Breastfeeding Schedule for Your Newborn

Woman holding newborn baby
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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.

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. Here are some guidelines for how often to breastfeed your newborn.

Nurse on Demand

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 they appear hungry. If you breastfeed your newborn when they show signs of hunger, it provides them 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 longer at night.

Watch for Hunger Cues

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 they are:

  • Awake, alert, and active
  • Making sounds
  • Moving lips together
  • Moving their head from side to side
  • Pulling up their legs
  • Putting their head on your chest while being held
  • Rooting
  • Sticking out their tongue
  • Sucking their hands
  • 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 they start to cry. Crying is a late sign of hunger. Once your little one starts crying, it can be difficult to calm them down. A newborn also uses a lot of energy when they cry, and they can become tired. If this happens, they might not breastfeed as well, or they may fall asleep before the feeding is complete.

Stop When Your Baby's Full

In the beginning, breastfeed your newborn for as long as they 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 15 to 20 minutes. When your baby gets older, they will be able to empty the breast faster, in about 8 minutes.

Look for the following signs to know that your baby is satisfied from their feeding:

  • They appear content.
  • They fall asleep, and your breasts feel less full.
  • They stop breastfeeding on their own and remove themselves from the breast.
  • They stop sucking, and your breasts feel less full.
  • They turn away from the breast.

Wake Your Sleepy Baby

Sleepy babies can be a challenge. If you have a sleepy newborn, you may have to wake them 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 them sleep longer between feedings as long as they're gaining weight and growing well. 

Try these strategies to keep a sleepy baby breastfeeding:

  • Burp your baby.
  • 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 them sucking at the breast.
  • Take advantage of alert times, even if the baby is quiet.
  • Unwrap your newborn. If they are too warm and comfortable, they may only want to sleep.
  • Wipe the baby’s face with a wet (but not cold) washcloth.

Nurse More During Growth Spurts

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 they are 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
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. The first month: Feeding and nutrition. Updated February 23, 2012. 

  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Feeding patterns and diet - babies and infants. Updated July 3, 2019.

  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture, WIC Breastfeeding Support. Low milk supply.

  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture, WIC Breastfeeding Support. Baby's hunger cues.

  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture, WIC Breastfeeding Support. Cluster feeding and growth spurts.

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics, healthychildren.org. Making sure your baby is getting enough milk. Updated January 9, 2014.

Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books; 2011.

  • Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding: A Guide For The Medical Profession. 8th ed. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2015.

  • Philipp BL. ABM Clinical Protocol #7: Model Breastfeeding Policy (Revision 2010). Breastfeed Med. 2010;5(4):173-177. doi:10.1089/bfm.2010.9986

  • Riordan J, Wambach K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation. 4th ed. Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2014.