Becoming a new parent is a beautiful and exhilarating experience, but like any major life change, it comes with significant questions and uncertainties. How often should you breastfeed your baby? How do you know your baby is getting enough to eat? This article will help new parents understand the basics of newborn care to ensure their little one is healthy and thriving.
Understanding how often babies eat
Babies are usually sleepy in the first few days after birth and may not always show frequent hunger cues. You’ll likely need to wake them at least every three hours to make sure they get the nutrients their little bodies require. Allowing your baby to sleep for too long could cause dehydration and calorie insufficiency, resulting in your breasts not producing enough milk.
A newborn’s stomach is tiny and can only hold 1-2 teaspoons of milk at a time. After the first week, their stomachs expand enough to hold only 2-4 tablespoons of milk. By the end of their first month, babies can eat up to 3-4 ounces at each feeding.
Breast milk is perfect for newborn dietary needs
Breastfeeding, by nature, accommodates the little bellies of newborns. In the first couple of days following birth, breasts begin to produce colostrum, a thick, dark yellow milk that is packed with nutrient-dense calories, fat, protein, and sugar. Colostrum is so concentrated because babies can only eat a minuscule amount initially; therefore, it provides enough nutrients to sustain a newborn baby’s dietary needs.
As your baby’s stomach expands, so will their appetite. They will eventually wake up on their own, show hunger cues, and will eat more often. Your breastmilk will start to appear more like milk, becoming a thinner liquid and whiter in appearance.
How often you breastfeed determines how quickly your milk will come in
It is vital to remember that if you are not putting your baby to breast or pumping every 2-3 hours, your body will not continue to produce the amount of milk your baby needs. You must stimulate your nipples in order for your body to get the message that it needs breast milk. It is normal for mothers to produce only a few drops at first. Continue putting your baby to breast or pumping so your milk will come in.
Guidelines for breastfeeding your baby
With each passing day, your baby’s stomach will grow, and they will become more efficient at breastfeeding. The more they practice, the better they get at it. Eventually, babies that are a couple of weeks old can empty both breasts within a few minutes. Newborns eat every 2-3 hours and stop eating when satisfied. Most often, they will let you know when they are hungry again.
In order for mothers to produce enough milk for their baby, it is crucial to put the baby to breast as soon as possible after delivery. Early and frequent breastfeeding will stimulate milk production and help maintain your baby’s blood glucose levels. Here are some predominant guidelines for feeding your new baby:
- Put your baby to breast as soon as possible after delivery.
- Breastfeed your baby every 2-3 hours, waking them if needed.
- Allow your baby to breastfeed for at least 10-15 minutes on each breast.
- Listen for audible swallowing during breastfeeding.
- Ensure your baby eats at least 8-12 times in 24 hours.
How much babies eat in the first three months
Newborns need to eat frequently, including overnight. Babies eventually start sleeping for longer periods at night as they get older. As long as your baby is eating enough during the daytime, they should be getting plenty to eat. Here is an example of what to expect your baby will eat in the first months:
- First few days of life: 1-2 teaspoons, eating every 2-3 hours for 10-15 minutes
- After the 1st week: 2-4 tablespoons, eating every 2-3 hours for 10-15 minutes
- 1-month-old eats: 3-4 ounces, eating every 3-4 hours for at least 10 minutes
- 3-month-old eats: 4-6 ounces, eating every 3-4 hours for at least 10 minutes
You can introduce pureed foods when your baby is at least six months old. If they start to eat baby cereal and pureed fruits, veggies, and meats, they will likely begin to breastfeed less frequently or for shorter periods.
How do you know if your baby is getting enough to eat?
Now that you have a better understanding of how often you should breastfeed your baby, you must also feel confident knowing they are getting enough to eat. One of the first things to consider is how well your baby latches. A successful breastfeeding session will have the following characteristics:
- Baby’s mouth is wide open and covers most of the areola (the outer circle of the nipple).
- You cannot see your nipple.
- Baby’s lips are not tucked in but are flared outward.
- You can see the mouth rhythmically moving with short rest breaks.
- There is an audible sound of swallowing.
- Your breast becomes softer after a feeding.
- The baby seems satisfied and does not wake to eat for 2-3 hours.
How many wet diapers should a newborn have?
Monitoring your baby’s wet diapers also gives you a good indication that they are well-hydrated and eating enough. In the first days after birth, babies usually only have a couple of wet diapers daily. Pooping should begin within the first 24 hours. Nearing the end of the first week of life, expect your baby to have 6-10 diapers per day and five or more bowel movements per day.
Signs your baby is not getting enough to eat
There is a possibility that your baby does not get enough breastmilk, so it is vital to know the signs of ineffective feeding and malnutrition in newborns. The amount of milk your breasts produce should increase significantly by day five. Many mothers will also pump breastmilk if their baby does not effectively latch initially. This will ensure they stimulate their nipples so the body knows to produce more milk.
Signs of inefficient feeding and malnutrition in babies include the following:
- Poor latch, not waking to eat at least every 2-3 hours, only latch for a couple of minutes
- Barely any mouth movement while latched and no audible swallowing
- Breasts remain full after feedings
- Very limited to no wet diapers or dark-colored urine
- Minimal to no bowel movements
- Baby appears lethargic (not alert, does not wake, limp arms and legs)
- Does not start to gain weight after the first week (normally babies lose weight the first week but start to regain after that period)
The importance of tracking your baby’s activities
It’s not easy for new parents to keep track of all the important new baby schedules and details, but it’s vital for your baby’s health and well-being to ensure they are eating enough, sleeping enough, and having a normal amount of wet diapers. Your pediatrician will likely ask you how often and for how long your baby eats and how many soiled diapers they have.
The Baby Daybook App makes tracking so much easier for parents. The app allows you to confidently track when your baby starts to breastfeed and for how many minutes, the amount of dirty diapers, how long your baby sleeps, weight and length, and so much more.
CDC. 2021. Signs Your Child is Hungry or Full. www.cdc.gov
WIC breastfeeding support. How Much Milk Your Baby Needs. wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov
CDC. 2023. When, What, and How to Introduce Solid Foods. www.cdc.gov
WIC breastfeeding support. Steps and signs of a good latch. wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov
What to expect. Newborn and Baby Poop. www.whattoexpect.com
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Breastfeeding and Delayed Milk Production. www.hopkinsmedicine.org
La Leche League International. Is my baby getting enough milk? llli.org