All newborn babies are different. No universal feeding schedule works for all infants, so parents need to be flexible, patient and in tune with their baby's hunger cues. Newborns rarely follow a strict eating pattern from one day to the next. Sometimes your baby may be hungry every hour and sometimes every three hours. In general, pediatricians recommend feeding a newborn on demand, which means whenever she appears hungry and for as long she wants to eat. MayoClinic.com suggests about eight to 12 feedings a day, or one feeding every two to three hours.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies exclusively breastfeed for the first six months. If you breastfeed, your newborn may take anywhere from five to 40 minutes for a feeding. When nursing, start on one side and watch for signs that your baby is slowing down. Timing may vary, depending on how hungry she is and when she was last fed. In the beginning, try to nurse for at least ten minutes on the first side. When the baby seems done with one side, gently detach her and switch sides. You may want to burp her in between. Most babies stop nursing when they feel full. Remember when you began, so you'll know what time to start the next feeding. Most newborns are hungry between one and half and three hours from the start of their last feeding. Your newborn shouldn't go more than four hours without feeding.
Other Breastfeeding Factors
Several factors besides hunger affect the length of time your newborn nurses. Your milk supply, for example, can play an important role. If your milk has not come in completely, your baby may nurse longer, which helps increase your supply. Your let-down reflex, which refers to the trigger of milk ejection, also affects your infant's feeding habits. If your reflex happens instantly, the feeding begins right away. If your reflex takes time, the feeding is a bit longer. In addition, some women have a faster milk flow than others. If your baby is distracted or sleepy, she may take her time nursing or even need some nudging and redirection. When you nurse more on one side than the other, begin with the side you ended with for the next feeding to keep a balanced supply.
Bottle-fed babies may finish a feeding more quickly than a breastfed baby. This is because some babies have an easier time getting the milk out of a bottle nipple than a human nipple. In addition, bottles containing formula rather than breast milk may fill your baby up for longer periods of time. Formula-fed babies can develop eating schedules that are slightly more regimented because formula typically takes a longer time to digest. You may also have an easier time detecting when a bottle-fed newborn is full: the baby may turn her head away from the bottle or stop sucking, whereas a breastfeeding baby may continue to suck for comfort. While this is not problematic, you may have a trickier time gauging how much milk she has ingested.
MayoClinic.com explains that a newborn's feedings can change frequently, particularly during growth spurts. Follow your baby's signals and look for healthy weight gain, contentment after feedings and at least six wet diapers and several bowel movements every day. Contact your pediatrician if you are worried that your infant is not getting enough nutrition or if she seems frequently fussy. Trust yourself to know when something doesn't seem right with your little one.