Feeding patterns in the early days

About the only thing that can be said about early feeding patterns is that they were extremely varied. Most of the women decided to feed their baby without restriction, which meant that they took the cues for feeding time from their baby*1. Several said that the baby just slept and fed in the early days. Many of the babies fed frequently, both day and night, in the first few weeks until they began to sleep for longer periods and stretch out the time between feeds. Most women offered both breasts at each feed while some found that their baby was contented with only one. The length of a breastfeed also varied with some babies being satisfied very quickly and others lingering over their feeds.

Some women, mostly with a first baby, kept a diary of how often they were feeding as a way of keeping tabs on what the baby was doing and putting things in perspective, especially when they began to wonder how long the frequent feeding would go on for. One woman said to her husband, “Well if this is parenthood, we're never going to survive this” and another described, “One very, very difficult night [laughs] where my husband and I looked at each other and said 'we should have got a kitten' it would have been easier”.

One father spoke about being surprised at how frequently the baby fed and thought that his expectations came from a bottle feeding culture (see section - Reflecting upon breastfeeding and 'Thinking about the wider breastfeeding environment').

A few women had special reasons for being more prescriptive with their feeding, such as being very ill themselves or having an ill or sleepy baby. One woman set an alarm clock to wake her to feed her baby at night*2 and another, whose baby would not attach, expressed her milk regularly. One woman had a premature baby in a German hospital and she continued the set pattern when she went home. 

*Footnote 1: Breastfed babies have a wide range of normal feeding patterns and a healthy baby who attaches well and enjoys unrestricted breastfeeding will soon find his/her own pattern. There are health benefits for both mother and baby of frequent, unrestricted breastfeeding in the early days.

*Footnote 2: It is not necessary to wake (for extra breastfeeds) a healthy baby who is developing and gaining weight satisfactorily.

Last reviewed November 2018.
Last updated November 2011.




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