Being a new mom opens up a whole new world. From day one, you have to start thinking and doing things differently. Your head will be filled with new things you never thought to worry about! One of those things is how often to breastfeed your newborn.
Most pediatricians will say every 2-3 hours. But did you know that there are actually SIGNS that your baby is hungry!
These hunger cues will help you determine how often to breastfeed your newborn.
How Often To Breastfeed Your Newborn? Minimum: every 3 hours.
That’s the easy answer!! Your baby needs to eat every 2 – 3 hours, minimum.
What that means is that your baby must be fed by the 3 hour mark at a minumim. Most babies will wake up to feed before that, which is great.
Some babies would rather sleep than eat.
Typically, babies that sleep longer than 3 hours are premature. But that’s not always the case. Perfectly healthy and full-term babies can also have problems with sleeping too much and skipping feedings.
Your baby needs to eat every 2-3 frequently for 2 reasons:
- To gain weight appropriately. In the first days after birth, your baby will lose weight. This is expected, but they need to gain it back. Your baby should start gaining weight 2-5 days after birth when your milk comes in. They should be back to their birth weight by 2 weeks. Weight gain is how your pediatrician can tell if your baby is getting enough milk.
- To establish your milk supply. For a breastfeeding mom, your milk supply is dependent on the first days after birth. Your breasts make milk based on how much your baby breastfeeds. More feedings = more milk supply. Therefore, you need to feed your baby frequently during the newborn phase. Doing so ensures that you’ll have enough milk supply for the rest of the time you breastfeed.
If it’s been 3 hours and your baby is still asleep, rouse them and feed them.
Some people will probably object because it’s crazy to wake a sleeping baby! But the newborn phase is different… newborn babies need to eat every 2-3 hours for their health and growth.
Some newborns will eat more frequently.
The newborn stage is often called the “fourth trimester”. That’s because it has its own difficulties and is a hard time that every mom goes through!
Sometimes it will feel like the only thing you do is feed your baby.
That’s okay! It should be your main priority during this time. Just take this time to do the most important 2 things in the newborn phase: feed your baby and rest! As long as those are your priority, you’ll have days full of feedings, sleep and cuddles. Don’t worry, it won’t last forever.
Some newborns get hungry sooner than 2 hours, and if they do you should feed them! You can’t feed a newborn baby too much as long as they’re leading feeding times.
How can you tell if your baby is hungry? I’m glad you asked…
Hunger cues are innate reflexes your baby has to show you that they’re hungry. They include:
- Rooting. It’s a reflex babies are born with to help them feed. It looks like your baby turning their head in search for a nipple. When your baby feels something on their cheek, they will turn their head while opening their mouth wide. You can test this reflex by stroking your baby’s cheek with your finger. They’ll turn towards your finger and might even latch on!
- Increased Wakefulness. This one is hard to recognize. It starts when your baby rapidly moves their eyes under their eyelids while sleeping. Then your baby will start to move and wake up. This is the first sign of hunger in your newborn.
- Moving Around. Many things fall under this category, and it’s the easiest of all the hunger cues to recognize! Some of the things your baby will start to do are:
- Flex and move their arms and legs
- Act restless
- Move their lips and mouth
- Smack and lick their lips
- Bring their hands to their mouth
- Suck on their fingers or hands
- Suck on other objects
- Crying. Unfortunately, crying is a late hunger cue. Sometimes the earlier hunger cues are hard to catch, especially with a very sleepy baby. Once your baby starts to cry from hunger, it’s very difficult to feed them. Latching a crying baby is often difficult if not impossible. Try to catch your baby’s hunger cues before they start to cry.
Paying attention to hunger cues will help you determine how often to breastfeed your newborn! Each baby is different so some might eat more frequently than others. That’s okay! They are little people just like us, and not every person has the same eating habits.
You might have hours during the day where your baby wants to feed frequently. This is good for your baby and your milk supply, so try to feed them if they’re hungry and remember it’s only temporary.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.