How often should I nurse my baby?
Every baby is different! Due to individual differences, healthy full-term babies may breastfeed as often as every hour or as infrequently as every four hours and thrive, according to LLLI Breastfeeding Answer Book (BAB) Third Revised Edition, page 26. Daily breastfeeding patterns will vary from baby to baby and from day to day.
Many mothers are surprised at how quickly and easily human milk is digested (often within 90 minutes of the last feeding). Rather than watching the clock it is recommended that a mother watch for signs that her newborn is hungry, such as the rooting reflex, chewing/sucking on hands or fingers, or crying.
Mothers can follow their baby's lead in how often to breastfeed, as long as their baby is getting enough. See the FAQ on how to tell your baby is getting enough milk or the articles in our Web resource page on milk supply issues. Breastfed babies regulate themselves; they take what they need at each feeding, and from each breast. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that healthy, full-term newborns should breastfeed eight to twelve times in each 24-hour period. This equates to feedings two to three hours apart.
Thus, if your baby is not breastfeeding at least eight to twelve times in a 24-hour period in the early weeks, you may need to wake your baby to breastfeed more often. You can find an information sheet on "Tips for Rousing the Sleepy Newborn" in the LLLI Online Store, or it may be available from your local Leader. It is important that you rouse your baby for feeding as necessary so your baby will gain properly.
Some mothers are concerned when their baby wants to breastfeed more often than every two hours. "During the early months, many babies do what is called 'cluster feeding;' spacing feedings closer together at certain times of the day (typically during the evening) and going longer between feedings at other times" (BAB, p. 36). This variability in frequency is normal. Moreover, many breastfeeding problems -- including those attributed to "too much milk" or "not enough milk" -- are resolved with more frequent nursing.
Babies who breastfeed frequently (as long as they are latched on correctly) tend to get plenty of milk because their mothers' milk supplies have been boosted by the frequent stimulation. Research now shows that restricting the amount of time at the breast and extending the time between feedings can reduce not only a mother's milk supply, but also the fat content of her milk -- resulting in a hungry, crying baby.
As babies grow and their stomachs become larger, they naturally begin to go longer between feedings and develop more regular feeding patterns. Growth spurts may disrupt the more regular feeding patterns, but they are usually short lived. See the FAQ on growth spurts for more information.
If you are concerned with how often your baby breastfeeds, contact a La Leche League Leader for assistance. To find a Group near you, call 1-800-LALECHE or look at our LLL Web Page Index. If you are unable to find a local Group, you may consider attending one of our on-line LLL meetings.
Resources for Additional Information
These items plus many others may be available from the LLLI Online Store or through your local Leader.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding This La Leche League International classic title is expanded to include important references and additional resources for the breastfeeding mother. Its vast depth of factual information makes this book a necessary source for breastfeeding mothers, and its warm, friendly tone makes it a classic worth reading again. As the definitive guide for nearly 50 years, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding brings the importance of parenting through breastfeeding into the current century.
La Leche League International Breastfeeding Answer Book, 3rd Revised Edition, by Nancy Mohrbacher and Julie Stock is a popular resource book that includes up-to-date references, expanded information, and three new chapters. This publication is an indispensable resource for all who counsel breastfeeding mothers.