How Often Should You Breastfeed A Newborn? Tips For Parents

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You just brought your little bundle of joy home and are willing to do everything possible to ensure they are taken care of. And the most common question that arises at this time is, ‘how often should I feed my newborn?’ Babies need to be fed frequently. But how frequently? Studies suggest that infants should be fed about every two hours and almost eight to ten times a day. But it should also be noted that you should not overfeed your baby. Read on to know more about feeding a baby and signs they are hungry.

How Often Should You Breastfeed Your Newborn?

You should feed your newborn 8-12 times every day in the first few weeks and then whenever she shows signs of hunger (1). Breastmilk is easy to digest, so you need to feed as and when your baby demands.

The foremilk at the beginning of the feed contains less fat while the hindmilk that flows later is high in fats (2). As the newborn drinks for a short duration, there is a likelihood of she missing on the hindmilk. Hence, nursing the baby more frequently in the first few days helps compensate for the low-calorie breastmilk.

As infants grow, the frequency of nursing reduces as the duration per feed increases. The frequency might vary among babies; some might feed every 90 minutes while others would have it every 2-3 hours.

Some babies may have to be nursed a number of times as their intake of milk during a single feed varies.

How Long Should Each Breastfeeding Session Be?

It depends on the sucking strength of the baby. Some can suck more and faster than others. Infants with weak sucking strength need to be fed for a longer time. Preterm and low birth weight babies are, generally, slower than others.

The time you take to nurse your baby depends on a number of factors such as the:

  • milk supply
  • pace of milk flow (slow or fast)
  • position of your baby at your breast
  • age of the baby – older babies may take 5-10 minutes each side and newborns may take 10-20 minutes
  • baby’s ability to latch – if she latches well, your feeding and milk supply will be productive

Adult feeding schedule is not suitable for babies and could lead to poor weight gain (3). And this is why, babies need food in the middle of the night, unlike adults.

How Often Should You Feed Your Newborn At Night?

During the night, infants should not be left unfed for more than three hours (4). If your baby has low birth weight or is prematurely born, then you need to wake her up every two hours to feed.

If your baby wakes up during the night for a feed, make sure to feed her until you empty at least one breast, so that she draws nutrition from the hindmilk.

You might feel extremely sleepy while your baby takes her time to fill her tummy, but you need to let her do that.

Babies require regular feedings, day and night, for their growth and development. Therefore, keep an eye on the hunger signals they give, and act immediately.

Signs Of Hunger In Newborns

You need to nurse your baby at the first signs of hunger. The common hunger cues in a newborn include:

  • Rooting reflex (turns the face toward the breasts and makes sucking motions with lips)
  • Sucking fingers
  • Moving hands to mouth
  • Searching for breast
  • Being restless or extra alert

Crying is the last sign of hunger; so don’t wait for your baby to cry. Feed her before that.

What If Your Baby Is Hungrier Than Usual?

As your baby grows, she will start feeding more and for fewer times in a day.

But if your baby has a growth spurt, she might want to have more than usual. The growth spurts occur during:

  • Seven to 14 days
  • Two months
  • Three months
  • Six months

When your baby is hungrier than usual during these months, feed her on demand.

However, if your newborn is hungry even after you feed her or cries a lot, it means that she is not getting enough milk.

How Do You Know Your Baby Is Getting Enough Milk?

Your baby is getting enough milk if she displays the following signs:

  • Sleeps well
  • Is alert when awake
  • Gains weight consistently
  • Uses 4-6 diapers in a day
  • Passes bowels regularly
  • Is happy after feeding

She isn’t having enough if she:

  • Is hungry frequently
  • Is not gaining enough weight
  • Wets very few diapers
  • Has irregular bowel movements
  • Has disturbed sleep
  • Is fussy and cries often
  • Doesn’t look happy after feeding

You can also look out for these specific signs to know whether she is getting enough milk or not.

  • Urine: The newborns’ urine should be clear or light yellow. If she is passing less frequently or it is in dark yellow or orange, then she may not be getting enough milk. Increase the frequency of feeds and consult your child’s pediatrician if the problem continues.
  • Weight: The newborns lose weight post delivery, and breastfed babies lose more weight than the bottle-fed ones. Then they begin gaining weight again. If your baby is not gaining enough weight, underfeeding could be one of the main reasons.

If you think your baby is not having enough milk, then you should consult your pediatrician. The doctor will examine the baby, her weight, and evaluate the breastfeeding technique.

What If Breastfeeding Babies Are Overfed?

Overfeeding is usually not a problem in breastfed babies because they develop the ability to regulate the milk intake. Besides, babies have less than what is offered to them.

Nursing mothers can produce an average of 1,200g of milk in a day, but babies consume only 500-700g (5).

What If Formula-fed Babies Are Overfed?

Don’t force your baby to finish the bottle. Stop feeding when your baby signals that she is not hungry anymore. The signs include:

  • turning the head away from the bottle
  • spitting out milk
  • pushing the bottle
  • falling asleep

If your baby refuses the bottle three times in a row, you must stop feeding her.

Tips For New Mommies

While the thumb rule is that all babies need to be fed every two to three hours, your baby’s requirement may be more or less than this because each baby is different. Therefore, here are a few tips you may want to know:

Don’t let your baby go unfed beyond four hours.

  • Listen to your baby’s body.
  • Check the infant’s weight and growth during the doctor-visits to confirm that they are on track.

We have answered all your basic questions on feeding your baby. Now, let’s address a few auxiliary questions that might help you.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How often should I switch breasts?

The time spent depends on your milk supply and the speed at which your baby can gulp the milk. Some may have to switch within five minutes while others may take 10-15 minutes. However, do not do it too early as your baby might miss on the high-fat hindmilk.

Experts recommend switching breasts in the middle of each feed and also start the next feed with the second breast.

You have to switch breasts to maintain consistent milk supply in your breasts and prevent engorgement.

2. How often should I burp the baby after feeding?

You need to burp your baby every time you alternate between your breasts.

Burping also depends on what the mother eats — if you eat gassy foods then you will have to burp your baby more often.

If your baby throws up a lot, you may have to burp her more often. It’s normal for babies to spit out a little after eating or while burping, so do not worry unless it happens often.

3. How often should I wake up the newborn for feeding?

As a thumb rule, you shouldn’t let your baby go unfed for more than two hours during the day and four hours during the night.

It also depends on your baby’s weight and age. Most newborns lose weight after birth. Until the lost weight is regained, you need to feed him frequently, which means you have to wake her up from sleep often.

Once your baby gains weight appropriate to his age, you can wait until she wakes up for feedings.

4. What should I look for in my newborn’s diapers?

Diapers are an excellent indicator of whether or not your baby is getting what she needs. On the first day, your baby may have one or two wet diapers as the first milk is too concentrated.

After four days, your baby will pass clear or pale urine, and wet six or more diapers a day. If she passes dark urine or orange crystals in urine, it means that your baby is not getting enough fluids.

The first stools of your baby will be thick and tarry, and change to green to yellow after three to four days. It’s normal for babies to pass four or more yellow seedy bowels after each feed. After one month, breastfed babies have fewer bowels.

5. Does my baby want to be nursed or comforted?

Some babies might be getting sufficient milk, but still, suck the breast for comfort. Here are the signs to know that your baby wants to be comforted rather than nursed:

  • looks happy and satisfied
  • stops sucking and moves jaws
  • plays with the nipple

This is alright when your baby is young but as he grows older it becomes difficult to wean her off sucking for comfort. Therefore, you need to restrict your breastfeeding only for nourishment as your baby grows older. You can offer her a pacifier or let her suck on her thumb.

As new moms, you may wonder how often I should feed my newborn or worry about overfeeding or underfeeding your baby. Although following the recommended feeding intervals should help you stay on track, remember that each baby is different. So, be aware of the indications to watch for to prevent your baby from going hungry or being overfed. You can gently wean them off and assist them with the transition by allowing them to suck on their thumb or using a pacifier as they grow.

References:

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Dr. Umera Zakiahmed Saiyed

(BHMS)
Dr. Umera Zakiahmed Saiyed is a homoeopathic consultant and runs her own clinic Noor. She pursued her BHMS from Yerela Medical College in Kharghar, Mumbai and worked as an assistant doctor under a gynaecologist in Surat, Gujarat. With more than 5 years of experience in gyneacpcods, assisting many labor and caesarean deliveries, she holds expertise in cases related to infertility,... more

Kalpana M

Kalpana Nadimpalli graduated in English Literature and Psychology. Her fascination for the corporate world made her do a Masters in Business Administration. Being a mother of two boys, she could naturally fit into the shoes of a writer at MomJunction. She wrote articles on new parenting and relationships. Previously, Kalpana worked as a product information specialist and technical writer. During her... more