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Feeding patterns in the early months

Feel like you're feeding all day?

Many mums wonder how long a feed is, how often baby should feed, one breast or two and should I stretch feeds out?

Frequent feeding is common and normal. 

mother feeding

How often do babies feed?

Your supply will meet your baby’s needs if you breastfeed them whenever they seem hungry or fussy. Young babies will commonly feed 8 to 14 times or more in 24 hours.  

Your baby may be happy with only one breast per feed at first, but soon they will start to take both breasts. However, feeds can vary in length. Sometimes your baby might want a very quick feed, and at other times they may like to spend a long time at the breast. This is a little like you eating a larger meal, a snack or even just a drink at different times during the day.   

Your baby doesn’t have to take a ‘full’ feed every time.  

Many babies have periods of cluster feeding particularly in the late afternoon and evening. Babies who have a long stretch of sleep overnight may need to feed more frequently the rest of the day to catch up. 

No matter how many feeds your baby has in a 24-hour period, what is important to know is if they are getting enough milk

How long do feeds take?

Many parents are surprised at how long their babies spend feeding, especially in the early days. Your baby is learning how to breastfeed and only removes a small amount of breastmilk with each suck. As your baby grows, they will become more efficient at milking the breast and feeds will gradually get shorter.  

If you know that feeding frequently is normal, you can plan your day around this. Some mums like to set up a feeding space with everything they need – water, pillows, footstool etc. 

I've been told to space out the feeds

Sometimes mums are advised to stretch out the time between feeds. Frequent feeding is sometimes seen as the reason why a baby might be upset or windy. 

The fact is that young babies have tiny tummies and breastmilk is digested quickly. Very soon, they are ready for another feed. Responding to your baby's needs and offering a breastfeed, even if it feels like you've just fed them, will keep them happy and keep up your milk supply. 

Most babies who are made to wait for a certain time to feed will become very unhappy. Soothing them can be exhausting for parents whereas a quick top-up feed usually settles everyone. 

Why has my baby's feeding pattern changed?

Babies’ feeding frequencies can change for other reasons:  

  • There may be times of the day when your baby wants to feed more often, and there may be days/weeks where they seem to need less.   

  • The amount of milk that breasts can hold is also individual and may affect how often your baby needs to feed.  

  • Your baby may prefer fewer, larger feeds, or more frequent, smaller feeds. 

  • As your baby gets older, they may tend to feed less frequently overall. 

  • In hot weather a thirsty baby may want to breastfeed more frequently but for shorter periods. This means they are getting more fluids.

  • If your baby is unwell, in discomfort or upset, then they may want to feed more frequently.  

What about routines?

It’s common for new parents to be told that their baby should be in a routine as soon as possible. In fact, many mums like the idea of having a routine because their life before baby was probably quite well organised.    

However, the difficulty with routines is that very few babies are happy with them. Routines tend to suggest less frequent feeding which doesn’t meet your baby’s need to take in breastmilk often especially later in the day. 

Routines often advise how long baby should be sleeping and when but most babies won't follow this advice. As a result, new parents became stressed because they have an unhappy baby and feel they are doing things the wrong way.  

Babies are all different so strict routines written down as ‘one-size-fits-all’ methods mostly don’t work.

Breastfeeding is never just food to your baby. Babies need comfort, reassurance and ‘connection’ with their mum, as well as breastmilk. 

Cuddling your crying baby, breastfeeding them when they want and breastfeeding to sleep are more likely to result in a happy baby and happy mum. 

© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2022

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