Should I Breastfeed on Demand or Schedule Feedings?

How to encourage appropriate weight gain and build breast milk supply

Mother nursing baby at home
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The old adage "never wake a sleeping baby" can actually be poor advice if you are a breastfeeding mom of a new baby. While letting sleeping babies lie can be a workable strategy for older babies, spacing out feedings too far apart in those early weeks may decrease your milk supply and can keep your baby from packing on much-needed pounds. Surely, these are the consequences you want to avoid.

How Often to Breastfeed Newborns

So you realize you might need to wake your baby for feedings, but how often? If you have a freshly born baby who is still below their birth weight, it is very important that you breastfeed them often. Many lactation consultants will advise that you aim to feed at least 10 to 12 times in a 24 hour period. Another way to think of it is to nurse about every 2 hours during the day with no longer than 4 hour stretches at night.

Be assured—at this young age, you can't spoil your baby or breastfeed too often. Also, during the first few weeks and during growth spurts, your baby may likely engage in what is called cluster feeding.

Cluster feeding is when a baby feeds as often as every 45 minutes to an hour for a period of several hours. Think of it as your baby's attempt to tank up for the night. It helps stimulate your milk supply, encourages weight gain, and also may get your baby to sleep a bit longer (bonus!).

Once Birth Weight Returns

Typically, babies lose up to 7% in the first week and should return to birth weight by the end of the second week. Once your baby returns back to their birth weight and has established a good weight gain pattern, you can relax quite a bit. Rather than feeding by set periods of time, you can switch to feeding on demand.

The only caution with that recommendation is your baby still doesn’t know days from nights. That means they may sleep for longer stretches during the day and shorter stretches at night. Newborns need to be fed every 3 hours during the day, so you may need to wake your baby from daytime naps to feed them.

Although your baby is not likely to establish a circadian rhythm (where they naturally sleep more at night) until they are 3 to 5 months old, keeping them stimulated and feeding often during the day might help you avoid more frequent night wakings.

Scheduled Feedings

Some parents would argue that all babies should be put on scheduled feedings, pacing feeds at set periods of time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization share similar policies on breastfeeding. All of the organizations now recommend that healthy babies should be fed when they show signs of hunger rather than when a clock indicates "it's time."

The key here is for you to determine the difference between honest-to-goodness hunger cues and the typical fussiness that nearly all babies experience. You don't need to feed your baby at every whimper or hiccup, but certainly, do feed her when it is clear to you that she is hungry. Additionally, a way to avoid fussiness in older babies is to address their hunger needs.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fallon A, Van der Putten D, Dring C, Moylett E, Fealy G, Devane D. Baby-led compared with scheduled (or mixed) breastfeeding for successful breastfeeding. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;9:CD009067. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009067.pub3

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much and how often to breastfeed.

  3. Ditomasso D, Paiva A. Neonatal weight matters: An examination of weight changes in full-term breastfeeding newborns during the first 2 weeks of life. J Hum Lact. 2018;34(1):86-92. doi:10.1177/0890334417722508

  4. National Institute of Health. What are the recommendations for breastfeeding?.

Additional Reading

By Jennifer White
Jennifer White has authored parenting books and has worked in childcare and education fields for over 15 years.