When to Feed Your Baby

Right After Birth

Physically connecting with your baby right after birth is the most natural thing in the world. Letting her hear your voice, see your eyes, and smell and feel your skin begins the physical bond that is so important. For moms who will breastfeed, it’s a good time to hold your baby skin-to-skin across your chest. This is when your baby will learn where her food will come from. Your baby may lick your nipple, or latch onto your breast and suck gently, pause, and then lick the nipple again. This is perfectly normal. Just relax and enjoy the closeness and don’t worry about actually breastfeeding.

The First Day

A good time is to try actual breastfeeding is after you and your baby have rested a few hours following birth. A hospital nurse can help you get in a comfortable position, show you how to hold your baby, and how to get your baby to “latch on” to your breast correctly. We’ll explain positions for holding your baby and “latch on” a bit later.

Because newborns have small tummies and digest breastmilk quickly, it’s natural that they are hungry often and should be fed often. If you have a “sleepy baby,” you may have to coax her to eat often enough to stimulate your breasts to make milk. Eventually, you and your baby will get into a routine of frequent feedings that will benefit both you and your baby.

The Benefits of Frequent Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding your baby often has many benefits for you and your baby. During the first days following birth, frequent sucking and breastfeeding:

• gives your baby the colostrum she needs to fight disease: Colostrum also helps your baby pass her first stool (bowel movement) before the bilirubin, which causes jaundice (yellowing) of your baby’s skin, is absorbed by the baby’s body.
• results in healthier breastmilk with more fat and calories; this quality and quantity of breastmilk is more satisfying to your baby, prevents crying in between feedings, and promotes the most body growth and development your baby can achieve.
• prevents painful engorgement, which is when your breasts get too full and hard the first time your mature breastmilk comes in.

Continued frequent breastfeeding during the first few months can:
• prevent painful breast engorgement.
• provide a continuous plentiful supply of breastmilk.

How Often and How Long To Breastfeed — Develop A Routine, Not A Schedule

How often you should breastfeed will depend on two things:
• how often your baby wants to eat — the demand.
• how much milk your breasts can hold — the supply.

Keep in mind, though, generally the more frequent, the better. During the first few weeks, you may have to wake your baby up or quiet your baby down to get her to eat often. Be patient. Try to learn your baby’s hunger cues, such as rooting for your breasts, fists or fingers in the mouth, or open mouth. If your baby gets really fussy, you’ve probably waited too long between feedings. Your baby may develop a breastfeeding routine and then change it when she goes through a growth spurt. It’s better to watch your baby for hunger cues rather than watching the clock. A strict schedule may work well for you, but usually not for your baby.

Here are some guidelines that may help. On average, you might expect to feed your baby every 2 to 3 hours during the day and whenever your baby wakes at night for a total of about 8 to 12 feedings in 24 hours. Some babies breastfeed long and often; others may breastfeed often for short periods of time. Some babies cluster feed every 30 to 60 minutes for several hours and then sleep for 2 to 5 hours. All of these different patterns of feeding are fine. However, if your baby is feeding more than 14 times during 24 hours or shows signs of hunger right after feeding, check with your pediatrician. Don’t expect a regular eating pattern for several weeks. Try not to force a pattern before your baby is ready.

How Babies Nurse

Your baby will have her own style of sucking and breastfeedingIn the first few days, your baby is figuring out where to get her “food” and how much she needs to feel full. Also, remember that your baby will have her own style of sucking and breastfeeding, which determines how long she will nurse. It’s common for newborns to suck soft, then hard, and stop and start over a long period of time, some for as long as an hour. Sometimes, they fall asleep while eating, then wake up and start feeding again. Some babies suck gently while they look around; others suck hard and fast until they are done.

Most newborn breastfeedings take from 15 to 45 minutes, with the average lasting about 30 minutes. Remember in the first few weeks that frequent and long periods of breastfeeding will help your milk glands make more milk. After a month or two, most babies get all the milk they need in the first 10 minutes of feeding, even though some babies suck a little longer for comfort.

Breast milk - fore milk and hind milk

Two 25ml samples of human breast milk pumped from the same woman, at the same time to illustrate what human breast milk looks like, and how human breast milk can vary. The left hand sample is Foremilk, the first milk coming from a full breast. Foremilk has a higher water content and a lower fat content to satisfy thirst. The right hand sample is Hindmilk, the last milk coming from a nearly empty breast. Hindmilk has a lower water content and a higher fat content to satisfy hunger.

The milk your baby gets when she first starts to nurse, called foremilk (after your milk has been established –– not the colostrum), is low in calories. The milk that comes at the end of the feeding is called hindmilk. Hindmilk is high in fat. Since your baby needs both kinds of milk, let her finish nursing the first breast before you start her on the second one. Your baby may let go of your breast or just fall asleep, which lets you know she is finished nursing the first breast. You should wake your baby (changing her diaper is a good way to wake her up), burp her, and then offer her the second breast, which she may or may not take.

Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?

The most common worry of new mothers is “Is my baby getting enough milk?” Most mothers can produce enough milk, but they still worry. Here are some ways to tell if your baby is getting enough milk:
Signs During Feeding — Feel your baby sucking vigorously, hear her swallowing, notice your milk let-down feeling, and see your baby drift off to sleep –– all of these are signs that your baby is getting enough milk.
Number of Wet Diapers — Your baby should have four to six wet disposable diapers (six to eight wet cloth diapers) a day. Diapers of newborns have about two tablespoons urine each time. The diapers will get wetter as your baby gets older and her bladder gets bigger. If it’s hard for you to tell about the amount of urine in super absorbent disposable diapers, switch to cloth diapers for a day or two.
Color of Urine — The urine should be clear or pale yellow. Darker, apple juice-colored urine (after the first four days) may mean your baby is not getting enough milk.
Color and Number of Bowel Movements — Your baby’s bowel movements change a lot during the first few weeks. The first bowel movements contain debris from the fetal intestine and are the greenish black, tar-like stools, called meconium. Next, the stools should turn brownish as the meconium is being cleaned out and your milk is increasing.

Finally, the stools should become mustard-colored, seedy and cottage cheese-like. While urine output will tell you if your baby is getting enough fluid from your milk to stay hydrated, the texture and amount of stools will tell you if your baby is getting enough calories from high-fat hindmilk that she needs to grow and to gain weight. Between week one and week four, babies who are getting enough calorie-rich hindmilk will have at least two to three yellow, seedy stools a day. Some babies have a bowel movement after every feeding. After the first four to six weeks, the frequency of bowel movements decreases. She may have one bowel movement a day, one bowel movement every three to four days, or even once a week. If your baby’s stools stay dark or are sparse or infrequent, she may not be getting enough milk.

Weight Gain — Your baby should gain 4 to 7 ounces a week or at least one pound a month. Because almost all babies lose weight after birth, remember to measure weight gain from the baby’s lowest weight after birth, not her birth weight. Ask the hospital what your baby’s weight was at discharge. If in doubt, have your baby weighed at your doctor’s office.

Feel of Breasts — Usually your breasts will feel fuller before and softer after a feeding. Also, you will probably feel the milk let-down once your baby begins sucking.

Early Hunger Cues — How To Tell If Baby Is Hungry

Breast feeding your baby is easier if you offer her your breast when your baby is quiet and alert. These are some cues that tell you baby is hungry:
• rooting (turning her head from side to side with her mouth open as if searching for your nipple)
• smacking of lips
• sucking on fingers or hands
• flexed arms, clenched fist, drawing up legs
• keeping hands near mouth
• mouth opens when lips or cheek touched

Crying is a late hunger cue — once your baby starts crying, you may have to settle her down before you can get her to latch on and nurse.

How To Tell When Your Baby Is Full

It’s usually not hard to tell that your baby is full. Look for one or more of these signs:
• no hunger cues
• gradual decrease in the number of sucks during feeding
• pulling away from breast and letting go of nipple
• body is relaxed, legs are extended, seems content or is asleep
• small amount of milk drooling from mouth


More about Breastfeeding for Beginners

Overview of Breastfeeding
When to Feed Your Baby
How to Feed Your Baby
Breast Care While Breastfeeding
Breast and Nipple Problems While Breastfeeding
Expressing and Storing Breast Milk
Keeping up the Milk Supply
Nutrition While Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding in Special Situations
Returning to Work While Breastfeeding
Resources for Support While Breastfeeding

Hungry newborn crying
Tip From Baby:
• If I knew that nursing often was so good for you and me, I would never sleep through it.
• For the first month, I need to eat often. Later on I’ll eat faster and less often.
• If I’m not getting enough milk, I may not be “latchedon” your breast right, so I can’t get the milk out.
• My mouth will try to suck on anything when I’m hungry. Please don’t wait until I’m crying to give me your breast.

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