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How Long Should I Breastfeed? How Many Times?

As you await the arrival of your baby, you probably have all sorts of plans, ideas, and questions. Foremost among these is nutrition for your newborn.

Many moms plan to breastfeed when their little one finally arrives. While this is a natural, beautiful, and meaningful experience for moms and babies, it's a bit of a mysterious process for first-time moms as well.

One of the most common questions that comes up regarding breastfeeding is how often a baby should eat. This question is frequently followed by how long the baby should eat during each nursing session.

If you've been wondering about the answers to these questions, then keep reading for helpful guidance and advice.

How Often Do Newborns Need to Eat?

Evidence suggests that the average newborn eats every two to three hours. Accordingly, in a 24-hour period, babies eat approximately 8 to 12 times. It's important to realize that newborns will probably want to feed around the clock, so mom has to be ready to answer the call at 2 pm as well as 2 am.

Newborns need to eat this frequently because their stomachs are tiny, which means that they can't take a great deal of milk in at once. Moreover, breast milk is super easy to digest, which means that your baby could be hungry again in a remarkably short time.

Not All Babies Have the Same Feeding Pattern

Until your baby arrives, there's no way to predict which feeding pattern he'll fit into. While some newborns seem to run on an internal schedule that has them waking up every two or three hours like clockwork, others are cluster feeders. This means that your baby will take several short meals in a short space of time, and then sleep for a longer time period.

Still other babies seem to be sleepy around the clock. You may discover that you have to wake up your baby to breastfeed from time to time. There's no real cause for concern with any of these feeding patterns. As long as your baby is growing, thriving, and getting enough to eat, it's perfectly fine to let him instinctively follow his unique pattern.

Should You Try to Set a Nursing Schedule?

Babies are nothing if not unpredictable. While you might prefer a pre-planned and easy-to-remember feeding schedule, imposing such order on a newborn is impossible. In fact, most doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants recommend simply feeding your newborn on demand. This requires flexibility and patience on mom's part, but your baby will derive tremendous feelings of security and comfort if you feed her whenever she's hungry.

The other advantage of providing feedings on demand is that it helps to increase and regulate your breast milk supply.

If feeding every two to three hours leaves you feeling harassed, take heart. As the weeks go by, your baby will not need to feed so frequently. Often, a natural feeding schedule evolves. With less frequent feeding and a more predictable schedule, your peace of mind will increase.

How Will You Know When Your Baby Is Hungry?

mother with young baby

Newborns instinctively have a variety of ways in which they indicate hunger. Your baby may exhibit one or more of these signs when he's ready to eat:

  • Pursing lips
  • Sucking on hands
  • Squirming
  • Making a variety of sounds
  • Alert and active
  • Sticking out tongue
  • Side to side head movements
  • Placing their head on your chest as you hold them
  • Rooting
  • Pulling up legs

Of course, it's possible that your baby may occasionally do some of these things without actually being hungry. As the days and weeks go by, you'll learn to recognize which signs mean that your baby is ready to nurse.

A Word About Crying from Hunger

Some moms consider waiting to put their baby to their breast until the newborn is crying. In general, this isn't the best strategy because crying is a late-stage sign of hunger. In other words, by the time your child has begun crying from hunger, she's already been hungry for quite a while.

A newborn in this stage is difficult to calm, and this type of crying is exhausting. It's possible that a crying newborn may not be able to stay awake long enough to properly breastfeed. Without a full meal in her tummy, she's bound to wake up grumpy and out of sorts, which may only make further feedings a challenge.

How Long Is Long Enough?

In general, newborns require about 10 to 15 minutes on each breast for a full feeding. Every baby is a little different, so yours may need more or less time on each breast. As a rule of thumb, allow newborns to feed for as long as they will stay on the breast.

By feeding frequently and for a relatively significant time period, you'll increase your milk supply. This means that your baby will always have plenty to eat. As the weeks progress and your baby grows, she'll probably only need an average of eight minutes on each breast to empty it.

How to Know When Your Baby Is Full

Just as they do when they are hungry, babies show you when they are done eating. Some babies simply stop sucking, and you'll notice that your breasts feel far less full. Others will turn away from the breast or at least remove their mouths from the breast. Your baby also may signal that he is full by falling asleep or with behavior that shows his contentment.

Waking an Infant to Breastfeed

Most babies are really excited about a meal, but there are others who seem to be particularly sleepy all the time. If your baby seems to be able to sleep for hours without waking up to feed, then it may make sense to wake her up for feedings. If it's been at least three-and-a-half hours since her last feeding, then waking her up for a meal is the recommended course of action.

While she's feeding, look for ways to keep her active and alert so that she gets a full meal. As the weeks go by, you won't need to provide meals at this level of frequency, and she can sleep longer between feedings without being interrupted.

Tips for Nursing a Sleepy Baby

Try these strategies to coax a sleepy baby to nurse:

  • Before starting to nurse, try changing your baby's diaper to make him more awake.
  • Rub his feet and back to encourage him to keep suckling.
  • Unwrap your baby before feeding time, as she may just fall back asleep if she's too warm and cozy.
  • Feed your baby whenever he seems alert.
  • Wipe a warm, wet washcloth on your baby's face.
  • Try burping your baby.

Do You Feel Like Baby Needs Non-Stop Nursing?

Many moms will experience a time when their baby just can't seem to get enough to eat. He keeps giving you signs that he's hungry, so you keep feeding him. After a few hours of this, you may start to feel alarmed.

However, it's likely that there's no cause for concern. Your baby is probably just experiencing a perfectly natural growth spurt. These periods of intense growth usually only last for a day or two. Things should slow down after that.

Euphoric Herbals Supports New Moms

At Euphoric Herbals, we think that being a mom is one of the most important jobs in the world. That's why we're dedicated to providing reliable advice about breastfeeding and selling all-natural, healthy products that are designed to help new moms give their infants the best possible start.

In fact, Euphoric Herbals is here for you at all stages of development. Whether you need support for regulating your breast milk supply or are looking for organic ways to boost your family's immunity, you can trust Euphoric Herbals to have exactly what you need.