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How Much, How Long, and How Often to Breastfeed

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

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Most common questions answered on how much, how long, and how often to breastfeed
How much, how long, and how often to breastfeed

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How much and how often your baby feeds will depend on your baby’s needs. Every baby is different.

Here are a few things to expect about breastfeeding during the baby’s first days, weeks, and months of life.

First Few Days

  • Your newborn baby’s belly is tiny. He or she does not need a lot of milk with each feeding to be full.

  • Your baby may want to eat as often as every 1 to 3 hours. Frequent feeding helps increase your milk supply and gives your baby practice at sucking and swallowing.

  • Some babies may be sleepy and not interested in feeding. You may need to wake your baby up to feed. You can try to change the baby's position, or changing the diaper to help wake your baby.

  • If you are concerned about how much the baby is sleeping, eating, or being able to meet your baby’s needs, talk to a lactation consultant, or your baby’s nurse or doctor, right away. They can help you address any breastfeeding problems and determine the best way to meet your baby’s needs.

First Weeks and Months

  • As babies grow, their bellies also grow. Your baby will gradually be able to drink more breast milk at each feeding.

  • Over the first few weeks and months, the time between feedings will start to get longer. On average, most exclusively breastfed babies will feed about every 2 to 4 hours. Some babies may feed as often as every hour at times, often called cluster feeding. Or may have a longer sleep interval of 4 to 5 hours.

  • How often your baby feeds might change depending on the time of the day. Some feeding sessions may be long, and others short; that is fine. Babies will generally take what they need at each feeding and stop eating when they are full. They should seem content and drowsy after feeding when they have had enough milk.

  • On average, your baby will breastfeed about 8 to 12 times in 24 hours.

Six to Twelve Months

  • How long and how often babies breastfeed will change as they grow and start eating more solid foods.

  • Continue to follow your baby’s cues and breastfeed when you notice signs of hunger. This is sometimes called breastfeeding on demand.

  • If your baby seems less interested in breastfeeding after you introduce solid foods, try breastfeeding before you offer other foods.

  • Your breast milk is the most important source of nutrition, even after you start feeding your baby solid foods.

Twelve to Twenty-Four Months

  • The number of times a day a toddler breastfeeds varies. Some want to breastfeed only before bed or in the morning. Others continue to drink breast milk as a bigger portion of their daily diet.

  • Continue to follow your child’s cues to decide when he or she is hungry and wants to breastfeed.

  • How long you breastfeed your baby is a personal choice. Experts recommend that babies be breastfed exclusively, without formula, water, juice, non–breast milk, or food for the first 6 months. Then, breastfeeding can continue until 12 months and beyond.

How Do I Count the Time Between Feedings?

  • Count the length of time between feedings from the time your baby begins to nurse 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 4 p.m., the next feeding was around 6 p.m., then 8 p.m., and so on.

  • You might feel like you're nursing around the clock, this is normal. Soon your baby will go longer between feedings.

How Long Does Nursing Take?

  • Newborns may nurse for up to 20 minutes or longer on one or both breasts. As babies get older and more skilled at breastfeeding, they may take about 5–10 minutes on each side.

  • How long it takes to breastfeed depends on you, your baby, and other things, such as whether:

  • The milk supply has come in

  • The let-down reflex, which causes milk to flow from the nipple happens right away or after a few minutes into a feeding

  • The milk flow is slow or fast

  • The baby has a good latch, and taking in as much as possible of your areola

  • The baby begins gulping right away or takes it slow

  • The baby is sleepy or distracted

  • You should call your doctor if you're worried that your baby's feedings seem too short or too long

When Should I Alternate Breasts?

  • Alternate breasts and try to give each one the same amount of nursing time throughout the day. This helps to keep up your milk supply in both breasts and prevents painful engorgement.

  • You may switch breasts in the middle of each feeding

  • Alternate which breast you offer first for each feeding

  • Your baby may like switching breasts at each feeding or prefer to nurse just on one side. If so, then offer the other breast at the next feeding.

Should I put my baby on a schedule?

  • Rather than scheduling feedings during the early weeks, watch your baby’s cues, as only the baby knows when his stomach is empty.

How will I know if my baby is hungry if I don't use a schedule?

  • You should watch your baby and learn to read his or her feeding cues.

  • Crying is a late feeding cue and indicates your baby is too hungry.

  • By responding to the early feeding cues, you will find it easier to nurse your baby, as the more upset they become, the harder it can be to get them to calm down enough to latch on.

  • Subtle Cues: Eyes moving beneath eyelids, eyelids fluttering before they even open, mouth movements, restlessness, hands coming toward mouth, and other signs of increasing alertness

  • Stronger Requests: Increasing physical activity, such as turning the head from side when cheeks are touched, whimpering, squeaking

  • Obvious Demands: body and mouth tense, breathing becomes faster, baby starts to cry

  • If you respond to your baby’s quiet requests, she or he is more likely to take the breast gently and easily. If you wait until the baby’s hunger has led to crying, the baby will have a hard time latching, and you may have to calm the baby down before you can get her or him to eat.

  • Nursing will be easier if you answer the baby’s subtle requests instead of waiting for the demands.

Do I need to breastfeed my baby at night?

  • Yes, night-nursing can be very important to help build your milk supply, establish the breastfeeding relationship, and help your baby begin to gain properly.

  • You are giving your baby the best start in life by breastfeeding him or her. Nursing at night is part of that gift.

  • It can be hard to be up at night, try taking naps during the day when the baby naps.

Am I spoiling my baby by breastfeeding him or her too often?

  • At this age, babies really can’t be spoiled. They simply have needs.

  • They communicate their needs through feeding cues or crying.

  • Those needs are all about hunger or discomfort of one type or another.

  • Even their need for you is a need, not a want.

Additional Tips

  • Do whatever works best and is the most comfortable for you and your baby

  • Use a breastfeeding app to keep track of how your baby feeds.

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The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider regarding a medical condition.

Why follow Pregnancy Pillows 101's advice?

We gather this information from personal experience. We have researched and had personal input from close family and friends that have experience this wonderful time in their lives, and hope to help new moms with the most common concerns and questions.

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