Here is some advice for how to get most of your baby’s feeding to be during the day (rather than at night).

Let’s start with a few basics:

  • Breastfed babies need 8-12 feedings in a 24 hour period
  • Depending on your milk supply & the size of your baby, you may be more of a 8 times a day feeder or a 12 times a day feeder. Don’t let anyone tell you how many times your baby “should” be eating.
  • Furthermore, some days babies will eat 8 times and sometimes they will eat 12 times (or more). It is really important that you follow your baby when this happens, because she is trying to change your milk supply up or down.
  • It is a rare baby that eats 6 times a day or fewer. Anytime someone tells me their baby eats 6-7 times a day, I am inclined to double check the facts.  Is baby gaining well? Is this something baby is doing naturally or mom is “scheduling?” It is a misconception (based on formula fed babies) that breastfed babies eat 6 times a day when they are 4-9 months old…most milk supplies just can’t handle holding that much milk for that long without dropping. Some babies decrease to 6 breastfeeding sessions per 24 hours when they start solids, but that is usually only the baby that takes a lot of solids throughout the day.
  • Most women’s milk supplies can’t sustain 6 feedings a day without eventually dropping.
  • No, it isn’t “wrong” to feed a baby more than 12 times a day…unless it is affecting your life balance.

From birth to 6 months, breastfed babies eat about 8-12 times per 24 hours.  Technically 8-12 times per 24 hours is every 2-3 hours, but try not to think of it that way. Instead, think of it as at least 8 feedings per day, most of which are during daytime hours. 

For a few days, count how many times you baby eats in a 24 hour period. Take an average of those numbers and use that number as your guide.

Note: Baby may not go more than 4 hours without feeding until back to birth weight (around 2 weeks old).

So, “watch the baby not the clock” certainly applies here. That means, during the day, if the clock says 90 minutes since the last feeding and your baby is showing signs of hunger, feed her.  If the clock says 3 1/2 hours and baby still isn’t up…. well, this is where you have a choice to make: 

Let’s look at a few 24 hour days to see why it is in your best interest to encourage closely spaced, frequent feedings during the day: 

Here is what 8 feedings, every 3 hours around the clock may look like:

7am Nurse
10am Nurse
1pm Nurse
4 pm Nurse
7 pm Nurse
10pm Nurse
1am Nurse
4 am Nurse

Yuck! Since baby only got in 6 feedings during reasonable daytime hours, she will have to wake up twice at night no matter what. You even need to set an alarm to hit your 8 feeds.  Once baby is back to birth weight, you don’t need to set an alarm. Ideally, baby will start to get the picture that day is day and night is night.

Here is what letting baby baby sleep 3-5 hour chunks during the day can look like (10 feeds per day):

7am
10am
2 pm
6 pm
9 pm
11 pm
1am
2am
4am
6am


This baby has his days and nights mixed up. He is taking his long chunks of sleep from 10am -2pm and 2pm-6pm, then cluster feeding from 1am-6am.  Not fun. I hope you have nothing to do in the late morning so you can take a nap with the baby!

So, here is what you might like to do so your baby doesn’t have a feeding frenzy at the most god awful hours of the night.

(Notice I am not saying “should.” The way you feed your baby and the way your baby sleeps is a parenting choice. As long as you have a healthy, well gaining baby, nobody should be telling you what you SHOULD be doing in your own home and in your own bed). That said, please be responsible and have safe sleep habits.

Stack feedings during the day so you can go to bed having completed 7-8 feeds. That way, if baby needs more feedings, fine, but if he doesn’t wake to feed, no problem! You have already met your minimum!

Here is what it looks like when you stack your feedings during the day:

7am Nurse
9am Nurse ( many babies give a little longer stretch here after 2 big morning feeds. Early morning milk is higher in volume, so babies get a big full belly.)
12pm Nurse
2pm Nurse
4pm Nurse
6pm Nurse
8pm Nurse
9pm Nurse
10pm Nurse (Many babies cluster feed in the evening. Milk in the evening is lower in volume and higher in fat. Have closely spaced feeds like this gets them ready for a longer stretch of sleep.)

So, in this example there are 8 feedings during daytime hours.  Now you can to bed with the confidence that if your baby doesn’t wake up all night long, she still got 8 feeds to day ( sorry, this isn’t very likely, so don’t get your hopes up). If she wakes up once (much more likely), she will have had 9 feeds. If she wakes up 2+ times (pretty likely 0-4 months or longer) then she is getting 10+ feeds. 

Ways to encourage more daytime feeds: 

  • Expose baby to lots of daylight during the day
  • Undress and change baby at times when you would like her to feed to help keep her awake.
  • Hang out skin to skin around feeding times
  • Even if feedings are small and sleepy, it will still have the overall effect of getting more into her belly between 7am and 10pm, yielding less feeding at night, making for a more hungry day the next day.

Ways to encourage more sleep at night:

  • In the evening, keep lights and sounds low. This includes limiting TV light and iPhone light.
  • When baby does wake you to feed her, unwrap her from her swaddle and feed on the first breast.  Use breast compressions to keep her swallowing even though she is groggy and sleepy. 
  • After she seems to finish the first breast, change her diaper and re-swaddle her (sounds like a job for daddy while you pee and get some water). Then, with her swaddled HANDS IN, nurse her on the second breast. This will help make the transition back to bed much easier. Use breast compressions to get as much of your milk into her as possible as she is dozing off.  Lay her down slowly in the bassinet, lay a firm hand on her belly and remove slowly. 

When baby stirs at night, make sure she is really wanting to eat. Try replacing the pacifier, laying a heavy hand on her belly, having daddy rock her back to sleep (mommy can do this too, but baby is more likely to look for the breast if she can smell it nearby.  If you automatically feed her as soon as she stirs, she could eat more at night and not be as hungry the next day (leading to a more hungry night. Get it?)

So, do yourself a favor and stack your feedings during the day. It isn’t a guarantee of sleep, but it sure sets the odds in your favor!

5 Comments

  • Sara says:

    This article is so helpful, thank you. It’s rare to find an article on sleep that still supports breastfeeding on demand, and that is gentle in approach.
    I have one question about your “ways to encourage sleep at night.” My husband and I have been trying a similar routine, but we get stuck after I feed on the second side because we feel like our baby needs to burp after eating. Once he is swaddled and asleep this becomes difficult. We usually end up having to unwrap him and wake him to burp him, then getting him back to sleep is hard. Do you have any suggestions for this? It seems from what you wrote that you recommend just putting baby straight down after feeding on the second side.

  • […] about 8-12 times a day, but that number can hang closer to 8 these days.  Do yourself a favor and stack those feedings in the daytime so you increase the odds that your baby will sleep more than 4 hours at night (once […]

  • Maria Thomas says:

    I think this makes so much sense! How much would you recommend be given per feeding while I’m at work? My son is 6 months old. Hr has been known to sleep through the night, but it been VERY inconsistent. I usually put him down for the night at 8. If hr hasn’t had his 8 feedings for the day, would you suggest waking him up before I go to bed to squeeze another feeding in? I’m just afraid that I’ll interrupt his sleep too much or that he’ll get used to that time as a feeding time. Thanks in advance for your advice!

  • […] Once your baby is back to birth weight, nurse your baby eight times or more in a 24 hour period. That might be every hour or every three hours. Your baby knows better than the […]