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Baby-led feeding

Recognising when your new baby asks to be fed will soon become second nature to you. In the first few days his pattern may vary considerably, from initially feeding infrequently to lots of feeds as he sets up a good milk supply.

Gradually you should begin to see some sort of pattern forming, with shorter gaps between some feeds, particularly in the evenings and longer gaps at other times. The length of feeds is also likely to vary, from a few minutes to much longer – in the same way as we eat different quantities at different mealtimes throughout the day. You can expect that your baby will feed at least 6-8 times in each 24-hour period and for most babies it will be more frequent.

Baby-led feeding cues

Keeping him close to you so that you can recognise his feeding cues is helpful. Most babies will “ask politely” in the first instance by moving their eyes rapidly, putting their fingers into their mouth, rooting (opening their mouth as though they were about to breastfeed) and becoming restless. This is a much easier time to feed than when he has got to the stage of crying and these subtle cues are much easier to pick up when your baby is close by.

Click here to see a couple of mothers practicing baby-led feeding.

FAQs

My mother says I am feeding my baby too often

Many grandmothers have memories of when it was commonplace to regulate feeds both in terms of frequency and length. We now know that babies feed in a much less rigid pattern than recommended in the past. Restricting the number or length of feeds is likely to have a major impact on your breastmilk supply. Being led by your baby and feeding when he shows signs of being ready to feed will help you to establish a good milk supply and ensure a contented, happy baby. You cannot feed a breastfed baby too much, so it is fine to try your baby at the breast whenever he seems to want it. Breastfeeding is more than just giving milk, it provides comfort, warmth and communication.

My baby seems very sleepy

It is important that your baby has at least 6-8 effective breastfeeds in 24 hours. Some babies don’t ‘demand’ as many feeds as this, particularly if they are premature or have been ill. It is important to wake your baby up to offer a breastfeed if you think he has slept too long or if your breasts feel full. Also watch out for early feeding cues and offer the breast as soon as your baby shows these signs of wanting to feed, as some babies go back to sleep if these early cues are missed. If you are concerned that your baby is sleepy and/or jaundiced check with your GP, midwife or health visitor.

My baby wants to feed all the time

Very frequent feeding can be a sign that your baby is not attached to your breast properly, especially if you also have sore nipples. Therefore, if you are concerned about frequent feeding, it is important that the attachment is checked. However, it is very common for new babies to feed very often even when everything is going well. Many babies cluster their feeds at certain times of day (especially in an evening) but then go longer without a feed at other times. Providing that your baby comes off the breast spontaneously at the end of a feed and is growing well with plenty of wet and dirty nappies there is probably not much to worry about. Letting your baby feed as often as they want for as long as they want not only helps breastfeeding, but also ensures a contented, happy baby who is easier to care for.