How much breastmilk does baby need?Jun 27, 2022
As a midwife and a lactation consultant. I am well aware that so many parents stop breastfeeding because they feel that they do not have enough milk. But what does enough milk actually mean? How does one make enough milk, and how do you know if it’s enough? The answers to these questions are important whether you are a pregnant or breastfeeding parent, or a professional who supports them.
Let's start with some basics, and I’ll make it easy to remember. At one day old, a baby needs a quarter of an ounce per feeding at three days old, the baby needs between three-quarters and one ounce per feeding. After the first few days, the average is about an ounce per hour, which, since there are twenty four hours in a day, is twenty two to twenty eight ounces per day. What's so interesting to me is that this does not change as baby gets older. A three month old baby needs twenty two to twenty eight ounces of breast milk each day as does a five month old baby. And the reason for that is that the rate of growth slows as the baby gets older. A one week old baby has a rate of growth that is extremely rapid, and needs the same amount of calories as the six month old baby whose growth whose growth rate has slowed down a bit. Isn't that fascinating?
Of course, when we are nursing a baby and not giving a bottle, we don't know how much they're getting, so it's great to understand other ways to know that they're getting enough. As you read, try to keep that visual in your head of a quarter of an ounce per feeding. Now picture the two ounce bottles that are given out to newborn infants on their first day of life. See the disconnect there and why it's so hard to breastfeed and feel confident in our bottle feeding culture? There is no way a brand new baby should be taking two ounces.
For the breastfeeding baby, we’re not gonna be measuring because we can't see the ounces when a baby is directly feeding at the breast. So let’s look at how many feedings per day, which works much better for breastfeeding.
Back to the beginning - on the day of birth, it is recommended that you keep the baby skin to skin and feed on demand. Some babies are not very interested in feeding the first day and may only have a few feedings. Often they will, be active for that first hour or so after birth, and then take a long sleep. And that's okay, mama probably feels like taking a long sleep at that point, too. Right? But you keep the baby close and feed them as soon as they demand for it. And how do we know that they're demanding for it? They show feeding cues! They start looking for the breast, smacking their lips, moving around sucking on their hands, perhaps crying. Big hint- don’t wait for crying, as it's a late sign of hunger.
For this to work, you want to keep that baby's hands out, not swaddled, watch for cues and feed them on demand. On day two and beyond the baby usually will take eight to 12 breast feedings in a 24 hour period.
Time to clear up a popular myth that we hear from hospitals, doctors, nurses, etc. I used to say this too, “Nurse the baby every two to three hours”. And I'm, I'm here to say, Nope, not every two to three hours! Instead, eight to twelve feedings in twenty- four hours. Babies do not feed by the clock. They feed by their hunger and not every feeding is exactly the same when you're breastfeeding. Some babies may feed every hour for three hours and then sleep for four hours. That’s referred to as cluster feeding, and that's okay, actually, expected.
A little caveat here - the babies I’m talking about are well babies without complications such as prematurity, low birth weight, extreme high birth weight, or hypoglycemia, a sugar issue.
Next up: How to tell if baby is getting enough milk
If you are having trouble with breastfeeding, have a baby diagnosed with tongue or lip tie, and are looking for professional guidance - check out the Parent's Guide to Lip and Tongue Tie: