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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Fri 28-Jun-19 15:57:07

Guest post: “It’s really common for babies not to breastfeed in a regular pattern.”

The MadeAtUni ‘Nation’s lifesavers’ campaign is raising awareness of the positive impact universities have on people, lives and communities across the UK. As part of the campaign, Professor Amy Brown explains her research into understanding more about how often breastfed babies feed and the common worries new parents can have about this.

Professor Amy Brown

Professor of Child Public Health at Swansea University

Posted on: Fri 28-Jun-19 15:57:06

(70 comments )

Lead photo

"Although feeding so frequently is normal, it can be exhausting, especially at first."

Anyone who has ever breastfed a baby will know that they can feed a lot. But sometimes it’s difficult to trust that your baby knows what they’re doing. Concerns about not having enough milk or whether they’re feeding too much are among the top reasons for stopping breastfeeding, often before women feel ready to do so.

I started researching breastfeeding as a new mum myself after a health professional told me that if my son was feeding every two hours it must mean he wasn’t getting enough milk. Looking at her, and then at my 99th percentile baby, I decided we really needed a greater understanding of what was normal when it came to breastfeeding and the messages new parents received.

Breastfed babies feed frequently because breastmilk is easily digested. Feeding them responsively, ie whenever they want to be fed, is also important in building milk supply. The more milk that’s removed from the breast, the more milk that will be produced, and vice versa. Attempting to put a strict routine in place can actually reduce the amount of milk you make and increase the likelihood of ending up with difficulties or pain.

If you look up how often babies are meant to breastfeed, lots of websites suggest 8–12 times in 24 hours. But talking to thousands of women in my research, it’s clear that, although some babies will feed regularly (every two or three hours), other babies will feed much more frequently. Some babies in my research are feeding up to 26 times a day or more.

How often have you been asked whether your tiny baby is a ‘good baby' or felt pressure to put them into a feeding routine?


In cultures where babies are carried in a sling all day and there are no restrictions on feeding, babies can feed up to four times an hour. No one would suggest that this is practical or desirable for everyone but how often these babies were feeding was not a sign that something was wrong. Unfortunately, here, we seem to spend a lot of time telling new mothers that their baby is feeding too much. How often have you been asked whether your tiny baby is a ‘good baby’ or felt pressure to put them into a feeding routine?

It’s also really common for babies not to breastfeed in a regular pattern. Known as cluster feeding, this is when babies feed on and off several times over a period of a few hours, often in the early evening. Their suck often feels different – less powerful and they may doze in between bouts. It’s also completely normal and 95% of breastfeeding mothers taking part in my research say that their babies do it. Cluster feeding helps increase milk supply but is also about comfort. Babies have a natural desire to suck, especially when feeling unsettled. It’s no coincidence that it often happens at the busiest time of the day, when your full attention is not on them.

Although feeding so frequently is normal, it can be exhausting, especially at first. But once you’re in the rhythm of feeding, most women say breastfeeding gets much easier. Feeds might be more frequent but they are quicker, especially at night. And most importantly, you can never forget to take the milk out with you…

If you’re worried about how often your baby is feeding, it’s important to check for signs that they’re getting enough milk, such as nappy content, whether they look hydrated and hearing them swallow as they feed. La Leche League has further information here. If you are at all worried contact your health professional or the National Breastfeeding helpline who can support you if your baby needs more milk. This might involve expressing milk to give to your baby or, in some cases, formula supplementation. You should be supported through this process to enable you to return to exclusively breastfeeding if you want and if this is possible.

Amy is the author of The Positive Breastfeeding Book: Everything you need to feed your baby with confidence, published by Pinter & Martin Ltd.

By Professor Amy Brown

Twitter: @Prof_AmyBrown

doulacaroline Fri 28-Jun-19 16:48:13

Such an important message. Being normal doesn't make frequent feeding easy, so having support systems in place antenatally is key as is knowing what normal looks like and when to seek help.

zombiethread Fri 28-Jun-19 17:08:55

So important to share this.

It's very difficult for new mothers who often aren't given much information on breastfeeding before becoming a mother.
It's so coming to feel like you must be doing it wrong. It is so isolating as you get to grips with feeding. Especially when feeling confident feeding in public (when your baby is feeding around 4x an hour) can be really hard!

We need more people to say- this is normal, we've all been there, and to offer more ad hoc support for the breastfeeding mother.

I was lucky to stumble across la Leche league which helped me so much with confidence (and multiple feeding issues!). I'd encourage any new mum to find their local group.

ClaireFran Fri 28-Jun-19 18:26:18

Oh god this a hundred times! I had no physical issues when I started breastfeeding, but spent months freaking out about how often our son was feeding. Because I thought it meant there was a problem, and he wasn't getting enough, even though the midwives were telling me he was fine! I'd bought into the books telling me it was supposed to be every 2 hours (or whatever).

His first growth spurt, I was ready to bring him to A&E because he fed for hours and screamed every time I took him off the breast. It was my partner who reassured me that he looked fine and content at the breast, and cared for me so I relaxed till we all went to sleep.
Next growth spurt, I just got comfy and watched Downton Abbey smile

I went with it, and it became second nature. But I really wish I could go back and relax into it from the start, rather than spend months worrying all day. I also wish I'd known that breast-feeding support groups weren't only for mothers with physical issues. I needed the emotional support but didn't know where to find it.

thatsnotmycateither Fri 28-Jun-19 18:42:23

Oh god yes so much this. I had everyone telling me he shouldn't be feeding again and was using me as a dummy. He was fine and I didn't mind feeding him. It was much simpler than trying to soothe him in other ways like they said I should! He's 5 now and healthy, eats well and sleeps really well and is happy to be away from me which were all the things people told me he wouldn't do if he kept feeding all the time hmm

GrandmaSteglitszch Fri 28-Jun-19 19:09:33

From the opposite angle, tho, doctors and health visitors told me I should feed my baby whenever he cried. I felt terrible when he often refused to feed and kept crying/screaming.
Despite those same doctors and health visitors telling me that there was no such thing as colic in babies, I realised that colic was the problem.

Keeping us to a more-or-less 4 hour feed routine, and doing my best to soothe him in between, at least kept me nearly sane and I felt he understood I was doing my best for him.
He continued to gain weight steadily so was certainly not missing out on nourishment.

(I had had no intention of trying to establish a routine, but it turned out to be best for us.)

HYPATIA123 Fri 28-Jun-19 19:35:29

Every child is different, and frequent feeding is common and normal. I barely had time to run to the loo and get water I between feeds with my daughter, for most of the day and a lot of the night. But my son guzzled and was done in ten or fifteen minutes.
She had to be actively got to sleep, he fed and rolled over.
She fed dozens of times a day, he did t so much.
The wet nappies and the weight gain shows that all is well.

Remember that food is more than just nutrition, and if anyone tells you that you need a schedule - stop listening.

MonkeyTrap Fri 28-Jun-19 19:48:59

Thanks for this. It feels like my baby feeds all day. But he then sleeps all night. But I get so many “he can’t be hungry again” comments. Then I explain he sleeps for 12 hours (8+2+2) minus feeding for a few minutes after the initial 8 hours, then 2, then 2. So why would I change it?

Merename Fri 28-Jun-19 21:06:28

I can’t stand that phrase ‘baby is using me as a dummy’ -the dummy is the replacement for the breast, not the other way round. This may sound obvious but I think it’s an important point to make and just trot out these phrases for something that is very normal as you say. The fact it’s such a prevalent phrase, even amongst very pro-breastfeeding mothers, reflects how dominant and normal artificial feeding is in our culture.

BottomleyPottsSpots2 Fri 28-Jun-19 21:15:47

This is a great post - and I have to say that your book is brilliant. I've given it to a number of friends having their first baby, and it's been of real use to all of them - it doesn't 'judge' formula feeding at all, but does support breastfeeding really well. It's matter-of-fact and full of practical advice.

NCB2019 Fri 28-Jun-19 23:37:47

My breastfed babies all fed in a consistent pattern... continuously for the first 4 months of their life. Unless in the car or pram! 😂

Knitclubchatter Sat 29-Jun-19 06:03:20

i'm happy you've written a book on this and are making money (presumably) but this is pretty basic info. the kind of thing i knew by the time i was maybe 12 years old?

MrsGrannyWeatherwax Sat 29-Jun-19 07:01:26

Might be basic information but I still had a HV and a midwife tell me my baby was feeding for too long / too frequently....

Lastbustowhitehawk Sat 29-Jun-19 07:39:08

This is a great post, thank you.

@knitclubchatter you're lucky to have been exposed to this information from such a young age, I guess there were small babies in your family if you knew about cluster feeding at age 12. Personally this wasn't the case for me at all and despite reading about breastfeeding during pregnancy, I felt completely at sea with it when my baby was born and like other posters, felt I got a lot of conflicting advice. Ultimately I think there is a lot to be said for instinct - we know our babies. Couldn't agree more with the PP who said that dummy is a replacement for the breast and not the other way around!

xSharonNeedlesx Sat 29-Jun-19 08:21:46

Every new breastfeeding mother needs to hear this. There are averaged, then there is your individual baby.

Dd1 cluster fed from 5pm to the early hours regularly. Dd2 never did. Both normal.

CupoTeap Sat 29-Jun-19 10:06:34

Yes yes yes - people just need to understand that every baby is different.

Ifsomeonehadtoldme Sat 29-Jun-19 10:35:57

Precisely why I’m going to quit.

Five months of the baby feeding this frequently is enough. Can’t cope any longer without ever getting a nights sleep. And since he’s rather scream for forty minutes and pass out than have a bottle of ebm seems cold turkey might be the only answer!

ProfessorAmyBrown Sat 29-Jun-19 10:47:43

Thanks all - and thanks Mumsnet for the new username so I don't link all my previous posts to my public profile grin

ProfessorAmyBrown Sat 29-Jun-19 10:49:22

doulacaroline

Such an important message. Being normal doesn't make frequent feeding easy, so having support systems in place antenatally is key as is knowing what normal looks like and when to seek help.

Absolutely - so many women get such little information on what is normal (and importantly what isn't). I hear so many stories from both sides - either women being told their baby is feeding too much (when they're feeding quite normally) but on the other side when they aren't taught and no one is around to spot that there's an issue.

ProfessorAmyBrown Sat 29-Jun-19 10:51:56

zombiethread

So important to share this.

It's very difficult for new mothers who often aren't given much information on breastfeeding before becoming a mother.
It's so coming to feel like you must be doing it wrong. It is so isolating as you get to grips with feeding. Especially when feeling confident feeding in public (when your baby is feeding around 4x an hour) can be really hard!

We need more people to say- this is normal, we've all been there, and to offer more ad hoc support for the breastfeeding mother.

I was lucky to stumble across la Leche league which helped me so much with confidence (and multiple feeding issues!). I'd encourage any new mum to find their local group.

La Leche League are indeed fabulous - both in terms of knowledge and just being around others in a completely accepting environment. I would echo that - anyone worrying, go seek out a group like them or contact the National Breastfeeding Helpline.

To me it always felt like everyone was fighting against babies feeding frequently... you can't feed here ... why is he feeding again... he's just manipulating you ... on and on (usually whilst they sip a cup of tea or from a bottle of water every half hour!)

ProfessorAmyBrown Sat 29-Jun-19 10:53:10

ClaireFran

Oh god this a hundred times! I had no physical issues when I started breastfeeding, but spent months freaking out about how often our son was feeding. Because I thought it meant there was a problem, and he wasn't getting enough, even though the midwives were telling me he was fine! I'd bought into the books telling me it was supposed to be every 2 hours (or whatever).

His first growth spurt, I was ready to bring him to A&E because he fed for hours and screamed every time I took him off the breast. It was my partner who reassured me that he looked fine and content at the breast, and cared for me so I relaxed till we all went to sleep.
Next growth spurt, I just got comfy and watched Downton Abbey smile

I went with it, and it became second nature. But I really wish I could go back and relax into it from the start, rather than spend months worrying all day. I also wish I'd known that breast-feeding support groups weren't only for mothers with physical issues. I needed the emotional support but didn't know where to find it.

The emotional support is a huge part. No one is going to suggest it's easy feeding that often but just having people around you who help. Maybe we could get Downton as a sponsor of breastfeeding support grin

ProfessorAmyBrown Sat 29-Jun-19 10:54:54

thatsnotmycateither

Oh god yes so much this. I had everyone telling me he shouldn't be feeding again and was using me as a dummy. He was fine and I didn't mind feeding him. It was much simpler than trying to soothe him in other ways like they said I should! He's 5 now and healthy, eats well and sleeps really well and is happy to be away from me which were all the things people told me he wouldn't do if he kept feeding all the time hmm

All three of mine too... you'll never get them out of the bed / you'll never be able to leave them / you'll be feeding them when they're off to university confused ... strangely enough all sleep in their own beds and aren't feeding now!

ProfessorAmyBrown Sat 29-Jun-19 10:58:14

GrandmaSteglitszch

From the opposite angle, tho, doctors and health visitors told me I should feed my baby whenever he cried. I felt terrible when he often refused to feed and kept crying/screaming.
Despite those same doctors and health visitors telling me that there was no such thing as colic in babies, I realised that colic was the problem.

Keeping us to a more-or-less 4 hour feed routine, and doing my best to soothe him in between, at least kept me nearly sane and I felt he understood I was doing my best for him.
He continued to gain weight steadily so was certainly not missing out on nourishment.

(I had had no intention of trying to establish a routine, but it turned out to be best for us.)

Yes absolutely. This is the other side of the issue of generally not enough care for new mothers full stop. It needs expertise (and just general knowledge) to be able to recognise when something is wrong and frequent feeding is a sign that something needs to be fixed.

I think a big part of the issue is that we get so many messages telling us that frequent feeding isn't normal (for cases where it is) that we then spend our efforts trying to fix that message, for other women to then fall down that gap of not getting support when they have an issue that needs support. The whole thing generally needs more discussion and awareness .

Also, very relieved it worked out for you.

ProfessorAmyBrown Sat 29-Jun-19 11:01:40

HYPATIA123

Every child is different, and frequent feeding is common and normal. I barely had time to run to the loo and get water I between feeds with my daughter, for most of the day and a lot of the night. But my son guzzled and was done in ten or fifteen minutes.
She had to be actively got to sleep, he fed and rolled over.
She fed dozens of times a day, he did t so much.
The wet nappies and the weight gain shows that all is well.

Remember that food is more than just nutrition, and if anyone tells you that you need a schedule - stop listening.

Oh definitely - they are all different and that's what the data I have is really showing. Some babies are feeding four hourly and fine, others more like 10 - 14 times a day and then others much more. Bit like adults really. Actually that would make really interesting research - whether your patterns as a baby are essentially some kind of genetic overall influence of how often you need to eat smile

I'd also really like to do some research into whether baby's latch and suck differs when they are feeding for reasons other than being hungry. Lots of women report it feels differently. I've been collecting some data recently around why a breastfeed was given and it's so common to feed to soothe / help sleep / comfort etc - it really is a way of mothering rather than just nutrition.

ProfessorAmyBrown Sat 29-Jun-19 11:02:28

MonkeyTrap

Thanks for this. It feels like my baby feeds all day. But he then sleeps all night. But I get so many “he can’t be hungry again” comments. Then I explain he sleeps for 12 hours (8+2+2) minus feeding for a few minutes after the initial 8 hours, then 2, then 2. So why would I change it?

Exactly - why do people insist on giving women advice they don't ask for? Extrapolate this across parenting... angry

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