In the early weeks of your baby’s life, you might not notice any particular feeding pattern. Most babies nurse for different amounts of time at different times of the day.
Your baby might have a longer feed early in the morning and shorter, more frequent feeds later in the day.
It’s normal for each day to be a bit different, however there is a breastfeeding times guide for you to know.
How long should I breastfeed my baby each time?
There is no set amount of time you should breastfeed your baby at each feed. Very young babies generally take longer to finish a full breastfeed than older babies.
If your baby’s latch is comfortable and you can see or hear your baby swallowing while he is breastfeeding and if your breasts feel softer and your baby seems content after most feeds, then you do not need to time your baby’s feedings.
If your baby is feeding for a very short amount of time at each feed, or an excessively long amount of time at each feed, in addition to not meeting his expected growth milestones, your baby might not be getting enough milk.
If this is the case, seek help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
How long should you breastfeed on each side?
In the majority of cases, you should aim to feed your baby from each breast at most feeds. In the early days, this helps establish full milk production and ensures your breastfed baby is getting enough milk.
You do not need to time your baby to know when to switch breasts. When babies are breastfeeding effectively, they should come off the breast on their own, when they have finished feeding.
Depending on your baby’s age, he might fall asleep towards the end of a feed, when the milk flow slows. Watch your baby’s cues to see when active suckling slows down or stops completely; then you can offer the other side.
If your baby is very sleepy, try doing a diaper change or have some skin to skin time, to help get him interested in feeding from the other breast.
If you have an over abundant milk supply, feeding from one breast at each feed might be sufficient for your baby. If your baby only feeds from one side at every feed, you might find you need to express a small amount of milk, to avoid engorgement in the other breast. In this case, its best to stick to hand expressing rather than expressing milk with a breast pump, as this can contribute to an oversupply.
For more information on, you can read BellyBelly’s article Too Much Milk? Managing Oversupply of Breastmilk.
When can you stop feeding baby every 3 hours?
If you gave birth to your baby in a hospital, you might have been given a feeding schedule. If your baby’s bilirubin levels were high in the days after birth, or if he was born early or exposed to medications during labor, this might make him too sleepy to initiate feeding.
In these cases, a breastfeeding schedule usually consists of waking your baby every 3 hours around the clock to breastfeed. This kind of feeding schedule is usually put in place temporarily until it’s clear your baby is breastfeeding effectively and getting enough breast milk.
Most breastfed babies feed more frequently than every 3 hours. Your baby’s stomach is very small and breast milk is easily digested, so it makes sense that breastfed babies eat more often than 3 hourly.
Watch your baby for early feeding cues, and be aware that crying is a late sign of hunger.
For more information, you can read BellyBelly’s article Baby Hunger Cues | How To Tell If Your Baby Is Hungry.
When can I stop waking my baby to feed?
Generally speaking, once your baby is back to his birth weight, you no longer need to wake him for feeds.
However, if your breastfed baby is sleeping for several hours at a time, your breasts might take a while to adjust to the increased time between feedings. It’s important to make sure your breasts are emptied regularly, particularly in the first few weeks postpartum when your breast milk supply is still regulating.
Frequent removal of breast milk helps prevent engorgement, blocked ducts and mastitis. It also ensures your breast milk supply stays at the level it needs to be to meet your baby’s needs.
It’s also worth noting that most babies who sleep through the night in the early weeks become more wakeful at later stages. Night waking is normal in breastfed infants and it protects a breastfeeding mother’s milk supply.
How long does the breast take to replenish milk supply?
Milk production works on the principle of supply and demand. Put simply, this means that the more milk that is removed from your breasts, the more milk your body will make.
Some mothers mistakenly believe that they need to wait until their breasts ‘fill up’ again before they can offer their baby another breastfeed. In fact, the opposite is true. The emptier your breast, the faster the breast milk is replenished.
This is due to a protein in breast milk that tells your body to start making milk more rapidly when the levels are very low.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article Is My Baby Hungry? Do I Have Enough Milk?
Can you over breastfeed a newborn?
When new parents are still getting to know their newborn baby’s hunger cues, they might worry they are breastfeeding their babies too often or potentially overfeeding them.
Newborn babies feed very frequently in the first few weeks of life.
From birth, their tiny tummies only have a maximum capacity of around 5-7ml. This, along with the fact that breast milk is Mother Nature’s perfectly designed first food and therefore very easily digested, means that babies need to feed frequently.
The actions of breastfeeding differ from those involved in bottle feeding; your baby needs to use lots of muscles in his face and jaw to stay attached to the breast and feed effectively from it. For that reason, is is possible to overfeed a bottle fed baby but the same does not apply to a breastfed baby.
How to tell if breastfed babies are getting enough milk
It’s common for breastfeeding parents to wonder exactly how much milk their baby is getting at any feed or over the course of an entire day or night.
Although breastfeeding might make it hard to see exactly what is going in, you can definitely monitor what is coming out. Breastfed babies should be having at least 5 heavily wet diapers and at least a couple of dirty diapers every 24 hours. Your baby should also be gaining weight regularly, growing in length and meeting all developmental milestones.
Remember: cluster feeding is normal. Your baby will cluster feed when they are having a growth spurt, and there will be several growth spurts in the first year of your baby’s life.
If you have questions about breastfeeding, see your baby’s doctor or a lactation consultant.