Feeding Patterns

Important things to know about your baby’s feeding patterns.

It is important that mothers stop worrying so much about a breastfeeding routine and also stop looking at the clock, and start concentrating more on their babies. A strict schedule is not needed, think of the way you eat during the day... Would you like it, if someone took your snacks away?

Baby's Feeding Cues

Hunger signs

•    Rooting: Turning of the head towards the side or opening the mouth.
•    Wriggling: Moving around.
Sucking: Sucking on anything that he/she can, including their own hands.
•    Fussiness: Being restless.
•    Crying: This is the last sign of hunger. A parent should not wait until their baby is crying, as this can cause them to gulp and choke while feeding. 

Read more in detail about a baby's huger cues.

Read more about feeding on demand

Feeding Patterns & Frequency of Feeds

Frequency of feeds, refers to the time a baby starts a feed, to the next time the baby starts a feed. 

What is the average feeding frequency?

On average newborns will drink between 8 – 12 times per 24 hours, but it is also totally normal for a newborn to breastfeed every hour or once every 4 hours. It is also normal if a baby drinks more during certain times and less at other times. Very few babies will adopt a specific pattern (for example eating exactly every three hours). 

Cluster Feeding in Connection with Feeding Patterns

This is when a baby feeds every half hour for a few hours at a time; they usually sleep for long periods of time afterwards. Cluster feeding usually occurs in the evening hours. Cluster feeding can also occur in children that are a few months of age, not only newborns.

Read more about cluster feeding here

Growth Spurts in Connection with Feeding Patterns

This is a period of increased growth in a baby. During this time a baby will usually drink more often than usual. This is so that the mother can build a bigger supply of milk for her baby's increased needs during this time.  

Read more about growth spurts here

Time Baby Spends at One Nursing Session

Some babies take 5 or 10 minutes to finish, whilst others may take 45 minutes or longer. As a baby gets older, he/she may start breastfeeding for shorter periods of time and also may start feeding at regular intervals. 

A mother should not restrict the time her baby spends on a breast. It is best to allow the baby to breastfeed until he/she has decided they have had enough, and then change sides if necessary. Doing this will ensure that the baby receives the fattier hind-milk, which is the milk that is transferred later on in a feed. Read more about hindmilk/foremilk imbalance here. 

Feeding a Newborn on Demand has its Advantages

•    Baby practices to nurse. 

•    The risk of jaundice in a baby that breastfeeds often, is less. Read more about Jaundice and breastfeeding.

•    Feeding often will help the mother's uterus return to its normal size quicker and reduces the chances of hemorrhage. Read more about this here. 

•    It prevents engorgement, which is common during the first few days. Read more about engorgement here. 

•    It establishes a good milk supply. 

Suck Swallow Ratio

This is how many times a baby sucks, before swallowing. The most effective milk transfer is when a baby sucks once and then swallows once; 1: 1 ratio. This is called "nutritive sucking".

When a baby starts to suck for comfort, it is called "non-nutritive sucking" or "flutter sucking", this usually has a ratio of 5:1 (five sucks and one swallow) 

Is my Baby Getting Enough Milk? Yes, if...

•    Baby is gaining weight;

•    Baby seems satisfied after feeding;

•    Baby is producing the right amount of stools and urine nappies for their specific age;

•    Mom's nipples are pain free, which means that the baby is latching on well, for efficient milk transfer;

•    There are signs of let down of milk;

•    Baby does not show signs of dehydration. 

Read more on “is my baby getting in enough milk" signs to look out for. 

Signs that a Baby has had Enough Milk (is satiated)

•    The baby will fall asleep. He/she might stay attached or come off the breast on their own. 

•    Baby starts to comfort feed with a higher suck to swallow ratio as mentioned above. 

Bowel Movements (stools)

Newborn babies may have a bowel movement immediately after, or even during a feed. After a few months, this frequency becomes less and some breastfed babies may have only one stool every 7 to 8 days. This is because breast milk is so easily digested. 

Read more about normal stools for the breastfed and formula fed baby. 

How Much Does My Baby Need to Drink?

A newborn baby’s tummy can only hold about two tablespoons of fluid. This is why a baby only needs a little colostrum, the first few days. As the mother's milk supply increases, so does her baby’s stomach capacity. Colostrum is also so much more concentrated than formula, or even mature breast milk. This is why only small amounts are needed. 

Newborn babies are also born with extra fluid in their cells, to compensate for the small amounts taken in during the first few days of life. The extra fluid leaves the body once it is not needed anymore. 

Read more about the importance of colostrum here. 

Baby Spitting Up

Spitting up is mostly a laundry problem and not a health problem, unless if the baby is not gaining weight, is not having a few wet nappies daily and if the baby seems unhappy most of the time. 

Reasons Why Your Baby Might be Spitting Up…

•    Normal immaturity of the sphincter muscles, that keep food from returning up the stomach. This is the norm in most babies. Half of all babies will spit up at least once per day. 

•    Overfeeding, if the baby is bottle-fed.

•    Overactive let-down (fast flow of breast milk). 

•    Food sensitivities such as a sensitivity to cow protein via the mother's diet. 

The baby should not be gagging, choking or projectile vomiting. These are signs of Reflux. (GERD) read more on acid reflux here. 

Signs of a Let Down Reflex

This is the sensation a mother feels when her milk starts to flow. The flow of milk is triggered by the hormone Oxytocin. A let down may occur a few times during one feed. 

•    Some mothers feel a tingling feeling or even a sharp pain or cramp in the breasts or armpits. Some mothers may not feel a let down at all.

•    When milk starts to leak from the breast that baby is not drinking from.

•    Swallowing sounds from the baby.

•    When milk becomes visible on the baby’s mouth.

•    The baby swallows more often (low swallow suck ratio).

Top of feeding patterns page

Tracy Ann Behr, CBC, CLD, (CBI)

Resource: Course information through childbirthinternational.com on breastfeeding problems / feeding patterns.

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