Initially, babies are likely to feed inconsistently and mothers should feed ‘on demand’ for as long and as often as baby wants. Feeds can vary from long to short with anything from one and a half to several hours in between.
Milk supply is likely to be at its lowest around 5-7pm and that’s often when baby wants to feed. Breastfeeding is tiring so mothers should be encouraged to rest when they can.
By 6-9 weeks, babies will often settle into a pattern. Parents should be encouraged to keep a feeding diary, recording when and how long baby feeds. This will help to spot a pattern and establish a routine.
Regarding how long to feed – baby knows best. Some feeds may last up to 40 minutes and others only a few minutes. If baby empties one breast, they should be offered the other. But they may not want both in one feed. When baby has had enough they will either let go of the breast or just fall asleep. It is a good idea to try to wind them before feeding again. Mothers should begin the next feed with the breast that was offered second.
During their first year, babies go through a number of growth spurts, accounting for the dramatic difference in height and weight between newborns and one year olds. These can occur anytime but will typically be at 7-10 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, six months and nine months.
Babies will usually leave hospital weighing less than their birth weight but will regain that quickly as mum’s breast milk ‘comes in’. Growth spurts result in babies feeding more often, sometimes known as ‘cluster feeds’. Apart from feeding more often, growth spurts can be recognized by baby not sleeping through the night (despite previously doing so), irritability, waking early from naps and not settling at the breast.
Growth spurts can be as short as a couple of days or last for a week or more. If extra feeds are needed for more than a couple of days, mothers should be encouraged to take in more calories and extra fluids to make up for it. This often happens naturally as breastfeeding mothers tend to feel hungrier when baby is going through a growth spurt.
Increased ‘feeding on demand’ should naturally increase mother’s milk supply in order to satisfy baby’s need for extra nutrition.