On average, a breastfed newborn eats approximately every 2 to 3 hours around the clock. This is about 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. Babies have little stomachs and breast milk is easily digested, so feed your baby often. The recommended way to feed your breastfed baby is on demand.
Some babies eat many times in a short period and then sleep for a little longer. This is called cluster or bunch feeding. Other babies are sleepy especially in the very early days. You may need to wake your baby up for feedings. Be flexible and feed your baby whenever the baby shows signs of hunger. This will help provide the baby with comfort and security as you increase your milk supply to meet his nutritional needs. As your baby gets older, a more routine schedule may naturally evolve. You might even get a longer period of sleep at night.
Signs of Hunger:
- Awake, alert and active
- Sucking on hands
- Moving lips together
- Sticking out the tongue
- Making sounds
- Pulling up the legs
- Moving the head from side to side
- Putting his head into your chest while you are holding him
- Squirming around
Your baby may show some or all of these signs of hunger. You may not notice them at first, but as the days go on, you will begin to recognize them more easily. Try to feed your baby before he starts to cry. Crying is a late sign of hunger. Once the baby is crying, it can be difficult to calm him down. The baby also uses a lot of energy to cry and can become tired. If this happens, he might not breastfeed as well or he may fall asleep before the feeding is complete.
How Long Should Your Baby Breastfeed at Each Feeding?
In the beginning, nurse your baby for as long as the baby will stay on the breast. Feed the baby until you notice signs that he is satisfied. This helps your body produce more milk. Breast milk is made based on the stimulation of your breasts by the baby. The more often and the longer you breastfeed, the greater your milk supply will be.
At first, try to feed the baby for approximately 10 to 15 minutes on each breast. As the baby gets older, the baby will be able to empty the breast faster, in about 8 minutes.
Signs of Satisfaction:
- The baby stops breastfeeding on his own and removes himself from the breast.
- The baby stops sucking and your breasts feel less full.
- The baby falls asleep and your breasts feel less full.
- The baby turns away from the breast.
- The baby appears content.
Sleepy babies can be a challenge. If your baby is sleepy, you may have to wake her up to breastfeed. Wake your baby up if it has been 3 ½ hours since the beginning of the last feeding. Do your best to keep the baby awake and interested while you are nursing.
Tips to Try With a Sleepy Baby:
- Take advantage of alert times, even if the baby is quiet.
- Change the baby’s diaper right before the feeding or when switching breasts.
- Rub the baby’s feet or back to help keep him sucking at the breast.
- Unwrap the baby. If the baby is too warm and comfortable, she may only want to sleep.
- Wipe the baby’s face with a wet washcloth.
- Burp the baby.
What if The Baby Wants to Breastfeed Continuously?
Occasionally, it may seem like your baby wants to nurse constantly. This may be a growth spurt. During a growth spurt, your baby will nurse much more frequently. The increase in nursing will stimulate your body to produce more milk for your growing baby. A growth spurt usually lasts about 1 or 2 days.
If at any time you feel that your baby is not getting enough breast milk, or is not breastfeeding well, contact your baby’s pediatrician or healthcare provider. The doctor can examine the baby and make sure that baby is having a steady weight gain. He can also answer your questions and help you feel more confident and comfortable about your baby’s feeding schedule.
American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Dell. New York. 2006.
Johnson, Robert V., MD. Mayo Clinic Complete Book of Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1994.