Questions parents have: How often will baby feed?
Over the next few posts I will try and answers some common questions most parents, who come to the Breastfeeding Clinic, have ;-).
How often will baby feed?
Normal breastfeeding during the first week is different from normal breastfeeding during the second week and beyond. After birth baby’s new-born tummy is the size of a marble, only able to hold 5 – 10 ml per feed. In the first few days the tiny tummy will expel extra milk rather than stretching to hold it. By day 3 baby’s tummy expands to hold more milk (30 ml). By 2 weeks baby’s tummy can hold 60 – 75 ml, and at a month about 90 – 120 ml(1) per feed.
During the early days baby will be feeding a lot to help transition from constant feeding in the womb to intermitted feeding in the outside world. As said, baby is born with a small stomach, s/he gets small amounts of colostrum, that digests quickly, so for many babies this = very frequent, sometimes non-stop, breastfeeding.
During the first few weeks, a lot of babies will probably not feed on any kind of regular schedule either. Most babies bunch their feeding together at certain times (called cluster feedings), and go longer between feedings at other times. Baby could feed 8 – 12 times in a 24 hour period, maybe 2 – 3 hours apart.
During these early days it may be a good idea to keep track of the number of feedings every 24 hours, but ignore the interval between feedings. If we look at the clock, we need to remember that breastfeeding and babies have been around a lot longer than the clock so there are no rules to feed 2 or 3 or 4 hourly!! Baby is very smart and will tell you when s/he is hungry. Early feeding clues will be wriggling, smacking lips, rooting, putting hand to mouth or chewing hands, fussing, etc. A crying, frantic baby needs to calm down first before attempting to latch-on. So let baby’s hunger guide you in feeding her/him. If baby sleeps more than ONE 4 hour stretch ONCE in 24 hour period you might have a hard time fitting in that minimum of 8 feeds during a 24 hour period. Thus until breastfeeding and milk production is well established (at about a month) and baby is growing appropriately, feed a MINIMUM of 8 feeds during a 24 hour period. I am sure you “get” the message by now?!
Ignorant advice is to let your breast refill before feeding. The emptier your breasts, the more milk you will make. It is a law of supply and demand. Your breasts are like factories, if the demand is going to be low, the supply is going to be low. Research shows milk contains a small whey protein called Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation (FIL). The role of FIL appears to be to slow milk synthesis when the breast is full. Thus milk production slows when milk accumulates in the breast (and more FIL is present), and speeds up when the breast is emptier (and less FIL is present)(2), thus feed-feed-feed-feed!
Now something you might not have known: A mother’s breast storage capacity refers to the maximum volume of milk available to her baby when her breast is at its fullest.(3) Research by Donna Ramsay, et.al show unrelated to breast size, breast storage capacity is determined by the amount of room in a mother’s milk-making glandular tissue. Breast size is determined primarily by the amount of fatty tissue(4) The maximum volume of milk in the breasts each day can vary greatly among mothers. Two studies found a breast storage capacity range among its mothers of 74 to 606 g per breast(5) What does this mean? It means that if you have a small storage capacity in your breast they might, for example only hold about 60 ml per breast and by age 1 month your baby’s tummy can hold ±120 ml of milk per feed – so baby will want to feed from both breasts about 8 – 10 times a day to get the milk s/he needs in 24 hours. S/he will probably continue to feed like this every few hours day and night for some time so s/he can get the milk s/he needs and you can keep up your supply. And you can and will provide enough milk for baby to grow and thrive!
Another mom’s breasts can for example, hold maybe 120 ml per breast; she has a large storage capacity. Her 1 month-old baby takes only 1 breast per feed, and as this baby grows, her/his tummy grows and s/he takes in more milk per feed (say 180ml, 120ml from breast A and a bit from breast B) AND the number of feeds s/he takes per day goes down to maybe 6 per day, because this is enough for her/him to take in the milk s/he needs over 24 hours. S/He might even start stretching longer at night at an earlier age.
Another bit of interesting research: Healthy, exclusively breastfed 1 to 6 month-old babies consume 0 to 240 g of milk between 6 and 18 times during 24 hours, with 64% of babies breastfeeding 1 to 3 times at night. On average, 67% of the available milk is consumed at each breastfeeding. The fat content of breast milk varies between mothers (22.3 – 61.6 g/L) and within and between breastfeedings.(6) What does this mean? It means your baby (and your body/breasts) is an individual and will tell you when s/he wants to feed again, not the clock, not a book, not a 3rd party.
Trust your baby and trust your inborn parental instinct!
1. Santoro W Jr, Martinez FE, Ricco RG, Jorge SM. Colostrum ingested during the first day of life by exclusively breastfed healthy newborn infants. J Pediatr. 2010 Jan;156(1):29-32
2. J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia. (1996). Feedback control of milk secretion from milk. Peaker M, Wilde CJ. Hannah Research Institute, United Kingdom, Jul;1(3):307-15.
3. Ramsay, D.T., Kent, J.C., Hartmann, R.A., Hartmann, P.E. 2005, 'Anatomy of the lactating human breast redefined with ultrasound imaging', Journal of Anatomy, 206, pp. 525-534
4. Geddes, D. T. (2007). Inside the lactating breast: The latest anatomy research. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 52(6), 556-563
5. Daly, S. E., Owens, R. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (1993). The shortterm synthesis and infant-regulated removal of milk in lactating women. Experimental Physiology, 78(2), 209-220. & Kent, J. C., Mitoulas, L. R., Cregan, M. D., Ramsay, D. T., Doherty, D. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (2006). Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day. Pediatrics, 117(3), e387-395.
6. Jacqueline C. Kent, PhD, Leon R. Mitoulas, PhD, Mark D. Cregan, PhD, Donna T. Ramsay, PhD, Dorota A. Doherty, PhD, Peter E. Hartmann, PhD. Volume and Frequency of Breastfeedings and Fat Content of Breast Milk Throughout the Day. NEOREVIEWS, Vol. 117 No. 3 March 1, 2006.