You’re breastfeeding your baby. You’re feeding her whenever she needs to be fed. In other words, whenever she shows hunger cues, you are responding to them by feeding her.
You might have called a breastfeeding support line or seen a lactation consultant – all of whom say feeding your baby in this way is appropriate.
You might even have looked up reputable sources of information, such as Australia’s National Health And Medical Research Council’s Infant Feeding Guidelines, which also indicate it’s appropriate to feed a baby according to need.
Despite this however, you keep being asked or told:
“Does your baby need to feed again already?”
“Your baby is feeding a lot, are you sure you have enough milk?”
“You’re spoiling your baby and creating bad habits by feeding her so often.”
“Your baby will only get foremilk and not put on enough weight if you feed her so often.”
“You’re feeding your baby too often, she’ll end up overweight.”
These words can make you doubt your supply and question whether you are doing the right things.
So, how often should your feed your breastfed baby?
#1: It’s Common For Breastfed Babies To Feed Frequently
There’s a wide range of normal when it comes to feeding patterns in breastfed babies.
It’s also common for patterns to change, even within the course of one day!
While exclusively breastfed babies commonly feed 8-12 times every 24 hours, some only need as few as six feeds in 24 hours, while others need as many as 18. This means it’s common for breastfed babies to feed every 2-3 hours.
The time between feeds is from the time the last feed was begun, not ended. A baby often has one longer stretch of sleep between feeds (typically up to five hours for a baby under 6 weeks).
It’s also common for there to be one or two cluster feeding periods every 24 hours for babies under a few months of age.
#2: Your Baby Lets You Know How Many Feeds She Needs
The only real way to ensure your baby gets the number of feeds she needs (and therefore the amount of milk she needs) is to feed her according to her own individual need, provided she is removing milk well.
This means feeding her when she shows feeding cues.
Regardless of how many feeds your baby has in a 24-hour period, what’s important to know is whether she’s showing reliable signs of adequate milk intake.
#3: Various Factors Influence How Often Babies Feed
There are various factors that influence how often different babies need to feed:
Your Storage Capacity
Your storage capacity (the amount of milk your breasts can store between feeds) is one factor that influences how often your baby needs to feed.
Storage capacity differs greatly between mothers and also differs between breasts of the same woman. Mothers with large or small storage capacities can produce plenty of milk for their babies. However, their babies’ feeding patterns can be quite different.
A baby whose mother has a large storage capacity might be able to go longer between breastfeeds, whereas, a baby whose mother has a small storage capacity will probably need to feed more often to get the milk she needs.
The weather is another factor that influences how often your baby needs to feed.
In hot weather, it’s common for babies to be thirstier. So, to quench her thirst, your baby might want to breastfeed more often but for shorter periods. Your baby does not need water when it's hot; breastmilk has the perfect balance of water and nutrients to keep your baby hydrated. Find out more in our article, does my baby need water?
The Age Of Your Baby
The age of your baby also influences how often she needs to feed.
The more practice babies get at breastfeeding, the more efficient they become at extracting breast milk (and the bigger their tummies get). As babies get older they often need to feed less often, and feeds tend to be a bit quicker.
Your Baby’s Other Needs
Breastfeeding is not just about providing a baby with nutrition; it’s also about nurturing. Your baby needs to breastfeed for reasons other than being hungry. For example, she might need to breastfeed to calm herself, to connect with you, or to comfort herself.
#4: You Can’t Spoil Your Baby By Feeding Too Often
In responding to your baby’s needs, you are not spoiling her; you are providing her with what she needs. Teaching your baby you’ll be there when she needs you is a good thing.
Creating a secure attachment with your baby from an early age is an important step in creating a person who will be confident, empathetic and independent later in life.
#5: You Can’t Overfeed A Baby At The Breast
Babies who exclusively feed directly from their mother’s breasts cannot be overfed.
This is because they are in control of their intake. You can read more about this here.
#6: You Don’t Need To Worry About ‘Foremilk’ And ‘Hindmilk’
When breastfeeding, your breasts are never completely empty. The fuller your breasts are, the higher the percentage of lower fat/calorie milk (‘foremilk’) your baby will get at the start of the feed. The less full your breasts are, the higher the percentage of higher fat/calorie milk (‘hindmilk’) your baby will get at the start of the feed.
The more often your baby feeds, the less full your breasts remain. So your baby will get a higher percentage of higher fat/calorie milk (and a lower percentage of lower fat/calorie milk) at each feed.
Find out more about foremilk and hindmilk myths.
Feeding your baby whenever she needs to feed is simple. You don’t need to think about when to feed next, or to watch the clock; your baby will let you know when she needs to feed. Breastfeeding your baby whenever she needs it will help her to get enough milk, as well as encourage a healthy attachment and relationship with you.
- Cluster Feeding – Why Your Baby Needs To Feed So Often