How Often Should I Breastfeed? How Long Should Feedings Be?
Early and often! Breastfeed as soon as possible after birth, then breastfeed at least 8 to 12 times every 24 hours to make plenty of milk for your baby. This means that in the first few days after birth, your baby will likely need to breastfeed about every hour or two in the daytime and a couple of times at night. Healthy babies develop their own feeding schedules. Follow your baby’s cues for when he or she is ready to eat.
Feedings may be 15 to 20 minutes or longer per breast. But there is no set time. Your baby will let you know when he or she is finished. If you are worried that your baby is not eating enough, talk to your baby’s doctor.
Tips for Making it Work
- Learn your baby’s hunger signs – When babies are hungry, they become more alert and active. They may put their hands or fists to their mouths, make sucking motions with their mouth, or turn their heads looking for the breast. If anything touches the baby’s cheek — such as a hand — the baby may turn towards this hand, ready to eat. This sign of hunger is called rooting. Offer your breast when your baby shows rooting signs. Crying can be a late sign of hunger and it may be harder to latch once the baby is upset. Over time, you will be able to learn your baby’s cues for when to start feeding.
- Follow your baby’s lead – Make sure you are both comfortable and follow your baby’s lead after he or she is latched on well. Some babies take both breasts at each feeding. Other babies only take one breast at a feeding. Help your baby finish the first breast, as long as he or she is still sucking and swallowing. This will ensure the baby gets the “hind” milk — the fattier milk at the end of a feeding. Your baby will let go of the breast when he or she is finished, and often falls asleep. Offer the other breast if he or she seems to want more.
- Keep your baby close to you – Remember that your baby is not used to this new world and needs to be held very close to his or her mother. Being skin-to-skin helps babies cry less and stabilizes the baby’s heart and breathing rates.
- Avoid nipple confusion – Avoid using pacifiers, bottles, and supplements of infant formula in the first few weeks unless there is a medical reason to do so. If supplementation is needed, try to give expressed breast milk first. But it’s best just to feed at the breast. This will help you make milk and keep your baby from getting confused while learning to breastfeed.
- Sleep safely and close by – Have your baby sleep in a crib or bassinet in your room, so that you can breastfeed more easily at night. Sharing a room with parents is linked to a lower risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
- Know when to wake the baby – In the early weeks after birth, you should wake your baby to feed if 4 hours have passed since the beginning of the last feeding. Some tips for waking the baby include:
If your baby is falling asleep at the breast during most feedings, talk to the baby’s doctor about a weight check. Also, see a lactation consultant to make sure the baby is latching on well.
- Changing your baby’s diaper
- Placing your baby skin-to-skin
- Massaging your baby’s back, abdomen, and legs
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