How Often Should You Breastfeed Your Newborn?

Breastfeeding Schedule, On-Demand Feedings, Signs of Hunger, and More

Woman holding newborn baby
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If you're having a baby and thinking about breastfeeding, you may have a lot of questions. How many times a day does a newborn eat, and is there a breastfeeding schedule that you should follow? What if your newborn is sleeping, should you ever wake a sleeping baby to breastfeed? Here are some answers to the common question you may have about breastfeeding your newborn.

How Often Should You Breastfeed Your Newborn Baby?

On average, a breastfed newborn eats approximately every 2 to 3 hours around the clock. That's about 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. Newborns have little stomachs and ​breast milk is easily digested, so you should breastfeed your baby often.

Common Newborn Feeding Patterns

Some newborns wake up and breastfeed every 2 to 3 hours like clockwork, but that's not always the case. Your baby may want to breastfeed many times in a short period, and then he might sleep for a little longer. This type of feeding is called cluster or bunch feeding. Other babies are sleepy, especially in the very early days, so you may have to wake your baby up to breastfeed. All of these patterns are normal. As long as your child is getting enough breast milk and growing well, you don't have to worry. 

Should You Put Your Baby on a Breastfeeding Schedule?

The recommended way to feed your breastfed baby is on demand. Instead of sticking to a strict every 3-hour feeding schedule, it's best to stay flexible and feed your little one whenever she appears hungry. If you breastfeed your newborn when she shows signs of hunger, it provides her with a sense of comfort and security. On-demand feedings also help you to increase your supply of breast milk to meet your growing newborn's nutritional needs. Then, as your baby gets older, a more routine schedule may naturally evolve. You might even get to sleep a longer at night.

How to Tell If Your Breastfed Baby Is Hungry

Babies may not be able to use words to let you know that they're hungry, but they can tell you that it's time to eat in other ways. A newborn is ready to eat when he's:

  • Awake, alert, and active
  • Sucking on his hands
  • Moving his lips together
  • Sticking out his tongue
  • Making sounds
  • Pulling up his legs
  • Moving his head from side to side
  • Rooting
  • Putting his head on your chest while you're holding him
  • Squirming around

Your baby may show some or all of these signs of hunger. You may not notice that these are hunger cues at first, but as the days go on, you'll begin to recognize them more easily.

Should You Wait Until Your Baby Cries to Breastfeed?

Try to feed your baby before he starts to cry. Crying is a late sign of hunger. Once your little one starts crying, it can be difficult to calm him down. A newborn also uses a lot of energy when he cries, and he can become tired. If this happens, he might not breastfeed as well, or he may fall asleep before the feeding is complete.

How Long Should Your Baby Breastfeed at Each Feeding?

In the beginning, breastfeed your newborn for as long as she will stay on the breast. Continue to breastfeed until you notice the signs that your child is satisfied. This way, you can be sure your baby is getting enough breast milk at each feeding. Plus, by keeping your baby breastfeeding longer, it stimulates your milk production and helps you to build up your breast milk supply. The more often and the longer you breastfeed, the greater your breast milk supply will be.

At first, try to feed your newborn for approximately 10 to 15 minutes on each breast. When your baby gets older, he will be able to empty the breast faster, in about 8 minutes.

Signs That Your Baby Is Satisfied After a Feeding

  • He stops breastfeeding on his own and removes himself from the breast.
  • He stops sucking, and your breasts feel less full.
  • He falls asleep, and your breasts feel less full.
  • He turns away from the breast.
  • He appears content.

Should You Wake Your Baby Up to Breastfeed?

Sleepy babies can be a challenge. If you have a sleepy newborn, you may have to wake her up to breastfeed. During the newborn stage, you should wake your child if it's been 3 1/2 hours since the beginning of the last feeding. And, do your best to keep your child awake and interested while you're nursing. Once your baby is a little older, you can let her sleep longer between feedings as long as she's gaining weight and growing well. 

Tips to Keep a Sleepy Baby Breastfeeding

  • Take advantage of alert times, even if the baby is quiet.
  • Change your baby’s diaper right before you begin to breastfeed or when switching breasts.
  • Rub your child’s feet or back to help keep him sucking at the breast.
  • Unwrap your newborn. If she is too warm and comfortable, she may only want to sleep.
  • Wipe the baby’s face with a wet (but not cold) washcloth.
  • Burp your baby.

What If Your Baby Wants to Breastfeed Nonstop?

Occasionally, it may seem like your baby wants to breastfeed all the time. An increase in appetite could be a sign of a growth spurt. During a growth spurt, your baby will nurse much more frequently. Nursing more often stimulates your body to produce more breast milk for your growing child. So, it's important to keep putting your baby to your breast. A growth spurt usually lasts about 1 or 2 days.

When to Call the Doctor

If, at any time, you feel that your newborn is not getting enough breast milk or is not breastfeeding well, contact your baby’s pediatrician or health care provider. The doctor will check your baby to make sure he is gaining weight steadily. The doctor can also answer your questions and help you feel more confident and comfortable about your newborn's breastfeeding schedule.

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Article Sources

  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.
  • Protocol AB. ABM Clinical Protocol# 7: Model breastfeeding policy (revision 2010). Breastfeeding Medicine. 5 (4). 2010.
  • Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.