While breastfeeding is often described as a "natural" act, sometimes it can feel like anything but. As a new mom attempting to feed a newborn with milk my body produced, I can tell you that I often felt more confused than self-assured. Form how to establish a latch, to how to increase my milk supply, to when the best times of the day to breastfeed were, I was learning on the fly and via trial and error. When it comes to nursing there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach, but having a few standard guidelines in the back of your mind might make the process a little easier — especially if you're a first time mom, new to breastfeeding altogether, feeling as lost as was.
According to the website Ameda, moms usually have the most breast milk first thing in the morning, with the volume of breast milk decreasing throughout the day. This is great news for moms who pump in addition to breastfeeding (to increase supply or to feed baby while you're at away or at work). However, according to KidsHealth.org, you should breastfeed a newborn 8-12 times a day for the first month. The site went on to report that breast milk moves through the digestive track easily and quickly, which is why breastfed babies are hungrier more often.
So you should be nursing every two or three hours, on demand, which makes a "best time to breastfeed" kind of, well, irrelevant. Newborns shouldn't go more than four hours without a nursing session, either, so setting a schedule that doesn't facilitate their need to constantly and consistently nurse isn't recommended. As your baby grows, however, the frequency of feedings will lessen to about seven to nine times per day.
There are a lot of reasons nursing moms prefer to know the best time to breastfeed, especially if they're experiencing difficulties with latch, want to donate breast milk, trying to alleviate engorgement symptoms or mastitis, or simply looking to increase their supply. Knowing the "best time" to nurse may increase the chances of experiencing a more successful breastfeeding session and, since you can plan ahead of time, assist a mom in keeping a semi-regular nursing schedule.
Kelly Bonyata, an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) tells KellyMom that during the earlier days and weeks, you can't nurse too often, but you can nurse too little. You shouldn't wait to nurse until your baby is crying due to hunger, but rather anticipate your baby's needs and schedule a feeding sessions prior to your baby experiencing any discomfort or stress. Bonyata adds that mothers shouldn't skip feedings, even at night, and to let baby nurse however long he or she needs.
When your baby goes through a growth spurt, he or she may have what's known as "cluster feedings." Similar to how newborns feed, cluster nursing tends to happen when baby needs a little more comfort, or could even be preparing for a longer night's sleep. In this case, Today's Parent suggests cluster breastfeeding works best if you get any responsibilities finished early in the day, so you can focus on nursing in the evening.
No matter the reasoning for wanting to know the best time to breastfeed, the key is consistency in order to keep your milk supply at it's maximum potential. Patience also goes a long way when trying to establish a routine for both you and your baby. No body is the same, so pay attention to your baby's wet diapers and weight gain to be sure he or she is getting all they need, then go from there. And, as always, consult your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns. After all, that's what they're there for.
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