Breastfeeding, like most things when it comes to parenting, doesn't have any set instructions. I almost lost my mind the first week of breastfeeding my daughter because I had no idea how, how often, or how much to feed her. Sometimes she would sleep for hours, and other days she would nurse constantly. Figuring out how long to wait before your baby needs to nurse again can be difficult to decipher and time out. I was always wondering, how long can I go between breastfeeding sessions before my baby is hungry? If you are a new mom, and are as confused as I was, you may be concerned about how to schedule your feeding routine. The simple answer? Just look for the cues your baby gives you.
Romper spoke with Tori Sproat, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) of Tiny Tummy Lactation Services, who says that babies should always be fed on demand — no schedules. So when they are hungry, you should feed them.
How can you tell if your baby is hungry? Your baby will give you cues to indicate their hunger, but Sproat says that waiting for them to cry is a late cue. "The easiest time to feed your baby is when they look asleep, but are slightly stirring, moving their head side to side," she suggests. Trying to feed a fussy, crying baby can be tough, so feeding them before they get to that point can make for an easier, calmer breastfeeding session.
How long should you wait between feedings? Sproat says that babies under 6 weeks need to eat frequently and there should be no more than three hours between each feed. (She does note that a four hour stretch at night is OK.) If your baby is not meeting appropriate diaper counts, nursing more frequently than two hour intervals for longer than six hours, or has poor weight gain, these are signs that you should reach out for help, she says.
After the first six weeks, Sproat notes that the intervals can shift somewhat. Most babies will eat every three hours or sooner, but some may sleep for longer intervals between feedings. She adds that it's important to watch diaper counts at this time to make sure your baby is getting enough nutrition.
You should also be prepared for non-stop breastfeeding every now and then. Sproat says that during a growth spurt, babies will want to nurse much more frequently, which is completely normal. According to Kelly Mom, growth spurts will occur every few weeks to a few months until your baby becomes a toddler, and the frequent nursing is your baby's way of increasing your milk supply for their growing needs.
"Remember that your baby is not a robot," adds Sproat. "They are tiny humans, and just like us, they will sometimes eat a big meal and sometimes graze." If you are concerned with adequate supply or have general questions, Sproat advises reaching out to a Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) peer counselor, La Leche League leader, Breastfeeding USA counselor, or a lactation consultant to get the support and answers you need.