Breastfeeding: How much should your newborn nurse?

My newborn is not on a set schedule. She will sometimes wake on her own to nurse,  other times I have to wake her after three hours. She also seems to eat more when I feed her from my right breast and will often fall into a heavy sleep. How much should a newborn actually  nurse?


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Nursing can be confusing, but yout best bet is to watch your newborn closely. Babies experience differences in appetite, just as we do. One day you might be ravenous, wanting to eat all the time, and on another day, you aren't very hungry at all. While three meals might be perfect for me, you might feel best when you eat six small meals. Also, it's not easy to establish a fixed schedule at such a young age.

Pay attention to her cues, such as sucking on her fingers or fist, rapid eye movement or body movement while sleeping, and the soft sounds she makes. If you nurse her at these times, before she is crying and frantic, you will find she has a much better feed, will be more relaxed and probably is less fussy (and less gassy.)

In the first six weeks, you'll likely be nursing at least 10 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. If you find your daughter is sleeping for long periods of time, and you are not able to nurse this often, keep her nearby while she naps, and watch for the cues. Even if she isn't totally awake, it's very likely if you put her to your breast, she will nurse. If she slows down and you'd like to encourage her to have a longer feed, massage and gently compress your breast as she nurses. This will bring her more milk and you will hear her swallow more actively (listen for the soft guh, guh, guh sounds.)

Breast milk is digested in less than two hours, so physiologically it is very normal for an infant to want to feed quite often. There are also other factors that need to be taken into account, such as the length of the feed, baby's sucking ability, and your milk supply. As your milk supply is becoming established during the first six weeks, you may see your baby's schedule can vary quite a lot from day to day.

There can definitely be differences in supply from one breast to the other. But it's nothing to be particularly concerned about. Since you are finding that your daughter spends a lot of time at your left breast and still doesn't seem satisfied for long, allow a good feeding (when nursing on the left side) and then switch sides when her swallowing has really slowed. Changing her diaper in between sides can help to wake her if she seems very sleepy. Allow her to nurse on the other breast, until she comes off on her own, very relaxed and satisfied.

Hang in there--your baby's schedule will begin to even out and you'll become better at identifying your baby's needs.

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