If you are a new or expectant parent, you are going to hear a lot of conflicting advice about how often to feed your newborn baby.
“Never wake a sleeping baby!”
“Your baby must feed at least every 3 hours.”
So what is the right answer? Well, it depends. Babies change quickly over the first couple of weeks. Advice that makes sense for a baby at birth will not be the same as when he is a couple of weeks or older.
In this post, we will walk you through the first couple of weeks with your baby, explaining how you can know how often to feed. (Note: This post refers to healthy, full term babies. If your baby was born prematurely or with medical issues, please check with your healthcare provider as your baby may have different needs.)
The first 24 hours
In the first hour or two after birth, babies are quiet and alert slowly taking in their new surroundings. They show interest in feeding by sucking on their hands and searching with an open mouth. Being skin to skin against mom’s bare chest helps your baby adjust to the outside world and be ready for the very first breastfeed.
After this first alert time, babies enter a drowsy period that lasts for most of the next 24 hours. They often need to be reminded to feed. If it has been three hours since your baby fed, try gently unwrapping him. Stroke him with your fingers. If these gentle reminders don’t work, usually a diaper change does the trick.
If your baby doesn’t latch, express a drop of milk onto your nipple. This may entice your baby to lick and taste. Think of it as practicing breastfeeding. (Learn more in this post: When Baby Won’t Latch to the Breast).
24 – 48 hours old
Once babies turn 24 hours old, they typically become much more awake. They demand to feed, often! Parents wonder what happened to their content baby and they worry if mom has enough milk.
Baby’s non-stop desire to feed is normal, exactly what we expect for babies of this age. Follow your baby’s cues and feed as frequently as your baby wants. (This could even be every hour!) It may be tempting to use a pacifier but it is best not to. The frequent feeding will signal your body to begin making a larger volume of milk.
This stage is very tiring! You won’t be getting much rest. Limiting your visitors will help you to save your energy for the important job of breastfeeding. We talk about this in more detail in our free ebook 5 Crucial Ways to Prepare for Breastfeeding. Download a copy here.
2 – 4 days old
Around three days after birth, you will begin to feel your breasts becoming heavier. When you express a drop, you will see that it is changing from the golden color of colostrum (the first milk) to a whitish color. Your baby continues to feed often; 10 – 14 times or more a day is not unusual. Your baby may sleep for a 3 hour stretch between feeds once or twice a day.
If your baby doesn’t wake to feed at least every 3 hours, go ahead and remind him to eat. Some newborns need reminders to eat in the early days, especially if they are jaundiced or were born prematurely. You won’t have to do this forever.
After 10 days
Once your baby is breastfeeding well and has regained his birth weight, you can relax. You no longer need to watch the clock. Simply follow your baby’s feeding cues.
Just when you think you have your baby’s pattern figured out, however, your baby will change again. Suddenly, he may be demanding to feed every hour again. This is referred to as a “frequency day” or “growth spurt”. Growth spurts can occur at any time but are common around 10 days to 2 weeks and again at 1 month old. They generally last only a day or two. The best way to get through these spurts is to feed as just as often as your baby wants. Frequent feeding will boost your milk supply to meet your baby’s fast growing needs.
There is no one right answer to how often a newborn baby should feed. It can depend on many factors such as your baby’s age, how quickly baby is growing, and how well he is breastfeeding. Try not to compare your baby’s feeding pattern to that of other babies. Every baby is unique. In our prenatal breastfeeding classes, we ask parents to recall how often they ate or drank in the last 24 hours. It is fascinating to see how different adults can be (and how often we put something in our mouths). The same is true for babies. If your baby is having enough wet and dirty diapers, is content after feeds and gaining weight well, your baby is feeding on the pattern that is right for him.