How Often Should I Breastfeed?

One of the most common questions among new moms is how often should I breastfeed? The answer depends on your baby’s eating habits and preferences, her age, and her growth timeline. Here are some guidelines that will help you determine how often you should breastfeed your baby at every stage:

Breastfeeding On-Demand

How Often Should I Breastfeed?Most experts believe that breastfeeding on-demand is the best approach to ensuring you meet your baby’s nutritional needs, especially during the newborn stage. Initiating breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth will help you and your little one establish a rhythm. From there, you may be feeding as often as every 2 to 3 hours or 8 to 10 times per day for the first few months.

Your baby’s stomach is very small at birth and cannot hold more than a few teaspoons of colostrum, your earliest milk. As your mature milk comes in, your baby will be able to take in more breast milk. If you’re worried that your baby is breastfeeding too often or drinking too much milk, don’t be. Breastfed babies regulate themselves by drinking only until they are satisfied. One of the wonderful things about breast milk is that it is easily digestible for your baby. But that also means it is digested quickly – usually within 90 minutes.

As a new mom you may be unsure when your baby is hungry. Look for subtle hunger cues such as rooting, smacking lips or sucking on the air, hands or lips. Usually crying is a sign that your baby is over-hungry so try to feed your baby before that point.

Falling Asleep During Breastfeeding

Infants, and particularly newborns, can be rather sleepy during feedings. If you’ve woken your baby for a feeding, chances are she’s going to be pretty drowsy and may doze off as she peacefully suckles your warm breast milk. The act of sucking and being nuzzled in close to you can be so relaxing, even the most alert babies may fall asleep while breastfeeding. If this is the case for your baby and you can’t keep her on task, you may have more frequent short feedings.

If you think your baby could drink more if she stays awake during feedings, try un-swaddling her and perhaps even undressing her down to the diaper for feedings. You can tickle her skin, sing or talk to your baby or use a damp washcloth to help keep her bright-eyed during feedings. You may also want to shift your position several times during a feeding to keep your baby stimulated with movement.

Cluster Feeding

Many babies will cluster feed close to the end of the day. This is the time that babies are naturally fussier and need soothing. Nursing often in the late afternoon and evening can help pacify your baby and fill her with nutrients that may help her sleep longer at night. For that reason, many moms encourage cluster feeding – so you can get some extra rest as well!

Growth Spurts, Sickness and Security

Your baby may take up more frequent feedings during growth spurts because her body may need more growth-promoting nutrients at that time. Growth spurts usually occur a few days after birth, 7-10 days old, 2-3 weeks old, 4-6 weeks old, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months. Of course your baby is an individual but this is a typical timeframe for most babies, give or take a few days and weeks.

When your baby is sick or going through an emotional issue such as entering day care or having a fear of strangers, she may crave your affection and need to nurse more often. Being in your arms and being nourished by your breast milk not only makes your baby stronger and healthier, it also gives her a sense of security in an uncertain world.

Signs Your Baby is Thriving

Although you may not be able to measure every ounce of breast milk your baby is drinking to ensure she’s getting enough, there are signs that your baby is thriving. First, after her first few days of life, your baby should steadily gain weight throughout year one. Your pediatrician will help you determine if your baby is on a healthy growth curve. If you’re concerned about your baby’s weight gain in between doctor’s visits you can buy an infant scale to weigh her periodically.

Also, your baby should be wetting and soiling diapers frequently as a sign she is consuming, digesting and eliminating breast milk properly. And, while your baby may be fussy sometimes for other reasons, she should seem generally satisfied after feedings.

As your baby grows out of the newborn stage and develops regular patterns and routines, you may notice that your feeding schedule follows suit. You can continue to allow your baby to decide when to eat, but it may be at the same times every day, such as immediately upon waking, before and after naps, and before bedtime. These patterns can help you regain some predictability in your life as you start to go on with daily activities and reenter the “regular world” after having a baby.

Next time you ask yourself, how often should I breastfeed, consider these factors and most importantly, take cues from your baby.

Sources: KellyMom, La Leche League and BabyCenter

 

Loving Moments believes moms should have the knowledge, resources and power to make the healthiest choices for their babies, starting with breastfeeding. In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month in August, we are sharing Breastfeeding Basics, our educational blog series that we hope will empower you with information, encouragement and inspiration to meet your breastfeeding goals.