If you’re breastfeeding a new baby, you might be wondering if your baby will ever stop nursing. There are good reasons that babies—especially really young babies—seem to nurse all the time. Read on to learn a bit about the timeline of early breastfeeding and to recognize whether or not your newborn is still hungry after breastfeeding and what you can do to help.
Why does my newborn nurse all the time?
In order to understand why infants seem so hungry, it’ll help to talk a bit about the first few days of nursing. Newborns come out ready to eat. For the hour or two after birth, they tend to be alert and awake. This is also the time that their reflexes kick in and, if given the opportunity to find a nipple, they will try to make their way to it via what is called the breast crawl. During the breast crawl, a tiny baby put skin to skin on their mother’s bare chest will shuffle their feet around to move their body toward mom’s breast and, in many cases, latch on. At this point if they are nursing, they’re likely getting colostrum, which is the precursor to breast milk. It’s filled with antibodies, which are made by your immune system and help baby fight off disease before their own immune system has kicked in, and is usually present in much smaller volumes than breast milk will be eventually.
If the breast crawl was not what your experience with your newborn was like, that’s okay! There are many ways to have a successful feeding relationship with your baby. But if you are still pregnant and planning to breastfeed, it is nice to know what’s possible for you and baby from the very beginning.
After that initial hour or two of alertness, many babies sleep deeply off and on for the next 24 hours or so. Every time your baby wakes however briefly, you should offer them the breast. Don’t be discouraged if baby falls asleep easily while nursing—or attempting to nurse. Breastfeeding can be a hard thing to learn for both mom and baby, and babies especially get easily worn out from trying. The best thing you can do in this period is to keep offering the breast.
Lots of nursing very early on serves two purposes: it helps mother and baby get the hang of feeding and it tells mom’s body to make milk. The mother’s body makes more breast milk the more of a demand there is. Thus when baby is nursing and nursing—seemingly without ceasing—they’re doing their best to get mom’s supply to catch up with their demand. In the early days, when there is just colostrum before mom’s breasts have started producing milk (before the milk has come in, that is), the baby is trying to build up demand as high as possible. Their job is to nurse a ton so that your body gets on board with the milk making. So it’s not so much that they’re hungry after breastfeeding—though they very well could be—it’s that they’re trying to make sure there is enough supply to meet their demands now and in the future.
Is my baby really hungry?
In addition to the supply-demand situation, babies take great comfort in nursing. They like to be with mom where it’s lovely and warm, smells familiar, and sounds like the womb with a comforting heartbeat nearby. It is normal for baby to nurse nearly around the clock in the early days, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have enough milk.
If baby wants to nurse, let them, but don’t worry that they’re not getting enough to eat unless they’re not having an appropriate number of soiled diapers. In the first few days, baby will have the number of soiled diapers as the days they are old: one pee and one poop on day one, two of each on day two, and so on. By days four and five, your breastmilk will likely have transitioned from clear, yellowish colostrum to more opaque, creamy milk, and your baby should have between one and three seedy yellow poops and six or more soaking wet pee diapers per day. Output is one of the most accurate measures of input, so if your baby is meeting these goals, try not to worry that they are still hungry.
When might baby still be hungry?
If baby is not having appropriate outputs for their age, not gaining weight, or if you are having pain or discomfort during feeding, get help sooner rather than later from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant or IBCLC. An IBCLC can do a weighted feed at your home or in their office, which will give an idea of how much milk baby is transferring. They can also observe you feeding and offer suggestions and modifications to help make the experience more efficient and comfortable for everyone.
Babies also have growth spurts regularly within the first months of life, during which they will likely nurse much more. If your baby seems to want to nurse for hours at a time—a charming phenomenon known as cluster feeding—it’s likely they’re in the midst of serious growing. Make yourself comfy on the couch with plenty of water and snacks, plus your phone and the remote control for the TV, nearby. It might feel like baby will nurse forever, but after a time the phase will pass and you’ll be as free as you can be with a baby who nurses every few hours.