How often should I breastfeed?
Your newborn should be nursing eight to 12 times per day for about the first month. If you feel like you're feeding your little one more often than someone you know whose baby is formula fed, you might be. Why? Because breast milk digests easier than formula, which means it moves through your baby's digestive system faster and, therefore, makes your baby hungry more often.
Frequent feedings also will help stimulate your milk production during the first few weeks. By 1 to 2 months of age, a breastfed baby will probably nurse seven to nine times a day.
Before your milk supply is established, breastfeeding should be "on demand" (when your baby is hungry), which is generally every 1½ to 3 hours. As newborns get older, they'll need to nurse less frequently, and may develop a more reliable schedule. Some might feed every hour and a half, whereas others might go 2 or 3 hours between feedings. Newborns should not go more than about 4 hours without feeding, even overnight.
Are feeding intervals counted from the time my baby starts or stops nursing?
You count the length between feedings from the time when your baby begins to nurse — rather than when he or she ends — to when your little one starts nursing again. In other words, when your doctor asks how often your baby is feeding, you can say "about every 2 hours" if your first feeding started at 6 a.m. and the next feeding was at around 8 a.m., then 10 a.m., and so on.
This means that, especially at first, you may feel like you're nursing around the clock, which is completely normal. Soon enough, you'll both be on a more routine, predictable schedule.
How can I tell when my baby's ready to eat?
It's generally recommended that you feed your baby whenever he or she seems hungry. But despite what some new parents might think, crying is a late sign of hunger. You should try to feed before your baby gets so hungry that he or she gets really upset and becomes difficult to calm down.
It's also important, however, to realize that every time your baby cries it is not necessarily because of hunger. Sometimes babies just need to be cuddled or changed. Or they could be overstimulated, bored, or too hot or too cold.
Signs that babies are hungry include:
- moving their heads from side to side
- opening their mouths
- sticking out their tongues
- placing their hands and fists to their mouths
- puckering their lips as if to suck
- nuzzling again their mothers' breasts
- showing the rooting reflex (when a baby moves its mouth in the direction of something that's stroking or touching its cheek)
Watch for signs that your baby is full (slow, uninterested sucking; turning away from the breast or bottle) and stop the feeding once they appear.
How long does it take to nurse?
That depends on both you and your baby and many other factors, such as whether:
- your milk supply has come in completely
- your let-down (or milk ejection reflex) is immediate or takes a few minutes into the feeding to start
- your milk flow is slow or fast
- you're positioning your baby correctly on your breast
- your baby tends to get right down to business or dawdles a bit
- your baby is sleepy or easily distracted (which can be the case in older babies, especially)
How long babies nurse also depends on their age. As babies get older, they become more efficient, so they may take about 5 to 10 minutes on each side, when as newborns they fed for up to 20 minutes on each side.
Make sure your baby is latched on correctly from the beginning to ensure the most productive feeding possible. It's important that your baby nurses with a wide-open mouth and takes as much as possible of your areola in his or her mouth (not just the tip of the nipple).
But be sure to call your doctor if you're concerned about the length of your baby's feedings — whether they seem too short or too long.
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