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, babies need to feed at least eight to 12 times (sometimes more) over 24 hours during the first few weeks (NHS, 2019a; 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.
It’s best to feed babies responsively or in a baby-led way rather than sticking to a feeding schedule (WHO, 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 feel emotionally and physically challenging (Fallon et al, 2016).
A baby that breastfeeds frequently can give parents a sense of reassurance but it can also cause worry. Some people may think frequent feeding is a sign of 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 (Leurer, 2015).
Try and keep in mind that a newborn baby's stomach is really small. They need to feed little and often (NHS, 2020). It’s really common for babies to have a good feed and then appear to 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).
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’ with clear beginnings and endings (WHO 1998).
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).
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 (Daly & Hartmann, 1995). 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 (Kent et al, 2012; WHO 2019).
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, 2019a,b). They might:
• get restless
• suck their fist or fingers
• make murmuring sounds
• turn their head and open their mouth (rooting).
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 (WHO, 2009). Here's what you might see...
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 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 stop drinking. If they still appear hungry, offer the second breast – allowing them to drink as much as they want (NICE, 2015).
Should I wake my baby up to feed?
In most cases, healthy, thriving newborns will wake up for feeds and, provided they are well latched on, 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 March 2021
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 20 March 2021].
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