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"How long should a newborn feed for?" and other feeding questions on your mind

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Apr 08, 2024 · 8 mins read
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It doesn't matter if your pregnancy was all smooth sailing, or if you spent the last nine months like a sea-sick sailor desperate for the sight of dry land; the fourth and last trimester is a ride of its own, especially if you decide to breastfeed your baby.


The journey of breastfeeding your baby has a lot of payoff, but for many mums, it comes with its own set of challenges. From latching in the first few weeks to cluster feeding and breastfeeding duration during growth spurts; first-time mums with newborn babies find themselves in completely new territory, unsure if they are even doing it right.

How much milk do newborn babies need? Should babies nurse from one or both breasts? How long should a breastfeeding session last? Am I producing enough milk? What’s the ideal time between feedings?

It’s okay to ask all these questions. And that’s why we have answered the most frequent ones so that you can feed your baby without the confusion and added stress.

How often should I breastfeed?


In the early weeks, mums should aim to breastfeed their newborn around 8–12 times each day for the first month. This frequent feeding is not just because the baby gets hungry quickly but also because it helps mamas make more milk during these early weeks.

From birth to about 1-2 months, most babies feed 7–9 times a day. A newborn breastfeeding schedule may vary from baby to baby.

Initially, a baby feeds “on demand” or whenever they feel hungry. This could be as often as every one hour and a half to every three hours and you’ll notice it through their feeding cues. Don’t worry if it feels like you’re breastfeeding all the time; this is perfectly normal and what your baby needs.

As your newborn grows, they won’t need to feed as often, and you’ll notice the time between feedings will go longer, from every 90 minutes to even 2–3 hours. Each baby is different, so while some might want to feed often, others might stretch it out a bit longer between meals.


How long should I breastfeed my baby?


Deciding how long to breastfeed or when to switch to formula feeding is a personal choice. But there are guidelines to help you make the best decision for you and your baby.

For the first six months of the baby’s life, it’s recommended that you exclusively breastfeed your baby—that is, feed your baby only breast milk. This means no formula, water, juice, other types of milk, or solid food. Breast milk has all the nutrients your baby needs during these early months and helps protect against illnesses and infections.

After the first six months, you can start introducing solid foods while continuing to breastfeed. The recommendation is to keep breastfeeding for up to 2 years.


The power of breast milk for newborn babies


Breastfeeding offers a unique blend of benefits for both the mother and the baby, making it an integral part of the early stages of parenthood. Breast milk provides the perfect mix of essential nutrients, contributing to a newborn’s overall health and development. 

It reduces the risk of many illnesses, such as diarrhea, ear infections, and bacterial meningitis, and can protect against long-term conditions like diabetes, obesity, and asthma. For breastfeeding mothers, the benefits include burning extra calories, which can help in returning to pre-pregnancy weight faster (should you want to), and a reduced risk of several diseases, including breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.  

Beyond the physical health advantages, breastfeeding fosters a unique and deep emotional bond between the mother and her baby, offering moments of close connection and mutual comfort.  

This natural process supports the baby’s growth and wellbeing while benefitting the mother’s health.

How often should I burp my baby during feedings?


Burping your baby during feedings helps them feel more comfortable and release trapped air bubbles. A good time to burp your baby is after they finish feeding from one breast, before switching to the other. 

Some babies might need to be burped more often, and this can even change from one feeding to the next. Just be sure to pay attention to your baby’s cues. 

If you notice your baby spitting up frequently, consider burping them more frequently during feedings. While it’s normal for babies to spit up a little after feeding or with a burp, it’s not typical for a baby to vomit up a significant portion of their feeding. Vomiting after feedings (rather than just spitting up should prompt a doctor consultation to rule out any potential issues.

When should I alternate breasts?


Alternating breasts during breastfeeding maintains an even milk supply and prevents discomfort.

Ensure the baby feeds from both sides for the same amount of time. This practice keeps your milk production balanced and avoids the pain of engorgement, which occurs when breasts are overly full and if not checked, can lead to mastitis.

Lactation consultants recommend switching sides midway through each feeding and starting with the opposite breast at the next feeding. You can use a simple reminder, like attaching a safety pin or ribbon to your bra strap on the side your baby last nursed, or a breastfeeding app to help you track feeding patterns.

When to switch sides while nursing?


When nursing, let your baby feed on the first side until they seem satisfied, fall asleep, or detach. Then, burp before switching to the other side. In the next feeding, start with the opposite breast to ensure equal nursing time and maintain a consistent milk supply across both breasts.

Some babies may feed from both breasts per session, while others prefer just one. Adjust according to your baby’s needs, aiming for balanced breastfeeding to prevent engorgement and support a steady milk supply.

Do breastfed babies influence milk supply?


Interestingly, yes!

Breastfed babies directly influence milk supply. It’s amazing how the human body works; even a baby’s cry can prompt milk release!

The more you breastfeed or pump, the more milk your body thinks it needs to produce to feed your baby. If you notice a decrease in milk supply, increasing nursing sessions or adding pumping sessions after breastfeeding can stimulate your body to produce more milk. 

This feedback loop between breastfeeding and milk production ensures that your supply adjusts to meet your baby’s demand.

Should you pump while weaning?


With that logic, pumping during the weaning stage would only result in your body making more milk, but pumping is still needed to prevent your breasts from becoming uncomfortably full. 

The key is to remove just enough milk to feel comfortable, not to empty the breasts completely, as fully expressing can signal your body to produce more milk. Hand-expressing or pumping a small amount of milk can help relieve the fullness and discomfort.

Using cold packs on your breasts can also help reduce swelling and alleviate discomfort. This approach gently assists your body in adjusting its milk production as you wean.

Reasons to stop breastfeeding


Deciding to stop breastfeeding is a personal choice and it’s okay if you choose formula milk over breastfeeding. Mums might stop breastfeeding because of:  

  • Mental health and exhaustion: Breastfeeding can be physically and mentally draining, sometimes negatively affecting mental health due to unmet goals or a low milk supply. Seeking support from professionals like lactation consultants or therapists can be beneficial.
  • Preference for bottle-feeding and nipple confusion: Some babies might prefer bottles as they can latch onto them more easily and receive a continuous flow of milk, making feeding more efficient.
  • Low milk production: Various factors can lead to a low milk supply, including insufficient feeding to stimulate production, health issues, or previous surgeries. A lactation consultant can offer support and strategies to increase supply.
  • Time constraints: The initial learning phase of breastfeeding can be time-consuming, as babies feed every 2–4 hours. Though it may become easier, fitting breastfeeding into a busy schedule can still be challenging for some families and working parents.
  • Medication: Certain medications can transfer into breast milk and may impact the baby. It’s crucial to consult healthcare providers about the safety of breastfeeding while on medication.
  • Returning to work: Even though there are laws to support nursing mothers, pumping at work or breastfeeding with a full-time job can be difficult for many mums.

Personal choice: Simply wanting to stop breastfeeding is reason enough. Your baby can still receive the necessary nutrients from infant formula.

Wrapping it up


Breastfeeding is going to look different for every mum. Some women might not even be able to. While there’s a whole lineup of breastfeeding advice always at the ready, find the answer that fits your family. Most of the time, that means checking in with a healthcare professional to give you their expert take.


Sources

https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/kidsfamilies/MCFhealth/Publications/breastfeeding-your-baby.pdf

https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/resources/expressing-newborn

https://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/nutrition/2013NutritionBreastfeedingDEECD.pdf

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