Feeding Patterns in Newborns

As you spend more and more time with your little one, you will notice general “feeding patterns” begin to emerge.  Patterns are not the same as “routines” and may evolve from hour to hour, day to day or week to week.

Recognising patterns is all about understanding what is happening to your baby’s growth and feeding development.  Routine is all about finding some predictability in your baby’s feeding cycles.  Let your baby’s patterns set your feeding routine. Remember, breastfeeding is a learned skill.  Be kind to yourself.  Don’t expect to get it right away, but be willing to adapt and learn as you go.  The fun is in the journey!

Feeding clues

One of the most common questions asked by our customers is “how often do I feed my baby?”  There is no one answer to this question as every baby’s needs and wants are different.  Sure there is an ‘average’ baby.  But the average baby may not be your baby.  Therefore, it is more important to watch your baby rather than the clock in determining whether it’s time to feed.

The good thing about babies is that they have a good way of telling you when are hungry and ready for feeding:

1. Rooting

An early sign is the rooting reflex.  You will notice your baby turning its head to the side and opening its mouth.

2. Wriggling

Are you wondering if your baby has ants in her pants? Wriggling about is another early warning sign that your baby is ready to feed.

3. Sucking

Mostly your little one will look like their devouring their hand.  But it doesn’t necessarily need to be their hand, it could be a blanket, toy, you.  It is whatever comes quickest to their mouth! This is another early warning sign.

4. Fussing

If your little one is fussing and restless – send in the troops as things are getting serious.  Also, they may be making squeaking noises or crying briefly.  If you are at this stage, there is definitely some urgency in their requests for food.  And, you are on the downhill slide towards being screamed at if you don’t satisfy that food desire as quickly as possible.

5. Full blown crying

This is the most obvious clue that your little one is hungry.  It’s their way of hitting you over the head with a hammer!!!! Have you heard of the term ‘hangry’ (Hungry Angry) used among adults?  When you get so hungry that you seem to snap at people and you are just unbearable until you eat?  Well, full blown crying is the baby equivalent!  Get that boob or bottle out mama as fast as you can!!

So, how often should you feed? 

So the first thing to note is that when you are talking to your health care nurse about your ‘frequency of feeds’ you are referring to the period from the start of one feed to the start of the next.  Not from the end of one feed to the start of the next.

Your baby’s habits may depend on what stage of development it is going through.  On average, most newborns feed between 8 and 12 times per day (24-hour period).  So, they may feed every hour in some parts of the day and every 3 or 4 hours in other parts of the day.  And, by the way, a newborn doesn’t know the difference between day and night – so don’t expect all the feeding to happen during the day and then for your little one to get a massive sleep overnight!  And it is extremely rare for babies to feed every 3 hours like clockwork.

What is cluster feeding?

You may notice your baby cluster feeding.  This is where your little one may feed every half an hour for a few hours in a row.  You may feel like they are never off your breasts!  Don’t worry, it is often the case that after a cluster feed, your little one will have a big nap! When this happens, don’t forget to jump into bed yourself.

Once you’ve been feeding for a while and you get to know your baby’s signs, you will get familiar with your baby’s patterns.  This makes things much easier.

Pattern Interrupt – Growth Spurt Time

The only thing that interrupts the pattern is when your little one has a growth spurt.  Babies grow at different rates and at different times.  As such, they don’t usually put on consistent weight from day to day.  From the time they are babies to the time they are adults, our offspring have growth spurts.  Perhaps you remember from your childhood and aunt or uncle commenting that you must have had a ‘growth spurt’ because you had suddenly shot up!  Maybe you’ve seen this in your own nieces or nephews or best friend’s kids.

Growth spurts are periods of intense physical or developmental growth.  Both in babies and in children, it is common for them to feed much more frequently just before and during a growth spurt.  Don’t worry that you won’t have enough milk for these moments, you will.  There is a physiological effect that happens in you that will build your milk supply so that you can satisfy your little one.

So, how long will your little one feed for?

This is often a very difficult question.  Some little ones are extremely efficient feeders and can be all done in 5 to 10 minutes.  Others may take around 45 minutes to an hour.  Again, you are looking for a pattern in your bub.

One thing is certain, on average newborn babies will take longer to feed than their month old counterparts.  This is because a newborn baby isn’t born with knowing what to do and needs to learn the skill.  They have certain ingrained reflexes (rooting reflex) that help them on their way.  But otherwise, just like you, they need to practice, practice, practice.

Foremilk / Hindmilk Nonsense

As little as 5 years ago, old school RNs were touting the message not to restrict the length of time your little one feeds – because you’d create a ‘foremilk’/’hindmilk’ imbalance.  Realistically, you should not restrict the amount of time your little one feeds for as a general rule because they’ll be hungry!

The Australian Breastfeeding Association (and we’re sure many other respectable resources) state that a “[t]rue foremilk-hindmilk imbalance usually only occurs when there is too much milk or where feeds are timed”[1].  Remember, all breastmilk has fat in it and is calorie dense and full of nutrients.

Various internet resources describe foremilk as being watery, lower-calorie milk and hindmilk as being the denser calorie laden milk that you must ensure your baby receives – this is not the case! Please be wary of these sources!  As previously said, all breastmilk has some fat in it.  The actual amount of fat content will vary throughout the day and depend upon how many times you’ve fed, length of feeds, etc.  The emptier your breast is the more hindmilk there is.  It’s simply physics.  Something that is more liquid is going to move faster than something that is (for want of a better term) gluggier!

[1]  https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/breastfeeding-fact-or-fiction


Hi! Natural Birth and Motherhood is about empowering women who are going through the stages of pregnancy, birth, or motherhood.  Find out more useful information on related topics by clicking on the Blog button below.

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