How to extend newborn feedings to every 3 hours (instead of every 2 hours or less)

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Spoiler alert for new parents!

Your newborn baby will need to be fed at least eight times every 24 hours. Most newborns feed every 3-4 hours, however some may need to feed as often as every two hours. See this Dr. Pam Q&A for more.

It this sounds like a lot of work it’s because it is. And it can also be extremely overwhelming for parents!

My first baby needed to feed every 1.5 to 2 hours when she was a newborn for health reasons. It felt like I was feeding her around the clock (and literally was). The exclusive breastfeeding, severe sleep deprivation, and baby blues completely exhausted me, mentally and physically! It was such a relief when her healthcare provider gave me the okay to feed every three hours instead. Being able to feed my second baby every three hours from birth was completely life changing.

Our feeding and sleep program recommends feeding newborns every 2.5 to 3.5 hours to help create flexibility for parents and consistent meal times. But you should confirm with your baby’s healthcare provider that it’s okay to feed that often. Common reasons for feeding more often can be found here.

If you haven’t been feeding your baby in three hour intervals, below are tips to help with the transition.

1. Be intentional about when you start the transition to feeding every three hours

Start the transition at a feeding when you think your baby will drink a fair amount to fill their tummy before going down for 1.5 to 2.5 hour nap afterward. This is especially important if you find that they eat more at some feedings than others. I found that my babies tended to drink more at the 6 a.m. breakfast, noon lunch and 6 p.m. dinner/bedtime top up feedings and slightly less in between feedings, especially when they were 12 weeks old and sleeping 10-12 hours uninterrupted at night.

Consider waiting until baby has just had a small prior feeding, or baby is waking from a long nap and hasn't been feeding for at least two hours. 

Try to start as close as possible to one of the feeding times you circled on baby's feeding chart (i.e. within half an hour of that specific feeding time). If you’re using our program, you will probably be feeding every three hours starting at either 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. for breakfast. If possible, consider starting the transition at breakfast one morning.

2. Keep track of when baby is feeding and how much they’re having each time

This is important to help ensure your baby is having enough feedings and nutrients each day.

When it comes to babies feeding and sleeping, it’s easy to get on and off track. This can be caused by things like teething, growth spurts and colds and flu’s. Habits can also cause you to get off track (i.e., if family comes to visit and baby gets used to sporadic feeding and nap times, or continually falling asleep on an adult rather than their crib). Read more about it in this post.

You can use our chart, a journal or any other tracking method that works for you. Other things you may want to consider keeping track of are listed in our feeding and sleep program.

3. Focus on 1.5 hour feeding windows to make sure baby’s tummy is full

We use the term feeding window because it sometimes takes 1.5 hours from the time you start feeding a newborn until they are actually full. They may be fully fed within a half hour to an hour but it usually takes longer at first. Topping baby up with breastmilk/formula for up to 1.5 hours in each feeding window, while they are either awake or falling in and out of light sleep, can help smooth the transition when you're trying to get away from feeding every two hours.

I found this helpful when I needed to feed my baby every 1.5 hours — at the start of each feeding, I would feed her until she fell asleep (usually on me) then feed again at the end of that 1.5 hour feeding window before putting her down for a two hour nap.

Keep in mind that the transition can be slow especially if you’re transitioning away from a well established habit. You may also get on and off track a few times (common when baby has a cold or is teething, etc.). Patience and perseverance will help get you through the transition. 

Please share your comments and questions below!

Related links:

Baby feeding and sleep FAQ's can be found here.

Info on new baby is available here.

Info on postpartum care can be found here.

Why your baby is feeding non-stop

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Feeding a newborn baby is exhausting, especially if you’re breastfeeding! New parents can expect to feed their newborn baby at least eight times every 24 hours (for more info, see this Dr. Pam Q&A).

Most newborns feed every 3-4 hours, however some may need to feed as often as every two hours (see this Dr. Pam Q&A). This can be hard if you need to start each two hours from the time you started your last feeding, not two hours from the time you finish the last feeding… meaning you may have an hour or less between the time baby has finished feeding and the time you need to start the next one.

Our feeding and sleep program recommends feeding newborns every 2.5 to 3.5 hours to help create flexibility for parents and consistent meal times. But for a variety of reasons your baby may not be ready right away (more about when to start here). You should always consult with your baby’s healthcare provider first.

I had to feed my first baby every 1.5 to 2 hours for health reasons which was not easy exclusively breastfeeding/expressing milk. It was such a relief when my physician gave me the okay to feed every three hours. Feeding my second baby every three hours from day one was much easier.

Below are five common reasons why your baby may be feeding so frequently. 

1. Health reasons

As mentioned above, you should only start to feed in 2.5 to 3.5 hour intervals when you get the okay from your baby’s healthcare provider to feed that often.

Your baby may need to feed more frequently, especially as a newborn, to help treat health concerns like blood glucose issues, dehydration, jaundice, or to make sure baby is gaining enough weight

2. It’s your preference

There is no one parenting approach that works for everyone. If feeding more frequently or demand feeding when baby wants to feed works best for you, go for it!

3. Habits

Habits can form in as little as a day or two. If you’re interested in a feeding and sleep schedule, keep in mind that your baby doesn’t know what breakfast, lunch, dinner times are until they learn — they’ll follow your lead if you guide them.

If you’re transitioning to longer periods between feedings, your baby may wake up at night to feed out of habit even if they aren’t hungry (even if their diaper is dry and clean) just for a cuddle. Babies are smart and it’s easy to get wrapped around their cute little fingers! For tips to help stay on track and avoid certain habits, read this post.

4. Growth spurts

You should always feed your baby when they are hungry! Even if your baby has been consistently feeding every three hours, there may be times that you need to feed them more often. If your baby is going through a growth spurt, they may finish a full feeding then wake up hungry 1.5 hours later for another full feeding! Find out when to expect growth spurts here

5. They’re not getting enough milk

Another reason your baby may need to feed more often is because they are not getting enough milk, causing them to wake up from sleep to feed every hour or two. This could be caused by a few things. For example, Mom may not be producing enough milk, baby may be lethargic (sleeps too much), or baby may not be latching to your breast properly. If you’re bottle feeding, make sure the hole in the nipple is large enough so that the milk flows for them — formula tends to be thicker than breastmilk so over time you may need a larger round hole in the nipple or “y” tip.

One girlfriend told us that her baby was not getting enough milk at feedings because of a tongue tie and couldn’t latch properly. Baby would exhaust himself trying to breastfeed and fall asleep on her. It wasn’t until the issue was fixed that he was able to latch properly and finish a full feeding within an hour or so (i.e., the band of tissue below the tongue was surgically cut by baby’s physician, which also took a few weeks to heal). 

Consult with your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about your baby’s health (including if you think they’re sleeping too much), or if you have breastfeeding concerns such as latching or supply.

Find out how to extend your baby’s feeding times to every three hours (from every two hours or less) here.

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