Nursing is a great way for parent and baby to bond while the child gets important nutrients, and though the process may be intuitive for most infants, it doesn't always feel that way for the parent.
Breastfeeding varies depending on your baby's unique traits as well as their age, but health experts can offer general guidelines about breastfeeding schedules and for how long you should continue breastfeeding.
A newborn baby is tiny and doesn't require much milk to be sated. Parents are encouraged to feed their baby every one to three hours.
This helps the breastfeeding parent because each feeding often increases the supply of milk. The baby also benefits from frequent feeding because they can practice their suck and swallow motions. Many doctors feel that if one parent is able to breastfeed, this is the best option in these early days.
As your baby continues to grow, they will consume more milk each time, which means fewer but possibly longer feedings. Babies breastfed exclusively eat every two to four hours , which means eight to 12 times during a 24 hour period.
Some babies feed every hour, then take longer breaks during sleep. Shorter or longer feeding sessions depending on the time of the day is also normal.
The feeding requirements change again during this time, as the baby continues to grow and begins to eat some solid foods. At this point, your baby may determine their feeding schedule; you can offer breast milk on demand, when your infant shows signs of hunger. Breast milk still offers many essential nutrients, even if your child is eating other foods.
Parents can continue to offer breast milk on demand at this point. Some babies prefer to consume milk in the morning or before bedtime, while others want breast milk as the main food of the diet.
Contrary to popular belief, the nutritional value of the milk is still high even beyond one year of breastfeeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Then, up to one year, the mother can continue breastfeeding while introducing solid foods. After your baby's first birthday, breastfeeding can continue if the baby and the mother mutually desire. The World Health Organization shares similar recommendations during the first year of life, but leaves room for a longer period of breastfeeding — up to 2 years and even beyond.
During the first days of life, babies need to eat often, but they also sleep a lot. If a parent wakes up their baby to feed, they may be too sleepy and not interested. Touching the baby, stroking their face, and changing their clothes or the diaper can help the baby wake up and feed.
Seek medical advice if your baby refuses to eat on an ongoing basis, or if they show any sign of illness.
Breastfeeding beyond a certain age does not necessarily make it harder to wean your baby. Weaning begins naturally around 6 months of age in many cases, because the baby starts to receive solid foods.
Some babies gradually start to choose other foods over breast milk around age one, while others won't develop this preference until later. Doctors encourage mothers to listen to their instincts and consider what is best for them and the babies, rather than strangers who may offer advice or judgment.
Again, while health organizations and doctors offer guidelines, the decision to breastfeed and for how long is ultimately up to the parent with the milk. Breastfeeding offers many health benefits and no harm even when continued beyond the first year of life.
Research studies show that infants who are exclusively breastfed for six months experience fewer digestive problems, particularly gut infections, compared with infants who are mixed breastfed as of three or four months, but this does not mean there aren't good alternatives for parents who cannot breastfeed.
Health experts recommend breastfeeding because it benefits the mother and baby. For the mother, breastfeeding can help decrease the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes type 2, and certain types of cancer, like ovarian and breast cancer.
Studies suggest that infants who are breastfed have a lower risk of developing diabetes type 1, asthma, obesity, severe lung infections, ear infections, and various digestive diseases.
A new parent may worry they don’t feed their baby enough, or perhaps too much. The first few days may be more challenging, but your baby will communicate with you and you will soon learn to understand them and pick up on their hunger cues. Lactation specialists, nurses, and doctors can all answer questions about your baby’s feeding and growth.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.