Research shows that breastfeeding is often a rich and rewarding experience for the mother, and a great way to provide your infant with excellent nutrition and essential protection from infections and other conditions. Breastfeeding, though, can sometimes be a challenge for even the most well-prepared of mothers. Many parents have questions about the process of breastfeeding their newborn.

How often does the baby need to be fed? Is it better to breastfeed on a set schedule or per the newborn’s demand? Should you wake up a sleeping baby to keep a breastfeeding schedule?
These are all perfectly natural questions. To understand how best to answer them, we will need to take a closer look at some of the important details about nursing a newborn.

How Often Do Newborns Need To Breastfeed?

Typically, a newborn needs to breastfeed every 2 to 3 hours around the clock, or 8 to 12 feeding sessions in 24 hours. This frequency is necessary because newborn babies have very small stomachs, and breast milk is quickly digested. As your baby continues to grow their stomach will grow larger; they will take more per feed, and they will be able to go longer periods between sessions.

Understanding Newborn Feeding Patterns

Newborns often develop their own schedule of breastfeeding, expressing hunger every 2 to 3 hours. But, there is a lot of variability. Infants may feed as often as hourly for a “cluster” of several hours, or take breaks of longer than three hours during which they sleep. Despite this, they manage to get their 8-12 feeds per day. This variable pattern is very typical, very normal. Your job as parent is to recognize when the baby is hungry and when the baby is satisfied. As long as you do that, your baby will grow well and be content.

Should I Wake My Newborn To Breastfeed?

If your newborn sleeps for three to four hours without feeding, you can gently wake them up for breastfeeding. Sometimes the baby will feed and fall back asleep again. This is a relatively common trend in the first two to three weeks of a newborn’s life. As they grow, your baby will be able to go longer without feeding, and you can let them sleep until they wake up on their own to tell you they are hungry.

Should I Breastfeed On A Set Schedule?

It’s best to breastfeed a newborn baby on demand. Ideally, you want to stay flexible to feed your newborn whenever they appear to be hungry. This will help provide your baby with a sense of comfort and security. Why is this important? Breastfeeding is not only about feeding. It is also about communicating. An infant indicates a need to eat, and you respond by feeding. The baby is satisfied both because his (her) hunger is gratified, but also because you, the most important person in his life, listened to his need and responded. This satisfying of the infant’s need to communicate is not met if you feed on schedule.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that this type of “on-demand” feeding also helps your mammary glands to increase the supply of breast milk in proportion to your baby’s nutritional needs. As your baby grows they will likely develop a more routine schedule, which will let you both sleep more during the night.

How Do I Know If My Baby Is Hungry?

Even though newborns can’t speak in words we can understand they will still be able to tell you that they are hungry by crying or fussing. As time goes on you might even notice that you can tell the difference between the sound of crying your baby makes when they are hungry or crying for another reason.

Should I Wait For My Baby To Cry Before Breastfeeding?

Ideally, it’s best to feed your newborn before he or she starts to cry, as crying is actually a late sign of hunger. Some babies can be difficult to calm down when they cry. Checking to see if your baby is hungry every two to three hours will help keep them calm while still feeding when they are hungry. Some earlier signs of hunger may include fists moving to the mouth and head turning to look for the breast.

How Long Should I BreastFeed In A Single Session?

Early on your newborn will simply latch on and feed until they are full. It helps to give your baby 10 to 15 minutes on each breast. With time, you will grow to recognize when the baby is full. Generally, infants will detach themselves or fall asleep when they are done eating. In the first several weeks, infants may fall asleep after the first breast, only to wake twenty minutes later to feed at the other. This is common, and happens because the newborns tire easily. Breastfeeding is hard work!

This method also helps your body to adjust to building up the sufficient milk supply your baby needs. As your baby breastfeeds more and more your body’s natural milk production will increase in stride. Also, as your baby grows they will get faster and faster at draining each breast. In time, your baby might be able to drain a single breast in as little as 7 to 10 minutes.

How Can I Tell When My Baby Is Full?

There are a few different signs that a baby is full, and done breastfeeding. The most obvious one is that they will release and stop feeding altogether. Your baby might also appear content or even fall asleep when they are full.

What If My Baby Wants To Breastfeed Non-Stop?

Some baby’s go through rapid growth spurts where it seems like they want to breastfeed all the time. This increase in appetite is natural and helps stimulate your body to produce more breast milk. These successive feeding clusters typically only last for a few days.

Tips For Easier Breastfeeding

There are a few things you can do to make breastfeeding easier. This includes little things you can do while your baby is sleeping or immediately after they are done breastfeeding.

  1. It helps sometimes to change your baby’s diaper right before you begin to breastfeed or when switching from one breast to the other.
  2. Rubbing the baby’s back or feet while they are suckling also helps to keep them calm and encourage them to keep feeding.
  3. Consider unwrapping your newborn if they are sleepy and want to go back to sleep when they should be feeding.
  4. Gently wipe your baby’s face with a warm, wet washcloth. Babies have sensitive skin that can sometimes develop a minor facial rash if breast milk dries on their cheek or lip.
  5. Don’t be surprised if your baby soils their diaper shortly after a breastfeeding session. It helps to have a clean diaper ready, or to feed your baby near the diaper changing station.

When Should I Call A Doctor About A Breast Feeding Concern?

The early days of breastfeeding can be a challenge for even the most prepared and experienced mother. You should feel free to call your doctor if you are concerned that your baby is not getting enough breast milk. Your pediatrician might suggest making an appointment to weigh your baby to make sure they are consistently gaining weight. Also, remember that the typical advice doesn’t work for every baby. Your pediatrician can help you come up with a plan that works for you, or refer you and your baby to a lactation specialist.