Learning to navigate an infant’s nursing times and sleeping times can be tricky! It can help to know what is typical in terms of sleep and frequency of breastfeeding in baby’s in first year of life. It is possible to exclusively breastfeed baby and be a well-rested mother.
First few weeks
In the first week, babies are learning how to nurse as well as waiting for mom’s full mature milk supply to come in. Babies may eat 8-12+ times a day and nap between most of those feedings. These feedings can take 10-60 minutes per feeding. The length of feedings depends on many factors: length of labor, the day mom’s mature milk comes in, the effectiveness of baby’s sucks, how sleepy baby is at the breast, etc. It is also common for babies to nurse much more at night and be sleepy during the day. This is often because when your baby was in utero, they spent the nights awake while you slept and while you were awake during the day moving around, they were lulled to sleep.
In the first month, babies continue to eat 8-12 times per day. It is typical for a breastfed baby to want to eat every hour or two – especially during growth spurts. Growth spurts typically happen at three days, seven days, two weeks and four weeks. These frequent feedings are called “cluster feedings.” This can lead moms to believe they aren’t making enough milk, but that is not usually the case. Your baby is growing rapidly during these spurts and needs extra milk. Your baby knows the best way to support growth is to ask for more frequent feedings to boost your milk supply. In this first month, babies mainly sleep between feedings – up to 16 to 20 hours a day!
Into the second and third month, breastfed babies will continue to nurse often and can be kept awake during feeds. This is a great time to begin engaging with your baby while nursing. This helps the baby learn to fall asleep without depending on being nursed to sleep. Some moms do not mind having their baby nurse to sleep. What is best for one family is not always what is best for all!
If you have a formula feeding friend she may be surprised by your baby eating so often. It is true that some formula fed babies don’t eat eight or more times a day. Formula fed babies often take in more ounces than a breastfed baby, as well as breast milk being more of a laxative than formula (it is normal for breastfed babies to have 5-12 stools a day)! This may mean your breastfed baby will wake at night to nurse. In these early weeks this is very typical and your infant needs the nutrition at this stage.
By month four to six, most breastfed babies have doubled their birth weight. Babies will now begin to reduce their frequency of nursing. Instead of nursing every 2 or 3 hours, it may become every 4 hours. You may also see that your breastfed baby will sleep longer stretches overnight. Other babies still want to nurse at night and there can be a few reasons for this! First, these babies may struggle a bit with mom going back to work and may nurse at night if they are reluctant to take bottles at daycare. Second, it could be that the baby is becoming more aware of the world they are living in and that can be a distraction during daytime feedings!
Most babies have yet to start solid foods at this point (most pediatricians recommend waiting until six months), so it may be necessary for a baby to still have one feeding at night. Your body will continue to produce enough milk for your baby with the aid of a nighttime feeding/pumping, as the hormone that produces your breastmilk (prolactin) is highest in the wee hours of the morning.
Heading into the seventh, eighth and ninth month, things can be much more individualized. These babies are definitely having solid foods, but may nurse 5-6 times per 24 hours, with some babies taking longer to adapt to solids and still nursing 8-10 times per day. One reason the amount of feedings varies so much is different amounts of mom’s milk storage capacity in her breasts. Large breasts don’t always mean a large milk storage capacity nor do small breasts always mean a small storage capacity. Keep in mind your milk supply will likely decrease quite a bit with your baby beginning solids, as well as sleeping through the night.
By month 10-12, many breastfed babies are eating lots of solid foods but continue nursing four or more times per day. By this stage, babies (with normal growth and development) should not have a nutritional need to eat during the night.
Of course, there is no definitive “rule” regarding sleep and breastfeeding in baby’s first year. Each mom and baby has their own routine, nutritional needs and goals regarding sleep.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding breastfeeding, please reach out to the newest member of our Sleep Wise team, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Kimberly Kelk.
About the author: Kimberly Kelk is a Registered Nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Kimberly graduated with her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing and has worked as an RN in Labor & Delivery, Postpartum, and Special Care Nursery units in the hospital setting. Kimberly currently supports nursing moms and babies meet their breastfeeding goals in an inpatient and outpatient hospital setting, as well as supporting Sleep Wise families virtually .