Your baby needs to eat at least 8 times every 24 hours to help them gain weight until they have a weight check at your healthcare provider’s office. This means feeding every 2-3 hours. Remember though no one has told your baby this. They may have times that they eat every hour other times farther apart. But to gain weight they will need to eat a minimum of 8 feedings in 24 hours and it may be 10-12 times in 24 hours. This is normal as a baby establishes your milk supply. Their pattern of eating will change as they grow. The goal in the first 48 hours of life is to work towards at least 8 feedings. Some babies will need encouraging, others don’t. This frequency of feeding is needed to establish your milk supply. It is best not to let your baby go longer than 4 hours between feedings until their first weight check confirms they are gaining weight.
It is best to feed babies on demand. Let your baby be your guide, not the clock.
Remember when you are hungry you just head to the fridge – however, when a baby is hungry you have to look for the signs of hunger mentioned earlier: the rooting reflex, hands in mouth, sucking sounds and movements, soft cooing or sighing sounds, and increased wiggling. Crying is usually a late cue for hunger. (1)(2)(3)
Your baby may take one side per feeding or two. They may take the second side for the same amount of time as the first, or not at all. If your baby is sleepy after the first side you can help stimulate your baby to see if they want the second side by burping, and/or changing a diaper. Sometimes they may eat just one side at a time and eat a little closer together. (1)(4)(5)
For the average newborn, it takes roughly 20-40 minutes to complete a feeding in the first couple of weeks of life. (1) It may feel like you just finished a feeding and in an hour they want to start again. This is not unusual in the first two weeks of life. Your baby will get more efficient and faster as they get older. This early pattern of eating helps to establish the mother’s milk supply.
Due to the variation in the fat content of milk within a feeding and within a 24 hour period, weight gain seems to be best if you let baby nurse as long as desired on one side before switching to the other side. (2)(3)
Avoid going long stretches without feeding: It is best for both the mother and the baby to go no more than 4 hours between feedings, until the first weight check at the doctor’s office. Long stretches between feedings can make mothers more engorged and sometimes latching baby on takes longer.
You do not want your baby to start sleeping through their dinner bell and then be so hungry when they wake up they are difficult to calm down and get to feed. They may seem frantic at the breast like they forgot how to eat. You can soothe them by letting them suck on your clean little finger, pad side up towards the roof of baby’s mouth, and then attempt to get them to latch on when they are calmer. Then try not to have your baby go that long between feedings in the future.
Realize also, your baby did NOT read this information! So if sometimes they eat more often or feed closer together, or if they sleep longer and have feedings farther apart, it’s okay. Often when you start noticing a pattern—they change it!
- Mannel, R, Marten, PJ, Walker, M, Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice, 3rd edition, Burlington, MA, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2013 pp 87-88, 594-95.
- Lawrence, RA, Lawrence, RM, Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Professional, 7th edition, Maryland Heights, MO, Elsevier Mosby, 2011, pp 247, 265-66.
- Wambach, K, Riordan, J, Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, 5th edition, Burlington, MA, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2016, pp237, 292-93. Note: publish date says 2016.
- Mohrbacher, N, Stock, J, La Leche League International The Breastfeeding Answer Book, 3rd Revised Edition, Schaumburg, IL, La Leche League International, Jan. 2003, p 37.
- Black, RF, Jarman, L, Simpson, JB, Lactation Specialist Self-Study Series Module 2: The Process of Breastfeeding, Sudbury, MA, Jones & Bartlett Publishing International, 1998, pp 31, 28-29, 48, 271.