In short, we should feed our newborn babies according to their cues. Some people call this “feeding on demand” but I prefer “feeding on cue” as it sounds nicer – and actually makes more sense when you think about what a baby is doing.
Babies are born to survive. They have a complex set of in-built reflexes that help them to signal or “cue” to their parent what they need. As a parent we just need to respond to these cues – for example, we feed them when they’re hungry, change their nappy when it’s wet or dirty, help them to calm when they need to sleep, etc.
Babies have a number of different feeding cues, starting as they waken from a sleep with EARLY CUES including:
Opening their mouth
Turning their head
Seeking/rooting for the breast
When you see these cues you can lift your baby and feed them.
As a baby becomes more hungry their feeding cues become MORE OBVIOUS and include:
Stretching of the arms and legs
Sucking on their hands
At this stage you probably want to try to respond to your baby before they reach their LATE CUES which include:
Turning red in the face
If this happens your baby will need to be calmed before they can be offered the breast!
If you’re looking for more guidance on how often newborn babies feed, here are the facts:
1. Most young babies feed 8-12 times per day. This is backed by research that found that most babies had AT LEAST 8 feeds per day (and only a few babies managed to get enough milk with less than 8 feeds per day). The AVERAGE number of feeds per day is actually ELEVEN.
2. THREE hours between feeds is a MAXIMUM and 2-3 hourly would be a more normal/common feeding pattern. Breast milk is easily and quickly digested and a baby’s stomach is likely to be less than one-quarter full around 2 hours after a feed. (I know if my stomach is only one-quarter full I’m looking for at least a cup of coffee to keep me going!)
3. Feeds are not evenly spaced - sometimes babies cluster feed, and that’s normal. Just keep feeding them on cue.
4. If your baby goes longer between feeds at night they still need at least 8 feeds throughout the 24 hours, so day-time feeds might be closer together (90mins to 2-hourly). Feed them on cue.
5. You can tell how much milk your baby is getting by looking at their nappies. When they are getting enough milk they will produce at least 5 heavily-wet disposable nappies or around 6 very wet cloth nappies, and 2-3 yellow/mustard-coloured soft poos, each day.
6. You can also tell that your baby is getting enough milk by checking their growth (weight, height and head circumference) over time.
I hope this gives you an idea of what is normal with your newborn and helps you find your happy feed! Shona x