How often should a baby breastfeed?
One of the most frequent questions parents ask is how often their babies should breastfeed. With so much misinformation out there, many people don’t really know what to expect from breastfeeding at all.
Most new parents expect their newborn baby to breastfeed and then sleep for 3-4 hours before wanting to breastfeed again. Some parents even expect their baby to sleep through the night or wake very minimal right from the beginning. This is of course not their fault, there just isn’t enough breastfeeding information and education easily available.
How is it possible that a baby can be so hungry an hour after they breastfed? Is it possible that your milk is not nutritious enough? Is it possible that you just don’t have enough milk for your baby?
Let me explain, breastmilk will almost always be nutritious enough unless you are severely ill. It contains exactly what your baby needs in the exact amounts they need it. The nutrients in breastmilk is highly bioavailable which means your baby’s body will use up all those important nutrients with very little to waste.
The reason breastmilk digests so quickly is because of the fact that it’s lower in fats and protein and higher in carbohydrates and lactose.
But the main reason is the protein in breastmilk which has a higher ratio of whey to casein. Whey digests much easier and much quicker than casein. This is the very same reason why breastfed babies don’t struggle with constipation either as whey also have a laxative effect due to being so easily digested.
It’s also one of the reasons why breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS. Because breastmilk digests so quickly, babies will need to feed more often which keeps them full and prevents them from going into a too deep of a sleep for too long and being unable to arouse themselves.
Babies under 6 months of age lacks sufficient levels of enzymes to help aid digestion which is also one of the reasons it’s suggested to wait until 6 months of age to introduce solids. Breastmilk also contains enzymes such as amylase and lipase that helps break down the milk and help to digest it easier and quicker.
This is al a perfect system. We as humans have lost our way, we as mothers are no longer in tune with our instincts and we struggle to believe in our body’s ability to sustain our babies. But despite us not believing in ourselves, our bodies can still do what it’s supposed to do in anyway.
Breastmilk digests within 45-90 minutes and babies don’t like going hungry for a good reason, too long between feedings can cause a baby’s blood sugar level to drop.
A baby’s sleep cycle is also only 30-45 minutes long and it’s very biologically normal for them to need assistance in going back to sleep. What better way than breastfeeding them back to sleep? It fills their tummies and both you and baby can peacefully go back to sleep without too much of a hassle. Breastmilk also contains hormones such as melatonin to help aid sleep in baby. You see how we are supposed to breastfeed babies to sleep? So never let anyone tell you it’s a bad habit, because it’s not, it’s what we were meant to do. It might be a good idea to learn more about the benefits of co-sleeping while breastfeeding too.
Fun fact: babies in Africa gets worn all day and are breastfed very frequently, as often as multiple times in one hour. They also struggle less with reflux and colic and are overall very calm and happy babies. Why? They are with mom at all times, and they get to breastfeed often and keep their tummies filled at all times.
Frequent waking and feeding are important not only for growth and survival but also for brain development, and frequent waking and feeding is also protective against SIDS because babies tend to sleep much lighter and feed more frequently and thus, they arouse more easily.
Babies were designed to feed very frequently, small meals more frequently. Not big meals stretched out over huge stretches of time.
So now that you know why babies breastfeed frequently, how often should they breastfeed?
Well, this is quite simple in most cases, you just have to feed on demand. Feeding on demand means you breastfeed your baby whenever they demand to be fed. How do they demand? In the first few weeks they’ll cue for hunger. After a few weeks you and your baby will learn each other’s wants and needs and if you’re unsure, just offer the breast anyway. If it’s been a while, offer the breast. You can’t overfeed a baby directly on thew breast, so whether you feed once a day or 20 times a day, baby will never get too much milk. How awesome is that?
The issue though is that some medications during and after labor can cause sleepiness in babies, some may have neurological or physical complications which can cause baby to be severely sleepy and newborn babies may not wake up on their own and they may not cue for hunger even though they are hungry. So, we offer some recommendations to ensure all babies receive adequate amounts of milk.
According to research, newborn babies should be fed a minimum of 8 times per 24 hours, but ideally on demand and at least 8-12 times per 24 hours. They should be fed during both the day and the night as both day and night feedings are equally important. Research shows that the average baby feeds about 11 times per 24 hours. Some may feed even more frequently than that and that’s also perfectly normal.
Less than 8 times per 24 hours in the first few weeks has shown that the milk supply may not be adequate, and baby may not receive the necessary amount of milk they need. So as a very minimum, you should ensure your newborn baby feeds more often than this. But in normal circumstances most babies will definitely demand more often than that.
Some recommendations may state that newborn babies should never go longer than 3 hours between feedings and some recommendations may state to breastfeed newborn babies every 2 hours during the day and every 3 hours during the night or more frequently if they demand for it. Both of these recommendations are to ensure newborn babies breastfeed between 8-12 times or more in a 24-hour period and it ensures that they breastfeed during both the day and the night. It’s important to note that these recommendations are not meant to be used as a schedule, but more of a guideline in case your baby isn’t demanding a feed frequently.
To round off the important information
So, in short, always breastfeed your baby on demand and offer frequently. If more than 2-3 hours has gone by, especially in the first few months, offer a breastfeed. Babies usually don’t mind that offerings and they will usually gladly take it. You can’t overfeed a baby directly on the breast, so baby can breastfeed for as much and for as long as they want to.
Babies go through several phases where they become fascinated by the world, this can happen at many different ages, but the most common age for this to first happen is around the ages of 3-4 months and often times they go through several such phases for as long as they breastfeed for. So, it’s important to always offer a breastfeed no matter the baby’s age, because babies get so distracted, they forget to breastfeed.
Night feedings are quite important, not only for the milk supply but also to ensure adequate milk intake in babies as some of them get a huge amount of their needed calories during the night, and it’s of course good for their development too. Don’t forget that this frequent breastfeeding during the night is also protective against SIDS too.
You may have a sleepy baby during the newborn period, so it’s quite important to wake your baby for feedings as necessary during both the day and night for at least the first 4-6 weeks to ensure you establish a good supply of milk and to ensure baby has adequate milk intake for growth and development.
It’s also important to remember that babies breastfeed for more reasons than just hunger and thirst, but also for comfort, sleep, immunity, bonding and many other reasons too. So never hesitate frequent breastfeeding.
Breastfeed on demand and offer frequently and everyone will be happy.