Breastfeeding tips - how much, how often?
Many new mums wonder about how often they should be breastfeeding their baby and how long each feed should last. You might hear about feeding to a schedule and giving feeds at certain times of the day and night. The good news is, if you let your baby set the pace for feeding in the early weeks, he’ll be happier because he won’t be kept waiting when he’s hungry. Crying increases the level of stress hormones in his body and by responding to his hunger, you will produce the right amount of breast milk for him. If you try to cut down breastfeeds, you may not make enough milk for your baby's needs.
How will I know when to feed my baby?
Your baby will make little signals, sometimes known as early feeding cues, such as sucking his fists, licking his lips or wriggling round and opening his mouth searching for your breast. Looking out and responding to these cues is important because the sooner you respond to them, the less frustrated your child will be between feeds.
How long should each breastfeed last?
Every baby is different so how much milk a baby needs per breastfeeding session will vary and it’s best to be guided by your child. Your baby will let you know when they have drank enough milk. During each breastfeed, your milk changes slightly so the milk at the end of the feed is more creamy and filling. It is therefore important that your baby gets to this milk as it helps them put on weight and stay fuller for longer. Every feed will be different though; think of your appetite – sometimes you might just need a snack and other days a three-course meal. In the same way, your child might only need a quick feed or a much longer one. The important thing is to follow your baby’s signals, which takes time but you will start to recognise them. It does help to keep your child close and it might help for your baby to sleep in the same room with you at night as well.
Breast milk production: Will I produce enough milk?
Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis; simply put, the more you breastfeed your baby, the more milk you will produce. If your child is attached properly, you are both comfortable and you are feeding him when he asks for it, usually around eight to 12 times a day in the early weeks, then you will make plenty of milk.
How do I know if my baby has had enough milk?
You will know when to stop breastfeeding because a baby who is well attached will stop feeding when he has had enough. He will usually push out the nipple – he may look sleepy or even drunk or he may be calm and look around. If he is still awake offer him the other breast. He may want some or none of it. Offer that breast first next time you feed. Another way to check whether your child is getting enough milk is the number of wet and dirty (soft, yellow poo) nappies he produces and how much weight they are putting on after the first week.
How often should I breastfeed my baby?
It’s normal for young babies to need frequent feeds. Sometimes a baby will have several short feeds clustered together. Feeds will tend to get quicker and more spaced out as your child grows. A newborn child might need eight to 12 feeds a day or more. It's impossible to over-feed a breastfed baby, so relax and let him guide you.
Get support if you need it
Don’t be afraid to ask for support and information to help you with breastfeeding. No problem is too small – if something is worrying you, the chances are that other mums will have felt the same. In the early days, asking your midwife or a breastfeeding counsellor to help you position your baby may help boost your confidence and improve feeding for you and your child.
NCT supports 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.