They Eat HOW Often?!

As a nursing mom, doula, and childbirth educator I get MANY questions about supply concerns because baby is constantly eating. I am not sure my answer to this offers relief or fear but the reality is it is completely normal for baby to eat what feels like ALL the time. In fact, some newborns spend 16+ hours at the breast in the first few days. I know I have shared this before, but this is such a wonderful article and what I often share with moms who are concerned about baby wanting to be physically attached to them at all times.

I find most adults that have not had experience with newborns think of a six month old when they hear “baby”. A six month old is often on somewhat of a routine, they tend to feed for more specific times and do decent amount of stretches between feeds. A newborn is a completely different creature when it comes to eating. Their tummy at birth is only the size of a marble. Good news, it fills pretty quickly…but that also means it empties rather quickly and therefor needs to be filled up again. A newborn has spent 9 months never feeling hunger and having all of its nutritional needs fulfilled without any effort on their part. Hunger is a new and concerning sensation for them so they act as if they are starved the moment they feel hunger. Give baby time, they are making a HUGE adjustment. By day 10 their tummy becomes about the size of a chicken egg. Breast milk still digest rather quickly, but you might find a bit of longer stretches between feeds at that time. Here is a wonderful visual for how much baby eats at different ages (Scroll down, you will see objects in front of baby bottles, but while you are there feel free to read the wonderful information!) Crying when not at the breast is not an indication of low supply, crying AT the breast might be but is not always, here is a great resource if you are concerned about fussing

I have had friends and clients ask me how I maintained exclusively breastfeeding three of my children for so long. I get the impression they are seeking a magic trick, a special power I might have, or wondering if I have some biological reason for making tons of milk. I hope my reply to them offers relief and confidence that their baby’s behavior is likely normal and their supply is likely more than adequate. My long nursing relationships are attributed to feeding on demand regardless of how often and how long, practicing skin to skin, and sleeping close and not attempting early night weaning. It is HARD work, but it has so many rewards. I would be lying if I did not say there were times I questioned if I had enough milk, if a bottle of formula would just get me more rest, or if it was even all worth it. However, with wonderful support and education I was able to push past the rough times.

Now for some coping advice, because even if you do not sleep ten hours a night anymore you can get adequate rest. First and foremost it is a full six weeks of recovery. You should not expect to be back to life and activity level as it was before baby anytime soon. REST, REST, REST, did I mention rest? Even if you are not sleeping stay off your feet a good amount of time and give your body a chance to heal. You just made a HUMAN rest is definitely deserved. Second, be sure you are eating well. You need adequate calories, healthy fats, and good nutrient dense foods to make you feel good. Your milk will be fine, but a good diet makes YOU feel good. Ever do a 500 calorie workout? I think 180 calories is the max I have ever burned working out and I know afterwards I am hungry and tired. You are burning about 500 calories a day breastfeeding, eat! Third, sleep close to baby. I have seen moms run up and down stairs as baby’s room was on another floor and wonder why they were feeling completely exhausted. For me personally, once I get in bed my feet do not hit the ground until morning. I kept diapers, wipes, onesies, etc within arms reach and used a snuggle nest for the baby. A bassinet, arms reach co-sleeper, crib/pack n play in the same room would also work. Co-sleeping (defined as sharing the same room) is not for everyone, I get and hear that a lot, but it can help you get a LOT more rest. Finally, SUPPORT! I cannot emphasize this enough. Practical and emotional support. Send out a care calendar for meals, let your partner know your needs, do not hesitate to ask grandma to hold baby so you can nap. Find a local breastfeeding support group, hire a postpartum doula, and chat online if you have to, to find moms with positive breastfeeding experiences.

Here is a brief part of a breastfeeding handout I give my new clients:
Colostrum is the nutrient dense milk specially tailored to meet all of baby’s needs in the early days. On day 1 baby’s tummy is the size of a cherry or marble. Think teaspoons per feed, not ounces in the early days. It is very common for baby to nurse very frequently around day 3 as it is signaling to your body to produce more milk. Many moms find mature milk comes in around days 3-5. The baby’s stomach gradually increases in size until it is about the size of a chicken egg on day 10.

Quick tips:

  • An easy way to track diapers needed for a 24 hour period is to place them in a stack and see if the stack is gone in 24 hours.
  • Feed baby on demand and grant plenty of access by practicing skin to skin often
  • If baby is jaundiced you may need to wake for feeds. Stripping baby down, tickling cheeks, etc might be necessary to keep a sleepy jaundiced baby alert for feeds
  • If you experience pain beyond initial latch and strong tugging/pulling sensations, seek help for a latch evaluation. Pinching pain, lipstick shaped nipples post feed, cracking and bleeding are signs of a less than optimal latch.
  • Baby wanting to eat frequently, pump output, and feeling of breast (firm vs soft) are not adequate ways to evaluate milk supply.

Finally, chronic low supply, tongue tie, nipple pain, and inadequate milk transfer and other things can occur so if you have concerns seek the help of an IBCLC lactation consultant. You can find one by visiting . Breastfeeding counselors, doulas, and childbirth educators have education to offer support for normal breastfeeding initiation but if you are experiencing trouble an IBCLC is wonderful. Breastfeeding is our biological norm, but it can be hard work. Unfortunately our culture is not set up to make breastfeeding simple, but with a few changes in your own life breastfeeding can fall into place and work quite well for many. If, for whatever reason, you are not breastfeeding many of the coping techniques are still applicable for adequate rest and bonding.