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Timing of breastfeeding

Expect that it may take 2 - 3 weeks for you and your baby to get into a breastfeeding routine.

Breastfeeding a baby on demand is full-time and exhausting work. Your body needs energy to produce enough milk. Be sure to eat well, rest, and sleep. Take good care of yourself so you can take good care of your baby.

Alternate Names

Breastfeeding pattern; Nursing frequency

Expect Your Breasts to Become Engorged

  • Your breasts will feel swollen and painful 2 - 3 days after you give birth.
  • Nurse your baby often to relieve the pain. 
  • Pump your breasts if you miss a feeding, or if a feeding does not relieve the pain. 
  • Talk to your health care provider if your breasts don’t feel better after 1 day.

Expect Your Baby to Nurse Often

During the first month:

  • Most babies breastfeed every 1 and 1/2 to 2 and 1/2 hours, day and night, during the first month. 
  • Breast milk is digested more quickly than formula. Breastfeeding babies need to eat often.

During growth spurts:

  • Your baby will have a growth spurt at around 2 weeks, and then at 2, 4, and 6 months. 
  • Your baby will want to nurse a lot to increase your milk supply so she can grow. Your baby may nurse every 30 - 60 minutes, and stay at the breast for longer periods. 
  • Know that frequent nursing for growth spurts is temporary. After a few days, your milk supply will increase to provide enough milk at each feeding. Then your baby will eat less often and for shorter periods of time.

You Will Make Enough Milk for Your Baby

Some mothers stop nursing during the first few days or weeks because they are afraid that they are not making enough milk. It may seem like your baby is always hungry. You don’t know how much milk your baby is drinking, so you worry.

Know that your baby will nurse a lot when she needs you to increase your milk supply. This is a natural way for baby and mother to work together to make sure there is enough milk.

Resist supplementing your baby's diet with formula feedings for the first 4 - 6 weeks.

  • Your body will respond to your baby and make enough milk. 
  • When you supplement with formula, and nurse less, your body doesn’t know to increase the milk supply.

You know that your baby is eating enough if your baby:

  • Nurses every 2 - 3 hours 
  • Has 6 - 8 really wet diapers each day 
  • Is gaining weight (about 1 pound each month) 
  • Is making swallowing noises while nursing 

The frequency of feeding decreases with age as the baby eats more at each feeding. Don't get discouraged. You will eventually be able to do more than sleep and nurse.

Nursing at Night

You may find that keeping your baby in the same room with you, or a room close enough to hear your baby, helps you rest better. You can use a baby monitor so you can hear your baby cry.

  • Some mothers like their babies to sleep next to them in a bassinet. They can nurse in bed and return the baby to the bassinet.
  • Other mothers prefer their baby to sleep in a separate bedroom. They nurse in a chair and return the baby to their crib.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you not sleep with your baby.

  • Return the baby to their crib or bassinet when breastfeeding is done. 
  • Don’t bring the baby into bed if you are very tired or taking medicine that makes you really sleepy.

Expect your baby to nurse a lot at night when you go back to work.

Breastfeeding at night is okay for your baby’s teeth.

  • If your baby is drinking sugary drinks and breastfeeding, your baby may have problems with teeth decay. Don’t give your baby sugary drinks, especially close to sleep time. 
  • Formula feeding at night can cause teeth decay.

The 6 O'clock Syndrome

Your baby may be fussy and nurse a lot in the late afternoon and evening. You and your baby are more tired by this time of day. Resist giving the baby a bottle of formula. This will decrease your milk supply at this time of day. 

Your Baby’s Stools

Your baby's bowel movements (stools) during the first 2 days will be black and tar-like (sticky and soft).

Breastfeed often during the first 2 days to flush this sticky stool out of your baby’s bowels.

The stools then become yellow-colored and seedy. This is normal for a breastfed baby and is not diarrhea.

During the first month, your baby may have a bowel movement after each breastfeeding. Don't worry if your baby has a bowel movement after every feeding or every 3 days, as long as the pattern is regular and your baby is gaining weight.

Updated: 9/9/2012

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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