It’s one thing that new mothers want to get right — knowing when their baby is done feeding. Being a mom, you want to be in tune with your bundle of joy, understanding his wants, instinctively giving what he needs. Let’s breeze through the do’s and don’ts, and in the process, make you the calm and confident mother that you already are!
The amount of milk and the length of time it takes to feed is different per child. He or she is definitely getting enough milk when 1) they unlatch on their own, 2) they become relaxed and sleepy, 3) they void and stool enough for the day, and 4) they are at the right pace of growth. You should make sure to watch out for your baby’s feeding cues and avoid signs of overfeeding.
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Before we check if your child is satisfied with feeding, let’s find out if we know when your baby is hungry.
When your baby is hungry, they show subtle clues for us called ‘breastfeeding cues.’ Watching out for these signs will help ensure we give them the right nutrition at the right time.
Early hunger cues include the eyes’ opening, smacking the lips, poking the tongue out, shifting the head when the cheeks are stroked, and making cooing noises. If you’ve missed these cues, your child will usually start to whine and cry. These are late hunger cues, which we need to avoid as much as we can.
How long should I feed my baby?
There is no hard-set rule on how long feedings should take. A rough estimate would be to feed between 20-40 minutes. It takes around 2-4 hours between feeding sessions. Each baby has his or her own timing, which is not even consistent every day! Don’t worry though, as there are other signs that will tell you that they are drinking enough milk.
At night or bedtime, your baby might choose to drink more milk, followed by longer periods of sleep in between feedings. They may choose to feed longer or feed more frequently with little time in between. This is called “cluster feeding” and is a good indication that your infant is slowly adjusting to our sleeping hours.
Do we follow the clock?
It’s safe to follow your child’s breastfeeding cues. It’s their way of saying when they’re hungry.
However, be mindful of the gap between feedings. If it’s been 3-4 hours since your child’s last feed, gently nudge them with your breast or the bottle and see if they will follow your lead.
For breastfeeding mothers
If it takes your baby less than 10 minutes or at least 1 hour to finish every feeding session, you should check if your child is getting enough milk. Your baby could be sucking for such a short time because they aren’t getting enough milk or sucking for so long because they are trying to get what little amount they could to feel satisfied.
If you are worried about having enough breast milk production or having a poor latch, seek help from a breastfeeding specialist (called a lactation consultant).
For those who may be wondering, breastfed babies tend to feed more than babies who are fed formula milk. Formula milk takes longer to digest compared to breast milk.
Signs that your baby is full
Watch them unlatch
For breastfeeding mothers, the most obvious sign that your child is full is the unlatching process. As your baby gets full, he or she will suckle lightly but at a faster rate, followed by long pauses in between. Your child will spontaneously unlatch from your breast or will stop sucking from the bottle afterward. Some babies continue to suck but no longer swallow milk.
Do they look sleepy?
Look at your baby’s disposition. Infants who are satisfied with feedings will usually be sleepy and relaxed. You’ll notice that their arms hang loose, and their palms are open. When your baby seems to fall asleep during feeding, place your baby down slowly in the crib. He or she will most likely continue to sleep.
If your child isn’t quite full yet, he or she will be restless and quite active. You will still see hunger cues such as smacking of the lips and repeated opening of the mouth. Their arms may be tense, and when placed in the crib, they would usually cry.
Will they drink more?
Another way to find out if they have taken enough is to stop feeding for a minute or two, then offer some milk again. For breastfeeding mothers, you can offer the other breast. For mothers feeding with formula, you can offer an extra 5-10ml of milk. If your baby is full, he or she will continue sleeping or only lightly suck at the breast or bottle.
If you are breastfeeding, your breasts will feel softer after feeding. This is a good indication that your baby drank enough and that you have an adequate milk supply!
Don’t forget to pee and poop
Check if your child has enough voiding and stooling for the day. For the first few days of life, your baby should have 3-6 voids per day and 1-2 stools per day. As he or she turns 1 week old, this should increase to at least 6 voids per day and 3-4 stools per day.
Make sure not to worry too much to the point of overfeeding your baby. The tale-tell signs of an overfed infant include watery stools, fussiness after feeding, vomiting, choking, gassiness, or frequent burping and passing of gas.
During well-child visits to the doctor, a rapid increase in weight may also indicate that you are overfeeding your baby.
Monitor it yourself
If you feel that motherhood’s stress puts too much on your mind, keep a feeding diary. You can list down what time and how long your baby’s been feeding for the day.
You can also include how many times he or she has voided and stooled for the day and other unusual things you may notice so that you have a record of it.
Visit your doctor
It’s always best to make sure your child is at the right pace of growth. Regular follow-up visits with your pediatrician is a must! Your doctor will complete a physical examination, which includes the height and weight of your child. This will be plotted on the appropriate growth chart, which will help your doctor determine if your baby weighs too much and is overfed.
If you have concerns regarding your baby’s feeding habits and nutritional intake, your doctor can help answer your questions or refer you to a lactation consultant.
Infants have their own unique way of feeding at their own pace. You’ll know he or she is getting enough milk by observing for unlatching, sleepiness, enough voiding and stooling, and the right amount of weight gain.
Make sure to watch out for feeding cues and avoid overfeeding your child.
Sarah is a healthcare writer, motivated by her love of reading books while growing up. She took up human biology and further studies in medicine, in order to fulfill her passion for helping kids. While she isn’t a biological mother yet, she has taken a young Siberian husky named Indy under her wing. She would love to someday travel the world and meet kids from different cultural backgrounds.