How Often Should A Newborn Breastfeed?

Close-up of an African American mom as she gently cradles and kisses her newborn daughter in her arms. She is wrapped up and swaddled and is sleeping with a content expression. Mom has her hands interlocked behind baby's full head of hair as she snuggles with her.

You may have heard the dietary advice, eat when you’re hungry; stop when you’re full. This is a lesson that applies to most people, but it’s one babies don’t need to be told. They already instinctively know.

When your baby is hungry, she’ll say so – not in words, but in actions and sounds. She might begin tapping her mouth with her hand, making sucking motions or sucking on her hands. If she’s really hungry, she’ll probably begin to cry.

New mothers are generally advised to feed their babies whenever they’re hungry, and to allow them to feed until they are full. This advice is different than that given to past generations of mothers, who learned that babies do best on a schedule, Parents noted. This is true for most things, like bedtime, bath time and naptime. But when baby is hungry, she needs to eat.

The case for on-demand

Some mothers worry that they’ll run out of milk if the baby feeds too much. This couldn’t be further from the truth; in fact, your body is cued to produce more milk with the frequency of suckling. Implementing a feeding schedule could actually work against milk production, according to lactation expert Kathy Kuhn, as longer intervals between feedings don’t signal that more milk is needed.

A mother holds her infant.Mothers should feed their babies whenever they are hungry.

Though milk production is continuous, there are fluctuations with the quality of milk produced. These may be related to the mother’s diet, time of day, length of feeding time, interval between feedings or other factors. In general, though, the milk at the beginning of a feeding is low in fat. The fat content gradually increases, and at the end of a feeding, it’s more cream-like than what you may think of milk-like.

Babies need the creamier milk produced toward the end of a feeding, and cutting a baby off may prevent her from getting the nutrients she needs to grow and develop.

In addition to not getting the high-fat milk they need, babies who aren’t fed when they’re hungry can get fussy. They begin to squirm, cry and they become anxious if they’re not given food when they need it. As such, when mom finally sits down to feed baby, the infant might have a harder time latching on, further preventing her from getting the nutrition she needs, explained Gwen Dewar, a biological anthropologist who founded the site Parenting Science.

How long to breastfeed a baby

Just like your baby will tell you when he’s hungry, he’ll also stop feeding when he’s full. Try not to remove your baby from your breast before he’s done eating, as this could prevent him from getting enough high-fat content necessary to healthy development. When he stops suckling, try switching breasts; if he takes it, continue to feed. If he doesn’t, he’s likely full, and it’s OK to stop.

Babies tend to feed anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, Kuhn explained. Other times, he might want to feed nearly constantly for hours on end. Don’t worry; variation is normal.

Some babies might prefer to cluster feed at certain times of the day. This means they’ll have multiple longer feeding sessions with few short breaks in between. This is normal, and isn’t a reflection on your milk supply. It just means he’s hungry.

How to know your baby is getting enough milk

Your baby can’t tell you she’s full or that you’ve given her enough milk. You can only watch for signs that she’s getting enough to eat. She should be gaining weight and have five or six wet diapers every day. She should also have three or four bowel movements daily for the first two months of life, but those may decrease in time.