Women's Healthcare Topics

How Frequently Should I Breastfeed My Newborn Baby?

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

How often Should I Breastfeed?

When you're a new mom, you are often worried that your baby isn't getting enough to eat. You can easily tell that your baby is getting enough milk if he or she is gaining weight, has regular bowel movements, has four to six wet diapers each day, sleeps well, is happy and content after nursing, and is alert and active when he or she is awake.

Babies who may not be getting enough to eat are infants who are fussy or cry a lot, babies who aren't satisfied after eating, babies who don't gain weight, and those who don't have several wet diapers each day.

How Often to Breastfeed?

No matter if you're a first-time mom or an experienced parent, you probably have questions about breastfeeding. One of the most commonly asked questions is "how often should I breastfeed?"

When you have a newborn, you should "feed on demand" (when he or she is hungry). Generally, your newborn baby will feed every hour-and-a-half to three hours. In the first month, you should breastfeed your baby 8 to 12 times a day. This may sound like a lot, but frequent feedings will also help stimulate your milk production and make it easier for the milk to flow.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you never allow your baby to go more than four hours at night and three hours during the day without a feeding. You should gently wake your baby for feedings to ensure that he or she gets enough breast milk. Your baby doesn't need to be completely awake to nurse. Some babies will breastfeed even when they aren't wide-awake.

Be careful not to heed the advice of friends and family who may encourage you to breastfeed less often. Watch your infant for cues he wants to feed. Don't wait until your infant cries to breastfeed. Crying is often a late sign that he or she is hungry. Your baby will let you know he's hungry by smacking his or her lips, rooting (moving the head to search for your breast), kicking and squirming, and being more alert. Your newborn may give you these cues every hour or two in the days following his or her birth.

In time, you will learn your baby's individual feeding style. Some babies are active and eager, and others are sleepy and dreamy when they nurse. No matter what style, you should encourage your baby to feed as long as possible each time that you breastfeed. Keep your baby boy or girl at the breast until he or she stops actively suckling. You shouldn't have strict timed nursing sessions. Detaching a suckling baby before he or she is finished, or allowing your infant to fall asleep after starting to nurse, may throw off the rhythm of milk supply and demand. For example, your baby may end up getting too much foremilk (the watery milk that comes first) instead of hindmilk (the "good stuff" that is higher in fat).

As your baby gets older, he or she will need to breastfeed less often. Most babies will develop a reliable schedule. Some babies will nurse every 1.5 hours, while others can go for two to three hours without breastfeeding. By the time your baby is one or two months old, he or she will breastfeed seven to ten times a day.

Why do Breastfed Babies Feed More Often?

Compared to formula-fed babies, infants who are nursed will wake up more often to breastfeed. This is because breast milk is easier to digest, so it moves through your baby's digestive system more quickly. As a result, your child will be hungry more often.

On the plus side, the poop of breastfed babies tends to be less stinky. In the beginning, your breastfed infant will probably poop after each feeding. However, once baby gets older, he or she may go several days to a week without one bowel movement. This is usually nothing to worry about since constipation is rarely a problem in exclusively breastfed babies.

How to Time Your Nursing Intervals

Experts recommend that you don't allow more than two or three hours to pass during the day, and no more than four hours at night, between breastfeeding sessions. But how do you count the length between feedings?

You have to calculate your breastfeeding intervals using the time when your baby first started feeding – not when your baby stopped nursing. For example, if your pediatrician recommends that you breastfeed every two hours and it's 6 o'clock when you first nurse your baby, you will need to feed again at 8 o'clock.

Unfortunately, this means that you will get very little rest in the first month of life. Just remember that as your baby gets older, he or she requires fewer breastfeeding sessions.

This article will explain the frequency, duration and how to know if your baby is eating enough.

The Length of Each Breastfeeding Session

When you have a newborn, each breastfeeding session may take anywhere between 20 and 45 minutes. The duration of each session depends on a number of factors, including your let down (how long it takes before your milk starts flowing), how fast or slow your milk flow is, if your baby is positioned correctly at the breast, if your baby is alert and ready to nurse right away or if he or she likes to dawdle somewhat, and if your baby is sleepy or easily distracted.

Your baby's age also plays a role in the length of each breastfeeding session. Newborns typically feed longer than older babies. It's common for newborn babies to breastfeed for up to 20 minutes on each breast, while older babies are more efficient at nursing and they only take five to ten minutes per breast.

Depending on how hungry your baby is, he or she may nurse on one breast or both. Start on one breast and allow your baby to suckle to his or her contentment. Then, try burping your infant. Afterwards, give your baby the other breast to see if he or she latches on. If your baby isn't interested, start your next breastfeeding session with the second breast.

To have the most successful breastfeeding session, you should ensure that your baby is latched on properly. Your infant should be feeding with a wide-open mouth, and very little of your areola should be visible. When a baby is correctly positioned and has a good latch, breastfeeding shouldn't hurt.

To continue to produce milk in both breasts, you should alternate breasts when you're nursing. Alternating will also prevent painful engorgement. If you ended your last breastfeeding session on the left breast, nurse with your right breast next time. You can use a safety pin on your bra strap, or a colored rubber band to help you remember.

If you find that your baby prefers one breast to the other, you should pump the other breast to relieve the pressure and protect your milk supply. Make sure to store and freeze the excess milk to feed at a later date.


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