How Often Should I Breastfeed My Newborn?

A Tale of Two Grandmothers: or, is breast milk better than rocket fuel?

Both my mother and my mother-in-law were convinced my son would starve to death before he was a month old. 

“He’s nursing all the time,” my mother-in-law would say, anxiously leaning over my shoulder to examine him. “He’s clearly not getting enough milk.”

“Sweetheart,” my mom would say gently, “You know, your breasts are so small. I don’t think he’s getting enough.”

I was doubtful myself. This was my first baby, and so I had nothing to compare the experience to. It did feel like I was a perpetual-milk-making machine. Maybe I wasn’t producing enough milk. Darn those A cups!

When I took my son to the pediatrician, I raised my concerns to the jolly Cajun doctor. “Oh, pshaw, sweetheart,” he laughed. “Them mamas from the fifties, they think ain’t nothing good enough for their grandbabies unless it’s got rocket fuel in it.”

He went on to assure me that near constant feeding in a newborn isn’t unnatural at all. In fact, breastfed babies do nurse nearly non-stop. Unlike formula, a one-size-fits-all food source, breast milk adapts itself to the precise needs of a baby. The grandmothers were comparing breastfeeding with formula-feeding, but formula takes much longer for babies to digest, which is why formula-fed infants don’t eat as often. 

Vindicated, I kept on doing what I’d been doing all along, feeding my little one whenever he seemed hungry. Sure enough, he’d doubled his birth weight before a month was out, and by six months, he was so heavy I wondered if my breast milk might have dark matter in it.

What does on-demand nursing look like in a newborn?

When you first bring baby home, your milk supply is still being established. Nursing on-demand is the best way to kickstart production, and your baby helps out by nursing every 1½ to 3 hours during the first month. Because her tummy is so small, she needs to eat at least every 4 hours. Yes, this definitely counts as round-the-clock nursing, but no, it’s not a problem. It’s perfectly normal. 

How do I know when my baby is hungry?

It’s going to be a while before you and your newborn speak the same language, which can make it difficult to know when she’s hungry. However, she will give you signs if you know what you’re looking for.

Your baby may be hungry if she begins:

  • Opening her mouth
  • Sucking on her fist 
  • Pursing her lips
  • Rooting or nuzzling
  • Sticking out her tongue
  • Crying*

*A word about crying

By the time baby is crying, she’s way past hungry. She’s hangry, which means it’ll be more difficult to calm her down enough to get her to nurse. You’ve probably experienced her frustration yourself when you wait too long to eat lunch. 

You’re doing a great job, mom!

Breastfeeding isn’t easy work. It can be exhausting, and when the people around you don’t fully  understand it, you may feel isolated and underappreciated. I’m here to tell you, moms, that you’re doing a great job. Trust yourself. Trust your baby. In a year, you’ll be looking back on this time as a fond memory.