When you need to wake your newborn to feed

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Waking up your newborn is common practice for new parents to ensure they’re getting enough to eat. It’s also advised for breastfeeding mamas so that the baby is at the breast often enough for the body to know to keep producing more milk. In addition to feeding your baby every 3 hours (including waking them to do so) always be sure to keep tabs on other signs that your baby is getting enough to eat.

1.) When Your Doctor Advises It

Before we go over the top reasons why you’d want to wake your sleeping baby to feed them, we first want to remind you that what your doctor tells you trumps everything we say. If you are unsure about anything that’s going on with your baby, you need to contact your child’s pediatrician. They will advise you on what’s best for your and your little’s unique situation – perhaps asking you to wake your baby more or less frequently than what is typically advised.

2.) Before Your Baby Has Regained His Birth Weight

Babies typically lose about 7 – 10% of their birth weight within the first few days of life, according to Kids Health. This is normal due to the extra fluid that a baby is carrying when they are born. At an average rate of 1-ounce in growth per day, a baby should have this regained by their two-week appointment. So until that time, it’s your job to give your baby all the calories they need to thrive and keep growing steadily as expected. By not letting your baby sleep longer than 3 hours at a time (yes, even at night) your baby has enough opportunities each day to get their calorie needs met to make this happen.

3.) To Establish Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. When your baby demands it, your body produces it. In order for your body to keep getting the message that it needs to produce more milk, breastfeeding (or pumping as discussed here) around the clock is necessary to keep a steady milk supply for your little one. So be sure to wake that baby up to feed every 3 hours in those early weeks. Just remember, you can’t nurse too often!

The advice to wake a baby for the above reasons doesn’t mean we are suggesting putting your baby on a schedule (such as feeding every 3 hours no matter what.) You should still be feeding your baby on demand and when they show hunger cues! La Leche League writes, “Scheduling feedings for a baby who is exclusively nursing frequently throughout the day and night, especially during the first six weeks has been correlated with slow weight gain.”

Just know that this may end up being a lot sooner than every 3 hours with more than 8 – 12 feeds in a day. When your baby shows they’re hungry, feed them!

Instead, the advice is that you shouldn’t let your newborn baby go longer than 3 hours between feedings which means if your baby keeps sleeping past that mark, you need to wake them up to eat. As your baby grows, so does this amount of time.

How long you can let your baby go between feeds depends on a variety of factors. Here are some to consider:

1.) Your baby’s age. Full-term babies who are younger than two weeks should be fed every 3 hours until breastfeeding is established and they’ve regained their birth weight. A baby under six weeks should not sleep longer than 4-5 hour stretches. Of course, if you’ve been given the all clear from your doctor to let your baby sleep longer, then that is the advice to take. If you have a preemie baby or other concerns, we advise you to reach out to your doctor to see how long you should let your baby go between feeds.

2.) Your baby’s weight gain. In the hospital the nurse will most likely have you feed your baby every 3 hours. This is also the guideline they give you when they send you home with your new little one. Until your baby’s 2-week check-up, this is ideally what you’ll want to follow which is when they’ll be able to determine if your baby is gaining weight at the desired rate. Getting to this point is a huge milestone for a baby and also for you in knowing you can let your baby go for longer stretches of sleep (about 4 – 5 hours) now that they’re getting nice and chubby. Weight measurements will continue to be “taken throughout your baby’s first year, and if baby is struggling to put on enough weight again, the doctor may advise you to feed more often again.

3.) Whether you’re breastfeeding or formula feeding. Babies who are formula-fed can usually go longer stretches between feeds than breastfed babies can. This is because breastmilk is digested more quickly than formula. However, you still need to follow the “feed every three hours” rule until your doctor has given the go ahead for longer stretches. After that, letting a formula-fed baby go a bit longer than a breastfed baby between feeds is normal (provided they have enough wet diapers and are gaining weight well.)