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Is your newborn feeding every hour and not sleeping?

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Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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If your newborn is never able to go 2 to 3 hours between feedings, your baby may be snacking all day instead of getting full feedings. Let’s talk about newborns and full feedings.

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How often should a newborn eat?anchor

I recommend feeding your baby every 2-3.5 hours according to hunger cues for your baby’s entire first year (and beyond).

As a new mom, I thought “feed on demand” meant that I was supposed to feed Ella anytime she cried, no matter the reason. At every whimper, I’d offer a feeding - she would pop on, nurse a bit, and pop off. I didn’t realize that she was snacking instead of getting a full feeding.

In those early days, I didn’t know how to read my newborn’s sleepy cues and so I interpreted every cue as hunger. I didn’t have the tools to help her when she was tired. This was actually leading to poor feedings and a whole lot of snacking. She was feeding every hour and not sleeping. 

Feeding and sleep are interrelated. Let’s talk about some of the most common questions surrounding snacking, full feedings, and sleep. I asked Blakely, an IBCLC on the Taking Cara Babies team, to talk about some of the most common questions surrounding snacking, full feedings, and sleep. I’d love for you to hear from Blakely before we dive into all of the details. 

Why are full feedings so important for babies (and parents)?anchor

1. Full feedings lead to a baby who is content between feedings. 

2. Full feedings help us respond to hunger needs appropriately instead of assuming every cry is a hunger cry.

3. Full feedings allow for parents and babies to enjoy active awake time, which is necessary for both great sleep and healthy growth and development.

4. Full feedings allow for adequate daytime calories which allows for more consolidated sleep at night.(1) Let me show you this example:

24 bottles of 1 oz each on one side of chart labeled "snacking" with 8 bottles of 3 oz each on the other side of the chart labeled "Full feedings" to demonstrate 2 ways of getting 24 oz of feeding for a baby in one day

5. For breastfeeding moms, full feedings help establish your milk supply. The more milk that is removed, the more milk your body produces.

How many ounces should my newborn eat per day?anchor

I know that so many parents want an exact number, but the answer is truly different for each baby. While on average, newborns typically consume around 24-32 ounces of breastmilk or formula each day(2), this truly is just an average and the amount your newborn eats in a 24-hour period can vary from day to day. As your baby grows, you’ll notice a gradual increase in the amount they can eat per feeding. Many newborns are only able to eat about 1-2 ounces per feeding for the first week. By the end of their first month, that will increase to closer to about 3-4 ounces. Keep in mind that these are averages. 

Instead of focusing on a specific number of ounces per feeding or feedings per day, focus on these questions: 

Is your baby showing signs of fullness at the end of each feeding?

Is your baby content between feedings?

Is your baby gaining weight and staying on their growth curve?

Is your baby typically able to go 2-3 hours between feedings?

Talk with your pediatrician if you have any concerns.

Is snacking the same as cluster feeding?anchor

Snacking and cluster feeding are different. There can be times during the day when your baby feeds closer together. This is generally in the late afternoon or evening and is often called cluster feeding. This can be normal for both nursing and bottle fed babies. The difference between cluster feeding and snacking is that snacking is happening all day, whereas cluster feeding happens closer together for a portion of the day.

How do I help my newborn stop eating every hour and prevent constant snacking?anchor

1. Know what hunger cues look like. (see below)

2. Help your baby stay awake while feeding.

3. Try waiting 15-30 minutes before feeding. Your baby often won’t be hungry enough to eat well if they just ate 45-60 minutes ago. 

4. If you’re bottle feeding and your baby doesn’t seem interested in eating more than an ounce or two at a time, consider going up a nipple size.

Newborn Hunger Cues: trying to fit fist in mouth, smacking lips, rooting around looking for a food source, crying and inconsolable, opening and closing mouth, shaking head from side to side [Taking Cara Babies]

Should I put my newborn on a feeding schedule?anchor

No, you shouldn’t. Research(3) shows that it’s important to follow hunger cues instead of a rigid clock schedule. It’s vital that we feed our hungry baby.

With that said, here are 2 guiding principles that can help you navigate your routine and your baby’s caloric needs:

  • Newborns who are getting full feedings are typically content to go about 2-3 hours between feedings.

  • Even if your newborn doesn’t seem to be showing hunger cues, I recommend offering a feeding at least once every 3 hours during the day.

How do I keep my baby awake during feedings?anchor

1. Undress your baby and get them skin-to-skin with you. Skin-to-skin contact encourages sucking and helps keep your baby awake while feeding. This is great for both breast and bottle-fed babies. 

2. Take a quick break and lay them down in the middle of the floor. Sometimes just being away from your warm body will wake them up a bit.

3. Try rubbing a damp cloth on their face and chest.

4. Do a diaper change before a feeding and again half-way through the feeding.

5. Ensure that your baby has a proper latch.

6. If you’re nursing, consider trying breast compressions. This means you’ll gently massage your breast towards your baby’s mouth, which helps encourage sucking and swallowing.

How do I know if my newborn is full?anchor

Here are some cues that we see when a newborn is full:

  • Their hands are relaxed and open instead of curled into fists.

  • If you lift up their arm, your newborn allows it to drop heavily instead of pulling it back towards their body.

  • Your baby is content at the end of a feeding and able to go about 2-3 hours before the next feeding. 

Please know that you might not see all of these each time.

My newborn still seems hungry after feeding. Could they be having a growth spurt? anchor

It’s possible. Let’s talk about how to tell if your newborn is still hungry after a feeding. During the newborn months, you and your baby are getting to know each other. Whether it’s your first baby or your fifth, each baby can show different cues. Often sleepy cues are mistaken for hunger cues. Knowing your baby’s cues is key to setting up a flexible routine and being responsive to your baby's needs, whether they’re in the middle of a growth spurt or not.

Newborn Hunger vs. Sleepy Cues

How do I set up a routine with my newborn?anchor

My First Five Months Bundle will help you do just that: set up a flexible routine that is responsive to your baby's cues. I'll walk you through setting your days and nights up for success as you lay a healthy sleep foundation with no crying involved. Let me show you how to meet your baby right where they are developmentally and love the newborn stage.

Be sure to give yourself and your baby grace! You and your baby are both learning together. If your baby is simply not satisfied between feedings and can never go longer than two hours between feedings, please work closely with your lactation consultant and pediatrician. They are your best resource in navigating feeding struggles. My classes are designed to help you learn how to balance those feedings and sleepy cues to help your family thrive and enjoy the newborn stage.

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