learning curve. We're here to help!
Success with breastfeeding starts the very first hour you meet your baby.
Frequency of Feeding in the First 24 Hours
After 9 months of carrying your little one in your belly and then working hard to bring her into this world, exhaustion is very real. But there is no rest for the weary new mom. Caring for your newborn starts immediately - and we know you wouldn't have it any other way. Chances are you've been waiting your whole life for this moment.
Much evidence shows how important the first hour of life is for a breastfed baby. Initiating milk production and removing colostrum from a mother's breast during what's referred to as the "Golden Hour" increases the likelihood that babies will be able to continue to breastfeed. Colostrum is the first milk a baby takes in as they breastfeed, and it contains rich antibodies and essential nutrients for protecting your baby. Bathing and weighing a newborn baby can wait; be sure to know ahead of time that you'll be able to nurse your baby right away as long as he or she is healthy enough to do so.
Even though your baby takes in less than a teaspoon of this powerful liquid at a time, this initial feeding and each subsequent one in the first 24 hours sends a signal to your body to produce more colostrum.
Because your baby is getting such a small amount at each feeding, it's important to feed your baby no less than 8 times that first day. It's likely she will be very tired initially - possibly not waking on her own to eat - so it's important that you wake her to eat AT LEAST every 3 hours. However, feeding up to 12 times or more in a 24-hour period is also completely normal.
Once it's time to head home from the hospital your body has a great start on producing colostrum which will transition to milk as your breastfeeding journey continues at home.
How Often to Feed Your Newborn in the First Week
The frequency of feeding once bringing your bundle of joy home with you won't look much different than it did in the hospital. But you will probably notice that your baby is spending more time at each breast. Your body is now producing more colostrum while your baby is becoming more adept at extracting it.
You should still be feeding your baby 8 - 12 times per day and waking them so they never go longer than 3 hours between feeds. And yes, this also means in the middle of the night. With tiny tummies and the quick digestion that occurs from such small feedings, your baby will be hungry around the clock. Not only does this ensure that your baby is getting enough breastmilk to grow properly, it's also allowing your body to produce the amount of milk that your baby needs. When your baby takes milk from your breast, your body receives the signal that it needs to make more - establishing an adequate milk supply now and going forward.
During this time, you'll notice your milk starting to look less sticky and yellow and much closer to the white liquid you would expect. Your breasts will feel fuller, heavier and may begin leaking milk. This is the point at which your milk has "come in." And it's a great sign that your breastfeeding is off to an excellent start!
Benefits of Frequent Breastfeeding
We know that in those first several weeks of your baby's life, it can seem like all you're doing is feeding your baby. And it can be difficult trying to get any sort of sound sleep during those short periods of time when your baby isn't feeding. But it is necessary in order to establish a good breastfeeding connection that will continue successfully. Luckily this period is temporary, and over time, your baby will be able to go longer and longer stretches between eating.
So besides establishing a proper milk supply, why else is it important to frequently breastfeed your baby?
- Your baby is getting the unique nutrients and calories for optimal growth and development.
- Feeding your baby often will allow them to regain their birth weight more quickly.
- Frequent breastfeeding helps your baby break down red blood cells and stimulate your baby's digestive system, in turn helping him avoid the most common cause of jaundice.
- Frequently fed breastfed babies are more likely to continue being successfully breastfed.
- Mothers who breastfeed often will recover from childbirth more quickly and easily.
Feeding as often as every 2-3 hours will continue for at least the first couple of weeks. At your 2-week appointment, if your baby has regained their birth weight, they may tell you that you can let your baby go a 4 - 5 hour stretch at night between feeds. This probably sounds like heaven after such short bursts of sleep those first couple of weeks. Just remember that you'll still want to get in that minimum of 8 feeds to keep maintaining a healthy milk supply and ensure your baby is getting enough milk. You can't nurse too often, but it is possible to not nurse often enough.
Signs Your Baby is Getting Enough Milk
It is very common for new breastfeeding moms to wonder if their baby is getting enough milk. After all, you can't actually see how many ounces they are taking in like you could if you were feeding them from a bottle.
Luckily, there are lots of signs to show that your baby is getting plenty to eat. Here's how you can know your baby is getting enough:
- one poopy diaper for each day of life in the beginning (1 on day 1, 2 on day 2, etc.)
- after 4 days, stools are loose and yellow and baby has at 3 or more poopy diapers per day
- one wet diaper for each day of life in the beginning; once your milk is in, 5 or more wet diapers within a 24-hour period
- your milk coming in (full, soft, leaky breasts) in the first week
- your baby is gaining an average of 6 ounces per week
- your baby has regained their birth weight within 10 - 14 days
- you can physically see your baby swallowing milk while making gulping noises
- your breast feels less full after a feed and fills up again when it's time to feed again
If you have any concerns about your breastfeeding or if you think your baby isn't getting enough milk, it's important to contact your child's pediatrician or a lactation consultant right away. They can help you with your breastfeeding and ensure that your baby is getting the nutrition they need.
Scheduling Versus On-Demand Feeding
Many mothers are tempted to get their baby on a schedule to keep the day more organized and also in hopes of getting more sleep for everyone in the household. And we definitely get that! Though there is a time and a place for some flexible scheduling, your baby's earliest weeks aren't the recommended time to do so. Especially if you want to continue to breastfeed as the months go by.
As alluring as it may sound to get your baby on a schedule as soon as possible, there can be consequences to doing it too soon. One of the biggest downsides being that babies who are exclusively breastfed on a schedule during the first 6 weeks of life are less likely to gain weight at the proper rate and are more likely to be weaned earlier (according to La Leche League). And even though you likely find schedules helpful and positive, your baby could care less about that. Instead, they want to eat when they are hungry, and that doesn't always fit into perfect times on the clock.
So, what do we recommend instead?
Especially in the first couple of months, it's best to feed your baby on demand. Sometimes they may cluster feed (several periods in a short amount of time) whereas other times of day they might be able to go for extended periods between feeds. Ultimately, you want to be looking to them for cues that they are hungry.
Here are some common cues:
- moving their head side to side
- opening their mouth and sticking out their tongue
- sucking on hands and fists
- making sucking motion with their mouths
- rooting at mother's breast
Once your baby is very hungry, the crying will continue to escalate. Even if it seems like you just fed them, they still may be hungry, and you should offer your breast. Some moms worry that they are "spoiling" their baby by feeding them too often, but you truly aren't. Not only is this a time for your baby to receive nourishment, but also a bonding time that's meeting your baby's emotional needs (and likely yours, too.)
How the Frequency of Feeding Changes as Your Baby Grows
Over time, how often your baby nurses will ebb and flow. As she grows, you'll notice her ability to go longer between feeding sessions. She is able to take in more food at a time, which means more time to digest it all before getting hungry again. But your baby will also go through growth spurts where she may suddenly need to feed more again for a week or two.
Each baby is unique and grows at a different rate. Therefore, the feeding needs for each baby will look different, too. Not everyone agrees that scheduling is detrimental to a baby's breastfeeding journey past those initial 8 weeks. If you have a good supply established at that point, creating more of a schedule so everyone can sleep better may be the best fit for some families. It's important that you do what's best for your family and what you're comfortable with. However, if you do have concerns that your supply may be dwindling or if you don't want anything getting in the way of being able to continue to breastfeed, taking the on demand approach might be the best way to go.
Is it possible for my baby to get too much milk?
You don't need to worry about overfeeding your baby if you are exclusively breastfeeding. If you do feel like you have an oversupply, this article from Medela offers some tips on how to handle that situation.
What if I want to exclusively pump? Is my baby still getting the same benefits if they're getting breast milk from a bottle?
Some moms want to make sure their babies are getting all the benefits of breast milk but for one reason or another decide (or need) to pump some or all of their baby's milk. Your baby will get all of the health benefits of expressed breast milk as long as it's prepared and stored correctly. We discuss that in-depth in this article, but you'll want to make sure you're warming the milk correctly in order to preserve nutrients. We recommend the Baby's Brew. It's a battery-operated portable bottle warmer that uses slow-heat technology to safely warm breast milk to the perfect body temperature of 98.6 degrees...with absolutely no guesswork from you!
Are there any cons to breastfeeding?
Though breastfeeding is the recommended choice, it's not always easy. Read our article, "Feeding Your Newborn: Everything You Need to Know About Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding," to find out more pros and cons of breastfeeding as well as pros and cons of formula feeding.