How often and how long should baby breastfeed?
On demand, right? Most moms know this, but what does it mean? Surely it means to feed whenever baby is hungry? Which you would think would be every 3-4 hours, as is recommended on formula tins.
The truth is that breastfeeding patterns differ from formula feeding patterns. Many mothers stop breastfeeding because they interpret their baby’s perfectly normal feeding patterns to be a sign of baby not getting enough breast milk.
And psst… many formula babies also do not wait this long to feed. Some graze on one bottle for 2-3 hours. Moms just do not worry about it so much as they can see how much milk their baby is drinking at a time. But humans do not have see-through boobs with millilitre marks on them, which probably means that nature did not intend for us to monitor intake in this way.
How often should breast babies feed?
This will differ from baby to baby, but generally you can expect the following:
- On average breast babies will feed 1,5-2 hourly, or around 10 times in 24 hours.
- Some babies may last longer, but it will seldom stretch for longer than 4 hours, and then only now and then after a cluster-feeding session. In fact, it is almost more concerning if a newborn baby sleeps for too long between feeds than if a baby feeds frequently.
- Breast babies may have cluster feeding sessions, where they feed on and off almost constantly for a few hours. See this as eating a meal in courses, from your entrée until your last cappuccino! They usually have a longer stretch after this.
- Babies go through growth spurts, where they feed more frequently. This does not mean your milk is drying up.
- Occasionally a baby really may be on the breast constantly. If this is the case, check in with a lactation consultant to make sure that baby is latching correctly, and that baby is having enough nappies and gaining weight well.
How long should feeding last?
Some babies are power-feeders and get what they need in 10-15 minutes. After a few months of feeding some may even empty the breast in 2-3 minutes.
But then, others are leisurely diners that may take 45-60 minutes to finish a feed. Not all this time will be spent sucking. Sometimes baby just want to be at the boob, which is called ‘non-nutritive sucking’. In layman’s terms, baby is using mom as a dummy and your friends and family sees this as a bad habit. The truth is that it plays an important role in maintaining your milk supply and that there is nothing wrong with providing your baby with comfort and closeness.
If your newborn baby actively sucks for less than 10 minutes before falling asleep it may be a concern.
So how do you know baby is getting enough?
And this is the take-home message.
- Firstly you should look at baby’s output. Baby should have 5-6 wet nappies in 24 hours. And in the first 3-6 weeks of breastfeeding 3-4 poo nappies is an excellent indicator of sufficient intake. After this period many babies only pass a stool every couple of days.
- Baby’s weight gain will give the full picture. Baby should not loose more than 10% of body weight by day 3 and should regain their birth weight by 10-14 days after birth.
- From there onwards a baby’s weight should be plotted on a proper WHO growth chart developed for breastfeeding babies. Many practitioners use growth charts that were not developed for breastfed babies specifically, and these can make it difficult to know if baby’s weight gain is normal.
If your baby’s output and weight is insufficient you should speak to your doctor. Just know that often the solution offered to mom is to start formula top-ups, which is often the beginning of the end of breastfeeding.
There are many measures that can be taken to identify and address the underlying reasons causing your difficulties. For this reason it would be good to see a lactation consultant, so that you make sure you are making the right decisions to safeguard your breastfeeding goals.