What to Expect With A Newborn That Is Nursing

By Carly Hill

Once you’ve got the first week of milk madness under your belt, you’ll probably look at yourself in the mirror a thousand times a day, in a haze of exhaustion and ask yourself, “Is this normal?” about anything and everything. You’ll continue to wonder what to expect with a newborn that is nursing – how often and how much will they eat?

Although everyone is different, and every nursing mom has her own set of stories, babies and the art of breastfeeding is an art that you can master.

How Often Will I Nurse?

The more frequently you nurse, the greater your milk supply will be. Just as there are a myriad of opinions and methods when it comes to how you should teach your baby to walk and how you should comb your baby’s hair, there are many different approaches to getting on a breastfeeding schedule. Parents fall into one of three camps. There are those who opt for a baby-led schedule, those who opt for a parent-led schedule, and then those who opt for a combo of the two.

Here is a look at all the different approaches.

How Do I Time It?

KidsHealth.org answered the question, “Are feeding intervals counted from the time my baby starts or stops nursing?”

The article said, “You count the length between feedings from the time when your baby begins to nurse – rather than when he or she ends – to when your little one starts nursing again. In other words, when your doctor asks how often your baby is feeding, you can say “about every 2 hours” if your first feeding started at 6 a.m. and the net feeding was around 8 a.m., then 10 a.m., and so on.”

Of course, this will make it feel like you are, as my husband called me, a “milk factory.” It will feel like it’s all you do at first, but very soon you will get into more of a predictable pattern.

What to Expect When Baby is Hungry or Full

Here is a complete list of signs that your baby is hungry, taken from KidsHealth.org:

  • Moving their heads from side to side
  • Opening their mouths
  • Sticking out their tongues
  • Placing their hands and fists in their mouths
  • Puckering their lips as if to suck
  • Nuzzling against their mothers’ breasts
  • Showing the rooting reflex (when a baby moves its mouth in the direction of something that’s stroking or touching its cheek)

In turn, here are signs that your baby might be full:

  • Slow, uninterested sucking
  • Turning away from the breast or bottle

Breastfed babies do not overeat; so don’t stop your baby when she’s actively sucking. You’ll know she’s finished when she’s falling asleep or slowing down.

How Long Will My Baby Nurse?

The rule of thumb here is to watch your baby, not the clock. Let your baby nurse as long as she wants to on one side before switching. This ensures that she does get to the higher-calorie hind milk. It’s hard to even give a time frame of what’s normal because truthfully, some babies will nurse for 5 minutes and other babies will stay on the breast for an hour. Both are normal. But, the average time is about 30 minutes per nursing session.

If your baby is a long nurser, chances are she’ll stay fuller a little longer. And, also, babies get more efficient the older they get, so what took them 20 minutes as a newborn might only take 5 when they are a few months old.

When babies are going throw growth spurts around 3 months and 6 months of age, they may start nursing more frequently. It is recommended that you allow the frequent nursing when it happens to accommodate your babies needs. Your baby will naturally settle back into a normal nursing pattern.

When wondering how long your baby will be glued to your breast, keep in mind all the factors. Your baby’s nursing speed depends on how slow or fast your milk flow is, which varies from person to person. It’s also depends on your baby’s energy level, mood, and positioning.

How Do I Measure Quantity?

Unlike moms who are measuring ounces as they bottle feed, you’re not really able to measure how much milk you’re putting out when your baby drinks from your breast. Your body will produce what your baby needs and if you let her nurse until she’s satisfied, your body will be sure to produce enough milk for the next feeding. However, it’s helpful to know how many ounces to feed if you want to pump milk to feed your baby from a bottle.

The research says that breastfed babies drink an average of 25 ounces per day between 1 and 6 months old, so if you want to figure out how much expressed milk to feed her in a bottle, first estimate the number of times she nurses per day. Then divide 25 ounces by that number. That should give you a good idea.

Kelly Mom has this handy calculator you can use, so you don’t have to do the math.

Baby-Led Schedule

Those who take a baby-led approach are more laid back when it comes to the routines of their child. You look for cues from your baby and feed her when she is showing signs of hunger, whether or not she just got through with a feeding.

Just because some parents take this approach, it doesn’t mean they are living in a bubble of chaos. Babies naturally fall into a routine. But, if you read the cues, that routine will shift slightly from day to day. Baby’s first nap of the day might have happened at 9 a.m. today, but tomorrow, she might not get tired until 11:30, so you’ll adjust your plans accordingly.

Although this may appear to be the new trendy way, the philosophy has been around for a long time, dating back to 1946 when famous pediatrician, Benjamin Spock, wrote a book on the baby-led philosophy titled, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care.

To help you understand this philosophy more clearly, Baby Center quotes pediatrician Cheryl Hausman, medical director of the University City Primary Care Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who explained, “Babies come in all shapes and sizes. Our job as parents is to meet our baby’s needs, rather than force them to meet our needs…It’s okay to gently guide babies, for example, to take a morning and an afternoon nap. But we get into trouble when we demand that the nap occur at a very specific time.”

If you choose to parent with this philosophy, the question of “How often?” is answered simply by saying, “Feed on demand.” Of course, you should never let a baby go more than 4 hours without a feeding, even during the night.

If you choose to take on this approach, here are a list of good books that can help you.

The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby, by William Sears and Martha Sears

The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two, by William Sears and Martha Sears

The American Academy of Pediatrics Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, by Steven P. Shelov and Robert E. Hannemann (Editors)

The American Academy of Pediatrics Your Baby’s First Year, by Steven P. Shelov (Editor)

Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, Eighth Edition, by Benjamin Spock and Robert Needlman

Touchpoints: Birth to Three, Second Edition, by T. Berry Brazelton and Joshua D. Sparrow

The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer, by Harvey Karp

Parent-Led Schedule

Those who decide to handle breastfeeding with this approach are the ones calling the shots, as the name “parent-led” suggests. Parents who choose this method lay out very specific times for when their baby will eat, play, and sleep. Supporters of this approach will say that consistent timing and scheduling helps to regulate their baby’s internal clock, giving them the structure they need to thrive.

Parents who choose this path aren’t usually setting arbitrary time schedules. They do, typically, schedule based on the research available of a baby’s natural rhythms. Baby’s trained this way will obviously be more predictable and will likely sleep through the night sooner.

Supporters of parent-led schedules will say that babies who nurse on-demand aren’t getting enough hind-milk because they are simply “snacking” and getting the breast every time they cry. They will tell you that because they are not getting enough of the rich, fatty hind milk, they are not sleeping as well. (Note that this line of thinking completely opposes the baby-led line of thinking).

The best-known advocates of parent-led scheduling are Gary Ezzo and Gina Ford. To learn more about this philosophy, you can read the books they put out. Ford’s book is titled, The New Contented little Baby Book. Ezzo’s book is called, On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep (Fourth Edition).

It’s important to note that although this wasn’t always the case, parent-led scheduling is controversial these days. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends nursing babies on demand – when they show the first signs of hunger (alertness, activity, mouthing, rooting around). They consider crying to be a “late indicator” of hunger. The whole “Baby Wise” way, which started from Ezzo’s book, created controversy in 1997 as many pediatricians noted that a lot of “Baby Wise” babies were underfed. Being too rigid with feedings can result in your baby not gaining enough weight and even dehydration. Ezzo responded by tweaking his advice and adding a coauthor in his latest editions of the book.

If you choose to stick to a schedule with your baby, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as you are sure to be flexible enough with the system to ensure that your baby is getting enough milk every day. Getting your baby on a schedule is a great thing to do. You can start routines early that will carry on into childhood. Just do so, responsibly and be open to making changes if your baby needs to gain more weight or is not thriving.

Combination Baby Schedules

Parents don’t necessarily fall into one of the two categories listed above. There is a third group that chooses to use a combination of the two extremes, when it comes to breastfeeding their babies.

A combination schedule is basically a mix between being parent-led and being baby-led. Unlike full-blown baby-led parents, you will set a timetable for when your child will eat and sleep and play and you’ll try to follow the routine each day, but unlike the parent-led, they are known for their flexibility.

Those who get behind the idea of a combination schedule look for their babies cues when it comes to hunger or exhaustion and they’ll adjust the schedule accordingly.

Here is a list of the best books to read if you want to know more about combination scheduling.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate With Your Baby, by Tracy Hogg and Melinda Blau

Jo Frost’s Confident Baby Care: What You Need to Know for the First Year from America’s Most Trusted Nanny, by Jo Frost

The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer, by Harvey Karp

What to Expect: Week 2 – Week 6

Most newborns at this stage nurse between 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. Keep this in mind, when wondering how often you should nurse – you CAN’T nurse too often, but you CAN nurse too little.

Many women from Mom’s and Granny’s generation will quote the mantras of their time. They’ll say things like, “Don’t ever wake a sleeping baby.” Although your REM cycle might appreciate that, we now know that if a newborn isn’t fed every 2-3 hours throughout the night, she could become malnourished.

Although you can find many different “methods” when it comes to nursing on a schedule, the simplest way to do it is to feed your baby when she’s hungry.

It is a good idea to get your baby on a rough schedule, but she should be eating no less than 8 times per day (that’s including sleeping hours).

When your baby shows signs of hunger (rooting, sucking on fingers, etc.) it’s time to offer the breast. If you wait too long, your baby will become frantic and feeding will be a stressful event, rather than a soothing one.

Kelly Mom offers a great little list you can look back to, when you’re asking yourself “Is this normal?”

“The following things are normal:

  • Frequent and/or long feedings.
  • Varying nursing pattern from day to day.
  • Cluster nursing (very frequent to constant nursing) for several hours – usually evenings – each day. This may coincide with the normal “fussy time” that most babies have in the early months.
  • Growth spurts, where baby nurses more often than usual for several days and may act very fussy. Common growth spurt times in the early weeks are the first few days at home, 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, and 4-6 weeks.”

This information may make your weary mind even wearier, but don’t worry. This phase, although it may feel long, is short-lived. Your baby will naturally go longer between feedings, as she grows. She may cluster nurse occasionally during a growth spurt, but generally speaking, it will get easier!

Something else to keep in mind is that it is completely normal that you are feeding your baby more frequently than bottle-feeding mom’s are feeding theirs. The reason for this is that your baby’s body digests breast milk more easily, so it is passing through her system faster.

Whether you decide to go the way of letting your baby set the schedule or not, you need to let your baby nurse on demand for the first month, at least, while you’re still establishing your milk supply. This means letting your baby nurse about every 1 ½ to 3 hours. Frequent nursing, although exhausting for you, is the best way to establish a good milk supply. Your baby will naturally nurse less frequently, if you let her call the shots, but if you do want to get her on a set schedule, wait until month two.

Keep in mind; newborns should never go more than 4 hours between feedings, even at night.

What to Expect: 2 Months

Once your baby is about 2 months old, you should be nursing your baby about 7 to 9 times a day. That would mean you’re likely having a nursing session every 2 hours, maybe 3. Your baby may be spending less time nursing because she’s getting better at it. Now the rule is, your baby should nurse at least 6 times for every 24-hour period.

What to Expect: 3 Months

Between now and next month, your baby should be nursing at least every 4 hours during the day. 3 Months is growth spurt time though, so there may be a part of this month where your baby wants extra, and you should give it to her. If your baby is naturally starting to give up her night feeds, she’ll probably eat more during the day.

What to Expect: 4 to 7 Months

From 4 to 7 months, your baby should now be nursing at least 5 times per 24-hour period, and one of these feedings is probably a night feed. Some babies this age may only nurse for 3 to 5 minutes. Part of that is because they are distracted with the beautiful world before them and the other part is that you’ve probably introduced solids somewhere around this time (6 months is the norm). So, they may be filling up partially on human food now.

*Fun Fact: According to BBC, if you are still nursing your baby when she is 6 months old, you are in the 1% of mothers who have breastfed for this long! Hoorah!

What to Expect: 8 Months 

Your baby should be having about 5 to 7 feeds per day. According to Johnson, babies who are breastfeed between 7 and 9 months have higher intelligence than those breastfed for less.

What to Expect: 9 Months

Your baby should be nursing between 4 to 5 times at this point. She may be starting to lose interest now that she’s becoming a foodie. Read your baby’s cues. Your breasts will accommodate her needs and supply more or less milk for her, based on the demand.

What to Expect: 10 to 11 Months

Now that your baby is crawling and cruising, maybe even walking, her nursing patterns may become erratic. She may even begin to self-wean. Breast milk, however, is still the most important part of her diet.

What to Expect: 1 Year Old

According to TheAlphaParent, “many of the health benefits this year of nursing has given your child will last his entire life. He will have a stronger immune system and will be much less likely to need orthodontia or speech therapy.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you nurse your baby for at least a year “to help ensure normal nutrition and health for your baby.” You don’t have to stop now, though! Many babies this age continue to nurse 2 or 3 times a day – maybe in the morning and at night.

What to Expect: 16 Months

Your breast milk continues to provide normal nutrition and protection against illness at this stage. According to a study done by Gulick. E, breastfeeding toddlers between 16 and 30 months old have been found to have “fewer types and shorter duration of illness and to require less medical care than their non-breastfeeding peers.”

What to Expect: 2+ Years

The World Health Organization strongly encourages breastfeeding through toddlerhood. They say, “Breast milk is an important source of energy and protein, and helps to protect against disease during the child’s second year of life.” As your child drinks less and less, your milk will become more and more concentrated, kind of like colostrum again and this will give her an extra boost of immunity.