Ask the Lactation Expert: What's a Normal Breastfeeding Routine?

Why does my baby want to breastfeed so much in the evening?

It's expected and normal for your baby to choose a time when she wants to have very, very frequent feedings. This is commonly called "cluster feeding," during which she typically has long feedings with short breaks between. She might breastfeed almost nonstop for several hours. She may also be fussy or unsettled during cluster feeding time. Understandably, some parents get the wrong idea about this behavior and think that it means Mom has a low milk supply. It's important to remember that the way your baby behaves is not a reliable sign of how much milk she's drinking.

How do I know my baby is getting enough milk?

The most dependable way to judge the milk supply is by your baby's growth pattern and diapers. If she's gaining well then she's getting enough milk, no matter how fussy she might be or how long she might cluster feed in the evening.

On a daily basis, your baby's diapers are the best indicator of whether she's had enough to eat. From age five days up to six to eight weeks, she should have at least five or six sopping wets and three or four palm-sized yellow bowel movements every 24 hours. After six to eight weeks, some babies develop a pattern of fewer bowel movements but should continue with at least five or six sopping wets along with a good weight gain.

Why do breastfed babies vary their feedings so much?

We don't know all the reasons, but it's probably connected to changing fat levels in mother's milk. The amount of fat varies somewhat from feeding to feeding and within each feeding. If some time has passed since the last feeding, the milk at the beginning of the feeding is lower in fat (like skim milk), then it becomes more like whole milk, and then high in fat (like cream) toward the end of the feeding. When feedings are more closely spaced (as in cluster feeding), they're higher in fat. Your baby needs to get this creamy milk to help her grow well, and to help her brain develop. Happily, many babies will take a longer stretch of sleep right after they cluster because getting the creamier milk helps to slow the digestion and makes the baby feel fuller. It's okay to let your baby take this longer stretch of sleep after a cluster. You don't need to wake her up in two to three hours at that time '- just enjoy the break!

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