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Breastfeeding FAQs: “How Often Should I Nurse?” and More Questions for New Moms

At Burdett Birth Center, we believe that evidence-based lactation care is every family’s right.  This recurring series will help to answer questions many new mothers have. With input from Burdett’s certified lactation consultants, we’ll discuss breastfeeding topics and questions that parents ask Burdett Birth Center’s doctors, midwives and nurses about every day.

Question: How often should I nurse?

While breastfeeding is different for every mom, newborn babies nurse every two to three hours. But instead of nursing on a schedule determined by the clock, mothers should watch their babies for signs of hunger – which are highlighted below – and allow their babies to establish breastfeeding schedules. While some babies need to be fed every hour, others will need to be fed less frequently. On average, newborns should be nursing between 8 and 12 times per day during the first month, says the AAP. By the time babies reach one to two months of age, they will likely nurse less frequently and establish more regular feeding patterns – probably around 7 to 9 times daily.

Keep in mind that your baby will likely digest your milk in about 90 minutes because breast milk digests more quickly than formula.  Breastfed babies are hungrier more often and, therefore, need to nurse more frequently than babies who are fed with formula.

Question: How do I know when my baby is ready to eat?

If you’re waiting for your baby to cry as an indication of hunger, you might be waiting too long. For nursing infants, crying is a late sign of hunger, and relying on crying can result in more difficulty and stress for mom and baby when trying to latch to the breast. Look out for these hunger cues that will help determine when your baby is ready to nurse:

Early baby hunger cues

  • Stirring
  • Mouth opening
  • Smacking or licking lips
  • Rooting or seeking breast
  • Turning head

Mid (or active) baby hunger cues

  • Increased physical movement
  • Stretching
  • Sucking on lips, tongue, hands, toes or toys

Late baby hunger cues

  • Crying
  • Frantic or agitated body movements
  • Turning red

If your baby is showing signs of late hunger cues, rely on calming methods, like skin-to-skin contact or stroking, before breastfeeding.

Question: How long should I breastfeed my baby?

The amount of time mothers breastfeed their babies is a personal decision. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, followed by continued breastfeeding with the introduction of complementary foods for at least a year. Mothers are encouraged to continue nursing for longer if mutually desired by the mother and baby.

Remember, there is no need to decide before or at the beginning of breastfeeding how long you will breastfeed your child. Mothers should do what feels right for their family – whether it’s nursing for six months or extending the time spent breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding, no matter the age of the child, provides children with nutrients and protection from infections.

Have any breastfeeding FAQs that you’d like us to discuss? Post them in the comments below and we may address it in our next blog post. Please consult your health care provider on any medical issue related to breastfeeding.

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