How often should my newborn nurse?

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Establishing breastfeeding can be very overwhelming. There is so much mixed advice coming at us from friends, doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, and family members. Wading through the information to discover truly breastfeeding friendly advice can be challenging. I hope this post helps you understand newborn feeding patterns and behaviors so that you can go into breastfeeding with an understanding of the many variations of normal. Breastfeeding is not one size fits all. There doesn't have to be a long list of rules, do's and don'ts. But there is one "rule" that I live by: Follow Baby's Lead. If you respond to your unique baby's unique cues, you will meet his unique needs.

Let's start by talking about the transition from womb to world. Baby goes from a warm, dark, environment with a constant feeding tube to a loud, bright, cold, chaotic, environment where he has to "seek" food for himself. Luckily he has you to take care of that need for him, and breastfeeding can meet all the needs beyond nutritional, including providing warmth and comfort.

We, as humans, belong to a class of creatures known as "carry mammals". This is because, like other primates, we carry our little ones. They are kept close to us always, an evolutionary design to enhance security, and for ease of feeding. See, newborns are designed to nurse frequently, and not on a schedule. They're not designed to nurse every 3 hours on the dot. No. A human infant could very well require feeding every half hour for 2 hours, then go a stretch of 4 hours without requiring a feed. Other infants might nurse every 2 hours during the day and every four at night.

Keep in mind not every nursing session is for food either. As we stated above, nursing meets other needs, and sometimes, is simply for comfort. You will be able to tell the difference once you experience these comfort nursing sessions.

Generally speaking, we like to see a newborn nurse somewhere between 8 and 12 times in a 24 hour period. This does NOT translate to every 2-3 hours, just because that's how the math averages out. Babies might "cluster feed" and then go for a long stretch without nursing. If your newborn is nursing dramatically outside this window (4-6 times, or 14+ times in 24 hours) you might want to get evaluated by a Lactation Professional. There are some concerning conditions that could cause this kind of ongoing nursing pattern, or it could be benign. Follow your mama gut, but it never hurts to seek advice! I know 12 feeds in 24 hours sounds absolutely exhausting, and it can be! But keep in mind that human babies are born the least mature of all mammals. This transition to earthside is often referred to as "the fourth trimester". It is so important to treat baby with the respect of meeting their constant needs, because when you meet the need it ceases to exist. Worrying about spoiling your baby is unnecessary because their constant neediness is biological. Any other expectations of how a newborn should behave is purely social, and guess what, newborns are not aware of societal expectations. The frequent feeding, cluster feeding, and fourth trimester does not last forever. This frequent feeding builds your supply, and sets the groundwork for a healthy nursing relationship. It does get easier, and while your baby may still nurse frequently as he grows and develops, he will also become more efficient. Before you know it you'll have a crawler, a walker, and then a teenager. Enjoy this time. They only stay little for so long.

How often did your newborn nurse? Did you experience cluster feeding? Have you ever heard of "The fourth trimester"?





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