From almost the moment your baby is born, he or she is hungry. Many first-time mothers are surprised when baby is at their breast, ready to feed, as soon as 30 minutes after birth.
But how soon after that should your baby be fed again? And how often should he or she be eating in the days and weeks that follow? If you're not sure of the answers, you're not alone. Experts say establishing a feeding schedule is often confusing for new moms.
"I think one of the biggest surprises about breastfeeding is discovering just how often your baby needs to eat," says Carol Huotari, IBCLC, director of the Breast Feeding Information Center at La Leche League International in Schaumberg, Ill.
In fact, experts say many women worry that they aren't making enough milk simply because their baby wants to feed so often.
"They think that because their baby is eating often, or because their breast does not feel as full as time goes on, that they are not making enough milk, but this is almost never true," says Linda Hanna, IBCLC, program coordinator for Lactation and Prenatal Education Services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
So, what should you expect?
Because breast milk is so easy to digest, most breastfed babies eat more often than those on formula, usually between eight and 12 times a day. Frequently that works out to a feeding every one-and-a-half to two hours, usually around the clock for the first few weeks.
While crying is certainly a signal that your baby is hungry and ready for more, Huotari says that, when possible, you should never wait until your infant is this distressed before attempting a feeding. "Babies have really small tummies, so you should assume they are going to be hungry within two hours or less. If possible, don't wait until your baby is crying to begin feeding," Huotari says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics adds that crying is a late indicator of hunger, so you'll want to breastfeed your baby before that point.
Earlier signs to look for include nuzzling against your breast when being held, opening their mouth as if to take your breast, making sucking motions, or putting a clenched fist into their mouth.
After you're on a regular schedule, feedings may drop to eight times a day (from 12). But the number of feedings could go back up as your baby goes through growth spurts or when he or she simply wants more milk.