Baby breastfeeding

Read our tips on when to breastfeed your baby and how much milk they need.

When should I feed my baby?

As a rough guide, your baby will feed at least eight to 12 times (sometimes more) over 24 hours during the first few weeks (NHS, 2016a; UNICEF, 2010). That means they’ll probably need to feed every two to three hours.

Watch our video for tips on how often and how long to breastfeed your baby for.

Breastfed babies tend to feed more frequently than bottle-fed babies, or those combining breast and bottle (Casiday, 2004). This is because formula milk takes longer to digest (Martin, 2016).

It’s best to feed your baby on demand rather than sticking to a feeding schedule. This is also known as responsive or baby-led feeding (WHO, 2009; Crowther et al, 2009; Entwistle, 2013; Fallon et al, 2016). Letting your baby feed when they want will help them get the milk they need. It will also stimulate your milk supply (Infant and Young Child Feeding, 2009).

What if I’m struggling or worried about the number of feeds?

We know from the experiences of new mums that breastfeeding responsively can be emotionally and physically challenging for different reasons (Fallon et al, 2016).

A baby that breastfeeds frequently can give parents a sense of reassurance but it can also cause worry. Sometimes, a baby feeding frequently can be seen as a sign that mum has insufficient milk or that baby isn’t getting enough breastmilk during feeds. This sometimes leads to women supplementing feeds with formula milk or deciding to stop breastfeeding (Hoddinott et al, 2012).

Try and keep in mind that a newborn's stomach is really small. They need to feed little and often (NHS, 2017). It’s really common for babies to have a good feed and then be hungry again quite quickly. This doesn’t mean something is wrong or that they’re not getting enough milk. It’s just the way newborn babies feed (Kent et al, 2012).

Your baby knows your voice, your smell and your taste but they are much less familiar with the ‘world’ outside your womb. Staying close to you gives them a vital sense of safety and reassurance. This builds their confidence that they are loved and cared for (Crenshaw 2007).

All of this also means that newborn feeding is frequent. In fact, much of the time, it’s not really a question of clearly-defined ‘feeds’ which begin and end at a clear point (WHO 1998).

If you’re worried, it can really help to talk through your concerns with a breastfeeding counsellor. So call our Infant Feeding Support line on 0300 330 0700.

Will I produce enough milk?

The more you breastfeed your baby, the more milk you will produce (Jonas and Woodside, 2016). If your baby is attached properly, and you’re both comfortable and feeding them when they ask for it, you will make enough milk for them (Infant and Young Child Feeding, 2009; Kent et al, 2012).

How do I know when to feed my baby?

When your baby is hungry they may give you little signals, known as early feeding cues (NHS, 2016a,b). They might:

• get restless

• suck their fist or fingers

• make murmuring sounds

• turn their head and open their mouth (rooting).

(NHS, 2016a)

Looking out for and responding to these cues is important. It can help prevent your baby from becoming upset and frustrated, which will make it more difficult to feed them (Infant and Young Child Feeding, 2009).

How long should each feed last?

Every baby is different and they will go through different patterns of feeding as they grow (Kent et al, 2012). How much milk a baby needs per breastfeeding session will vary. It’s best to be guided by your child (Kent et al, 2012).

Some feeds will seem to last a long time, with your baby dozing for short periods before wanting more. And more. And still more! It’s normal for a young baby to be on the breast many times a day and night. 12-15 ‘visits’ to the breast is well within a normal range (Entwistle, 2013).

As a general rule, babies who are feeding well will feed for between five and 40 minutes at each feed (UNICEF, 2010). Your baby will let you know when they’ve had enough milk. They will usually come off the breast themselves, look sleepy or calm, and look around (UNICEF, 2010).

During each breastfeed, your milk changes slightly. So the milk at the end of the feed (when the breast is emptier) is more creamy and filling than the milk at the beginning of the feed (Ballard and Morrow, 2013). Offer one breast and let your baby feed until they have emptied that breast fully. If they still appear hungry, offer the second breast – they may drink all or some of it (NICE, 2015). Start with this breast first next time.

Should I wake my baby up to feed?

In most cases, healthy, thriving newborns will wake up for feeds and get all the milk they need (Australian Breastfeeding Association, 2017). But there might be reasons why a newborn might be more sleepy and therefore need to be woken up for feeds.

This includes medical reasons, such as jaundice, infection or a heart problem, or perhaps because the pain relief used during birth is still affecting them (Australian Breastfeeding Association, 2017). If you’re worried your baby might be sleeping too much and this is affecting their feeding, talk to your health visitor or call our Infant Feeding Support line on 0300 330 0700.

This page was last reviewed in October 2017

Further information

We support all parents, however they feed their child. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.

National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 0212.

Australian Breastfeeding Association. (2017) Do I need to wake my baby for feeds? Available at: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/do-i-need-wake-my-baby-feeds [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Ballard O, Morrow AL. (2013) Human milk composition: nutrients and bioactive factors. Pediatric Clinics of North America. 60(1):49-74. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3586783/ [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Crenshaw J. Care practice #6: No separation of mother and baby, with unlimited opportunities for breastfeeding. Journal of Perinatal Education2007;16(3):39-43.

Crowther SM, Reynolds LA, Tansey EM (2009). The resurgence of breastfeeding, 1975-2000. Wellcome Witnesses to Twentieth Century Medicine. London: Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL. Available at: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/15855/1/15855.pdf [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Entwistle FM. (2013) The evidence and rationale for the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative standards. UNICEF UK. Available at: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/about/evidence-and-rationale-for-the-baby-friendly-standards/ [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Fallon A, Van der Putten D, Dring C, Moylett EH, Fealy G, Devane D. (2016) Baby-led compared with scheduled (or mixed) breastfeeding for successful breastfeeding. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. (9):CD009067. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD009067.pub3/full [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Hoddinott P, Craig, LCA, Britten J, McInnes RJ. (2012) A serial qualitative interview study of infant feeding experiences: idealism meets realism. BMJ Open 2:1-14. Available at: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/2/2/e000504 [Accessed 1st October 2017].

World Health Organization. (1998) Evidence for the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding. Geneva: World Health Organization.

World Health Organization. (2009) Session 2 The physiological basis of breastfeeding. In: Infant and Young Child Feeding. Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK148970/ [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Jonas W, Woodside B. (2016) Physiological mechanisms, behavioural and psychological factors influencing the transfer of milk from mothers to their young. Hormones and Behaviour. 77:167-181. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26232032 [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Kent JC, Prime DK, Garbin CP. (2012) Principles for maintaining or increasing breast milk production. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing. 41(1):114-121. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1552-6909.2011.01313.x [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Martin CR, Ling PR, Blackburn GL. (2016) Review of infant feeding: key features of breast milk and infant formula. Nutrients, 8(5):279. Available at:  https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/5/279 [Accessed 1st October 2017].

NHS. (2016a) Breastfeeding: the first few days. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/breastfeeding-first-days.aspx#building [Accessed 1st October 2017].

NHS. (2016b) Breastfeeding: is my baby getting enough milk? Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/breastfeeding-is-baby-getting-enough-milk.aspx [Accessed 1st October 2017].

NHS. (2017) Your breastfeeding questions answered. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/your-breastfeeding-questions.aspx [Accessed 1st October 2017].

NICE (2015) Postnatal care up to 8 weeks after birth. CG37. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg37 [Accessed 1st October 2017].

NICE. (2017) Faltering growth: recognition and management of faltering growth in children. NG75. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng75/chapter/Recommendations#weight-loss-in-the-early-days-of-life [Accessed 1st October 2017].

UNICEF. (2010) Baby Friendly Initiative. Breastfeeding checklist for mothers - How can I tell that breastfeeding is going well? Available at: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/10/mothers_breastfeeding_checklist.pdf [Accessed 1st October 2017].

World Health Organization; United Nations Children’s Fund (2009). Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative: revised, updated and expanded for integrated care. Geneva: World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23926623 [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Further reading

Leurer MD, Misskey E. (2015) "Be positive as well as realistic": a qualitative description analysis of information gaps experienced by breastfeeding mothers. International Breastfeeding Journal. 10(10):2-11. Available at: https://internationalbreastfeedingjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13006-015-0036-7 [Accessed 1st October 2017].

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