A common belief is that you should breastfeed your baby every 3 hours. While this isn't completely wrong, it's not completely right either. A better and more current approach is to breastfeed 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. This averages out to feeding every 2 to 3 hours, including through the night.
It's also important to count feedings from start to start, like you do with contractions. So if you started feeding your baby at 12 p.m., the next feeding would begin at 3 p.m.
Since babies don't run on alarm clocks, some feedings might be closer together while others could have a longer break in between. As long as you're feeding your baby when she's hungry and making sure you're in the 8 to 12 range, you should be fine.
To make sure you're feeding your baby between 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period, you must continue the daytime routine throughout the night. This is especially important in the early days and weeks after giving birth. It's best not to let more than 3 to 3½ hours go by during the night without breastfeeding your baby.
Some babies might sleep for longer stretches during the night, say from 4 to 5 hours. However, if you're only breastfeeding and not using pumped breast milk or infant formula now and then, this could mean possible problems down the road. Don't panic—you might just need to remind yourself to start a feeding at night earlier than your baby does. This is where an alarm clock comes in handy!
Once your baby starts gaining weight and continues to do at a healthy rate, usually at around two weeks, you can relax a little and let your baby decide how often she wants to be fed at night.
As we've mentioned in other articles, it's important to make sure your baby is feeding effectively. There are ways you can tell if she's had enough at each feeding, as well as if she's getting enough overall. Signs such as quiet alert time, hiccups and deep sleep indicate short-term satisfaction, while stools, amount of urine, and weight gain are good indicators of whether she's getting enough overall.
Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)