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Figuring Out a Breastfeeding Frequency and Routine

The frequency of breastfeeding varies from mother to mother, and depends on multiple factors including milk supply, milk extraction abilities of the baby, as well as the mother’s response to infant’s hunger and satiety cues.  

A mother’s ability to feed on demand means that she is able to breastfeed her infant in response to the infant showing signs of hunger.  Personally, it took me several weeks before I learned my baby’s signs of hunger and readiness to eat, and also signs of being full. It was not as intuitive as I thought it would be!

The first few weeks postpartum are key to establishing breastfeeding

New mothers should expect to breastfeed their infants 8 to 12 times per day until breastfeeding is well established.

It is important for first time parents to learn the cues of infant hunger and satiety.  Early signs of infant hunger is suggested when: 

  • Moving hands toward the mouth, or sucking on fists.
  • Smacking or puckering lips 
  • Opening and closing mouth repeatedly
  • Rooting on the chest of whomever is carrying them looking for a breast

Late hunger cues may not be seen in premature infants, or infants with an underlying neurological or muscular condition (as they may lack the strength or coordination).  Late hunger cues include:

  • Acting irritable or restless
  • Flailing the extremities
  • Crying 

Feeding your infant in response to the early signs of hunger is the best for both mother and baby.  It is easier to initiate a healthy breastfeeding relationship with your baby if you are both calm and allows for better practice of latching and honing skills. Once a baby becomes very hungry and is crying and agitated, getting a proper latch becomes more difficult and heightens anxiety.

Signs your infant is satiated during or following a feed includes:

  • Turning his head away from the breast or bottle
  • Relaxing the face muscles, relaxing and removing the hands from the breast
  • Empty looking cheeks
  • Stop sucking
  • Closing their lips 
  • Falling asleep 

Establish a consistent and frequent breastfeeding routine

After birth, mother and baby are often very sleepy, and establishing a consistent breast-feeding routine can be difficult.  The lack of frequency or consistency in feeding can lead to difficulty with breastfeeding.  

The average woman will breastfeed 8 to 12 times per day in the first 2 weeks postpartum. Breastfeeding more frequently and fully emptying the breasts with each feed or pump will likely increase milk supply.

Poor and inconsistent feeding routines in the early postpartum period are the most common cause of difficulty with breastfeeding.  It may be tempting to stretch out feeds to 4 hours, or give your baby a pacifier to prolong the time between feedings.  Milk is produced when the breasts are empty, so the more frequently the breasts are emptied, the more milk will be produced.  

Offer both breasts at each feeding, but alternate breasts

The first breast that should be offered during a given feed should be alternated at each feeding.   Offer both breasts at each feeding, starting with the breast you did not use first at the last feeding.  

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.


Section on Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics 2012; 129:e827.

Implementation guidance: Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding in facilities providing maternity and newborn services: the revised Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative 2018.

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