Whether you're a new mom or a seasoned parenting pro,
often comes with its fair share of questions. Here are answers to
some common inquiries that mothers - new and veteran - may
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 may 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
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 11/2 to 3 hours. As newborns get older, they'll
need to nurse less frequently, and may develop a more reliable
schedule. Some may feed every hour and a half, whereas others may
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
You count the length between feedings from the time when your
to nurse - rather than when he or she
- 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
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
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
sign of hunger. You should try to feed
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
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.
One way to tell if your baby is, indeed, ready to eat is to
check the clock. If your baby is crying only an hour after a good
feeding, there may be something else causing the distress. Signs
- 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
Watch for signs that your baby is full (slow, uninterested
sucking; turning away from the breast or bottle) and stop the
feeding once these signs 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
- your baby tends to get right down to business or dawdles a
- 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 anywhere from 5
to 10 minutes on each side, as compared to when they were newborns
and fed for up to 20 minutes on each side.
Make sure your baby is
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
How often should I alternate breasts?
To keep up your milk supply in both breasts - and prevent
painful engorgement in one - it's important to alternate
breasts and try to give each one the same amount of nursing time
throughout the day. Again, that amount of time differs for every
baby and every woman - some babies may be satisfied after 5 minutes
on each breast, others may need 10 or 15 minutes on each side.
Some experts recommend switching breasts in the middle of each
feeding and alternating which breast you offer first for each
feeding. Can't remember on which breast your baby last nursed?
Some women find it helpful to attach a subtle reminder - a safety
pin or small ribbon - to their bra straps indicating which breast
they last nursed on so they'll know to start with that breast
at the next feeding. Or, keep a notebook handy to keep track of how
long the baby feeds.
However, some lactation specialists are now recommending just
nursing on one breast per feeding and switching breasts from one
feed to the next. This allows the baby to get more of the
hind-milk, which is fattier. (At the beginning of a feeding, the
milk has less fat than at the end of the feeding.)
But your baby may seem to prefer both breasts with each feeding
and may be doing well. Or, your little one may like to nurse on
just one breast with each feeding. Whichever way you choose,
it's important for you to do whatever works and is the most
comfortable for you and your baby.
How often should I burp my baby during feedings?
Let your baby breastfeed at one breast then switch to the other
your baby when switching breasts and at the end of the feed. Often,
the movement alone can be enough to cause a baby to burp.
However, because some lactation consultants are now recommending
just nursing on one breast during each feeding (see the question
above), if your baby is doing well early on, let your little one
continue to nurse as long as is comfortable on one breast. Then try
burping your baby during a natural break or at the end of the
As your milk comes in and your baby has established good
latch-on, then you can try burping as frequently as you think helps
your baby. Some infants need more or less burping and it can vary
from feeding to feeding depending on what the mother has been
eating. If your baby spits up a lot, you may need to try burping
While it's normal for infants "spit up" a small amount
after eating or during burping, but a baby should not vomit after
feeding. This can be due to overfeeding, but vomiting after every
feeding may be a sign of an allergy, digestive problem, or other
problem that needs medical attention. If you have concerns that
your baby is spitting up too much, call your doctor.
How can I tell if my baby's eating enough?
New mothers, especially breastfeeding moms, are often concerned
that their infants may not be getting enough to eat. You can be
assured that your baby
getting enough to eat if he or she:
- seems satisfied and content after eating
- produces about four to six wet diapers a day
- has regular bowel movements
- sleeps well
- is alert when awake
- is gaining weight
be getting enough to eat if he or she:
- does not appear to be satisfied after feeding
- seems hungry often
- isn't making several wet and stool diapers a day
- is fussy or cries a lot
- isn't gaining weight
If you're concerned that your baby isn't getting enough
to eat, call your doctor. Breastfed infants should also be seen by
their pediatrician 48 to 72 hours after a mother and newborn leave
the hospital. During this visit, the baby will be weighed and
examined, and the mother's breastfeeding technique can be
evaluated. It's also an opportunity for nursing mothers to ask
questions. If a breastfed baby is doing well, the doctor will
probably schedule another visit for around 2 weeks of age. Continue
on with these postnatal checkups so that you can be sure that your
baby is gaining weight and getting enough nutrients.
For your own piece of mind, it can help to keep a notebook to
write down each time the baby feeds, how long the baby fed on each
breast, and each time the baby stools (poops) or makes a wet
diaper. If you're concerned or notice any signs that your
infant isn't getting enough nutrients, call your baby's
What should my newborn's diapers look like?
Your baby's diapers are excellent indicators of whether your
breastfed baby is getting what he or she needs. Because colostrum
(the first milk your newborn gets) is concentrated, your baby may
have only one or two wet diapers in the first 24 hours.
Newborns' stools (or poop) are thick and tarry at first and
become more greenish-yellow as your milk comes in, which is usually
about 3 or 4 days after birth. The more your baby nurses, the more
dirty (or "soiled") diapers he or she will have; but it
may be just one a day in the first days after birth.
After 3 to 4 days, here are some signs you should look for:
- six or more wet diapers per day, with clear or very pale
urine. Fewer diapers or darker urine may mean your baby's not
getting enough to drink. If you see orange crystals in a wet
diaper, contact your baby's doctor - these can be a sign of
inadequate fluid intake or
- four or more yellow, seedy bowel movements per day, usually
one after each feeding. After about a month, though, breastfed
babies usually have fewer bowel movements and many may go a few
days without pooping.
My baby wants to nurse for comfort. Is this OK?
If your baby seems to be getting enough milk, but continues to
suck for an hour or more, he or she might be nursing for comfort
rather than for nourishment. So, how do you know? Once your baby
has fed vigorously, he or she may stay on your breast but show
these signs of
- seems satisfied
- stops sucking and swallowing
- plays with your nipple
Early on, it's OK to let your baby nurse for comfort, but it
can become problematic as your little one gets older because he or
she may need to nurse to take a nap or go to bed at night. So, at
some point in the second or third month, you should probably wean
your baby off of sucking for comfort and make breastfeeding
sessions about nourishment not pacifying.
Instead of nursing, you may want to offer your baby his or her
thumb or hand to suck on. You also could consider giving your
little one a pacifier if you child doesn't seem to be hungry.
Because of a lower risk of
sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends letting
babies go to sleep with a pacifier. However, you should only do
this after breastfeeding is well established (usually after 1
If possible, you should also hold off on introducing a bottle
until breastfeeding is well-established. Some babies have
"nipple confusion," though the likelihood of this
happening is much less after 4 to 6 weeks.
My baby is hungrier than usual. Is this normal?
As babies gain weight, they should begin to eat more at each
feeding and go longer between feedings. Still, there may be times
when your little one seems hungrier than usual.
Your baby may be going through a period of rapid growth (called
). These can happen at any time, but in the early months growth
spurts often occur at around:
- 7 to 14 days old
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
During these times and whenever your baby seems especially
hungry, follow his or her hunger cues. You may need to temporarily
increase the frequency of feedings.
Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: November 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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