A common question concerning breastfeeding is how long and how often mothers should breastfeed. Your baby will probably have very strong opinions on this, and it's wise to follow their lead.
Give it the time it needs – and don’t interrupt the feeding session.
How many times a day should a baby feed?
Breast milk is easy to digest. For this reason, breastfed babies often want to eat more frequently than bottle-fed babies.
For the first few months, many newborns want to be fed as often as 12 times a day – sometimes more. The length of time between feeds may vary over the course of the day. Generally, the intervals are slightly longer in the morning and early afternoon, while many babies want to feed nearly all the time in the late afternoon and evening.
If your baby sleeps a lot and prefers sleeping to eating, they may feed as little as six times every 24 hours. In this case, try to wake your baby up and offer your breast more often, including at night. If this doesn’t work (if your little one isn't interesting in feeding more often and only wants to sleep), speak to your Well Child nurse and check your baby’s weight frequently.
Sweet and fatty breast milk
Every time you breastfeed, your baby gets the sweetest milk first. It’s thinner and almost blue in colour. The later milk is fattier and more nutritious, and gives your baby a comfortable feeling of fullness. That's why it's important to let your baby suck until they decide to release your breast. That way you're sure the breast is empty and your baby has got that last swallow of satisfying “cream”.
One or two breasts?
It’s usually enough to feed from one breast at each sitting. However, if your baby tends to eat larger quantities less often, it’s fine to give them one whole breast and whatever they need from the other. Just wait for your baby to finish. This will tell you if one breast was enough. And remember to start with the second breast at the next feed.
Wanting frequent feeds
If your baby wants to feed more frequently than every 1-2 hours, it could be a sign that they aren’t getting the last mouthfuls of fatty, filling milk, or they don’t have the right sucking technique. But if your breast doesn’t hurt, your little one has probably got the correct technique, with their whole mouth around your breast and the lower lip curled down. Try leaving baby on the same breast a bit longer. Keep them awake (tickle their feet) to make sure the meal is finished completely.
Have you got any advice for mothers whose babies fall asleep while feeding? Share here.
If you’re having problems feeding there are lots of places you can go to get help. Your LMC should help you with any breastfeeding problems in the first instance. If you need more support, phone the Plunket Family Centre and ask to see a lactation consultant or phone PlunketLine 0800 933 922. You can find a private lactation consultant on www.nzlca.org.nz – there will be a charge. La Leche League offers breastfeeding support – visit www.lalecheleague.org.nz