Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience! It’s also a super personal time to bond with your baby. Although, when it comes to feeding your infant, there’s no clear manual on when to feed them. While we wish this secret manual did exist, we also know that it’s not so simple.
But not to worry! We’ve set up the perfect guide to help determine what can be considered a common amount of time to breastfeed your infant. From their age and development level to their own personal cues, we’ve broken down all the key information to put your mind at ease in the feeding department.
Additionally, we’ll include the guidance of Sally Johnson, a Registered Nurse and Board Certified Lactation Consultant, at the beginning of our first few sections to help guide you and give you some peace of mind!
So, without further ado, let’s begin!
Feeding the Baby Based on Size
“When first starting to breastfeed, we advise moms to feed their baby on demand approximately 8-12 times in 24 hours. One of the main factors is “how old is the baby.” Their weight gain is monitored by their pediatrician, and sometimes a lactation consultant.”
Feeding your baby is a crucial part of their development, and it’s important to know they are maintaining their growth curve. While you may not expect it because your baby is so small, you’ll actually be nursing significantly during the time you’re first starting to breastfeed your baby. While you should always feed based on your baby’s cues, make sure to follow any additional guidance provided by your pediatrician or by a lactation consultant.
You’ll Know When Your Baby Wants to Breastfeed
“We advise you to look for “hunger cues,” such as sucking sounds, rooting, hand-to-mouth movements, fussiness, quiet alert state, and stretching. We advise not to limit nursing time, and to allow your infant to feed from both breasts until satisfied.”
There will most definitely be cues from your infant when they’re hungry. After seeing these cues, it’s best to feed your baby as soon as possible. If your baby begins to cry, it may take a while to calm down your sweet infant and get her the nourishment she’s craving. She’ll also have a more difficult time breastfeeding if she’s upset and flustered.
Should You Wake Up Your Baby?
“We advise moms to wake the infant if it has been more than 2-3 hours in the daytime, though this depends on the infant’s age, size, number and quality of feeds, as well as the individualized advice of the pediatrician.”
During the first few weeks of feeding, there won’t be a specific routine that’s been established.
In this instance, your baby won’t really understand when to wake up or when to feed, so it’s perfectly understandable (and acceptable) to give them a little nudge to wake them up and feed them. It’s also perfectly okay to let your baby sleep a little longer, too. Not only are you making sure your baby is learning his feeding routine, but you’re also trying to piece together a good sleeping routine. Both are vital for their development.
With that said, once breastfeeding is well established and your baby has visited the pediatrician, you can then feed your baby when she asks to be fed or is noticeably hungry. There will be clear cues from most babies that you can follow to ensure you know when she’s hungry.
As long as your baby is growing, gaining healthy weight, and developing well, you can proceed with your routine confidently.
Is There a Set Number of Minutes to Breastfeed?
“We advise not to limit nursing time, and to allow your infant to feed from both breasts until satisfied. There is no “normal” amount of time to breastfeed, either in length of months or length of times per day, or time per nursing session. It really depends on the baby and the mom, and any other factors (which can be multiple).”
Again, while we all wish that there was a secret guide or magical number of minutes to breastfeed your baby, there is actually no perfect way to know what the right amount of time is.
In fact, the right amount of time can be vastly different for every baby.
The best action to take is to make sure you don’t remove your baby from the breast unless they’ve fallen asleep. Give them the opportunity to tell you when they’re finished feeding. Your baby will remove herself when she’s finished feeding.
There may also be times where she’ll shift to the other breast too. If not, it’s completely okay. Wait and monitor her cues in order to determine your next actions.
There’s not a “set in stone” schedule every child should be put on for a healthy feeding. In fact, trying to manipulate a natural feeding pattern you and your baby have developed is easier said than done.
However, keep in mind that if you wait longer in between feedings to breastfeed your child, then it can lead to the reduction of milk supply in your breasts. This is due to the fact that you’re signaling to your body that you don’t need to replenish your supply as often as before.
With your baby, you’ll notice that natural patterns and personal routines will begin to emerge as time progresses. This is completely normal. The best thing to do though is make sure that your personal routine isn’t being compared to another parent. Always do what’s best for you and your infant.
Feeding Guideline Timeline
The First Few Days
The first days of a newborn’s feeding is super important, but it can also be the most unpredictable! To get you through this crazy but crucial time, we’ve put together a few key points to look forward to when feeding your infant for the first few times.
- Since your baby’s super tiny and new to the world, she won’t actually feed very much in the first few days.
- Your baby will want to eat as often as every 1 to 3 hours, based generally on when she gets hungry versus being based on a routine
- During the first few days of feeding, your baby may make a ton of sucking and swallowing sounds; note this could also be a sign of improper latch
- Infant formula may not be recommended in the first few days of feeding. Partner with a medical professional to better understand your baby’s dietary needs
Moving on to First Weeks and Months
And just like that, things change! Just when you’ve started getting into the groove of feeding your baby, you’ll start to notice their needs begin to shift. At this stage in your baby’s feeding, a routine will begin to take hold. It’s important to see how their feeding might be different at this time of their development than before.
Here are a few things that may seem “new” during this stage:
- Your baby’s stomach has already begun to grow, so they’ll be wanting more milk.
- The time between feedings will start to lengthen. On average, breastfeeding will be needed every 2 to 4 hours.
- If your baby sleeps for longer periods of time, then the feeding times may be between 4 to 5 hours apart.
- Feeding lengths might shift, and you may lose their feeding routine in that instance. While some feedings may only last a few minutes, others can be longer.
- In 24 hours, there will be an estimated feeding count of 8 to 12 times.
- You can switch to formula or can even begin combo feeding at this time!
Moving to 6 – 12 Months
At this point in what may feel like your baby’s “feeding frenzy,” you can expect to finally have a truly solidified routine. You will also be able to grasp and understand your baby’s cues as well as their wants and needs.
The following is what you can expect as you move forward with his/her development:
- Your baby’s feeding routine will begin to expand as you start introducing some solid foods into their diet.
- Continue to feed as you receive those cues from your baby saying they are still hungry.
- Know that breastmilk/formula are still a super important component to your baby’s feeding routine at this point in time even if they start to dabble in solid foods.
Finally, 12 to 24 Months
In the last few stages of your baby’s feeding routine, they will have varying times on when they want to eat. This is completely normal, so don’t panic! Your baby will have their very own internal clock to tell them when they’re hungry.
Some will want to only breastfeed once in the morning while others may still want to breastfeed at least a couple of times per day. Observe their development to see how you personally want to proceed.
Tips For Nursing
Breastfeeding itself can sometimes be quite tricky, let alone understanding your baby’s feeding schedule. When you begin to nurse, keep the following pieces of information in mind as you travel along on this new and rewarding journey in life.
- Newborns may nurse for up to 20 minutes longer on one or both breasts.
- Breastfeeding may be split into 5 to 10 minutes on each side.
- Your own milk supply will generally come in 2 to 5 days after giving birth.
- You will have a “let-down” reflex right after you begin feeding. This is what allows the milk to flow from the nipple.
- Your milk flow might vary in rate, which will help determine the length of time you need to feed your child.
- Your baby’s speeds on feeding will depend on how fast they are swallowing.
- If your baby becomes easily distracted, nursing might take longer than usual.
- It’s okay to combo feed (i.e. both breastfeed and formula feed!). You can check out our articles about it here for more guidance about combo feeding!
Our Final Thoughts
How do you feel about feeding your infant?
It’s important to remember not to get stuck on what’s “normal” while on this journey we call parenthood! We find that it’s not always easy to determine when to feed your child, especially since no baby will be exactly the same as another.
By following the guidelines above and trusting your personal parental intuition, the answers to feeding your baby will come along a lot easier than you think.
If you’re having slight fear or are hesitant about your baby’s feeding routine, feel free to partner with a doctor to ensure everything is on the right track. And remember, there’s no wrong routine as long as your infant is getting the proper nutrients and sleep to develop properly. So, snuggle up that sweet baby and give them all the nutrients and love they could possibly need!