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Breastfeeding: Waking Your Baby to Eat: When do I Stop?

It's been a couple of weeks since your baby was born. You've been keeping to his feeding schedule, getting up every 2 to 3 hours during the night to feed him and sometimes waking him so he doesn't go too long without eating. This routine can be tiring, but there's a light at the end of this very short tunnel.

You'll only need to feed your baby frequently throughout the night during the first 2 weeks or so. These signs indicate that your baby can wait longer between night feedings:

  • He has surpassed his birth weight.
  • His weight continues to climb at a healthy rate.

At this point, you can relax a little and allow him to feed on demand.

However, there are some exceptions to this night time feeding rule:

  • Premature babies: They're often tired and can sleep through a feeding if you're not watchful. Some preemies do better on a 4-hour block of time between feedings, which is fine. Just don't let them go any longer than 4 hours during the night, since they're at risk of sleeping through their hunger.
  • Jaundiced babies: Jaundice makes babies very sleepy. What's more, babies with this condition are famous for appearing full and satisfied at a feeding when they really aren't. They're also at risk of sleeping through a feeding, so it's important to nurse jaundiced babies at least every 3 hours.

Both of the following situations are a bit trickier when it comes to figuring out when to stop feeding frequently during the night. It's best to check with your health care provider when it's the right time to switch to feeding on demand throughout the night.

  • Sleepy, pokey feeder: If your newborn is generally a sleepy baby and a pokey feeder, you might want to stretch the number of days or weeks that you wake to feed him in the night until you're sure he's not sleeping through his hunger. This is where mother's intuition kicks in. Trust your judgement.
  • Supplementing by pumping: If you're supplementing feedings by pumping to iron out some of the early breastfeeding kinks, it's less important to wake and feed your baby every 3 hours during the night. Why? Because you already know he's getting filled up at each feeding. You also know your breasts are being emptied and your milk supply maintained because you're pumping after each feeding to maintain the flow. As a result, you can be a little looser with the night time feeding schedule.

Tips for success

  • If your baby has surpassed his birth weight and is steadily gaining weight, you can stop feeding every 2 to 3 hours during the night and instead feed on demand.
  • Premature and jaundiced babies may sleep through their hunger., which means you must wake them to feed. Check with your health care provider to determine when you can start feeding on demand during the night.
  • Trust your instincts. If your baby is thriving and eating well, switch to feeding on demand during the night and enjoy the few extra hours of sleep.

Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)