How long should I breastfeed for?

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It is amazing to see how quickly a newborn baby is ready to feed after birth. If you have had a straightforward delivery and feel ready, it’s a really good idea to have lovely skin-to-skin contact with your baby. This will stimulate him to search for the breast and have his first feed. At this first feed your baby will be getting the incredibly rich first milk called colostrum: some midwives call it ‘liquid gold’.

Colostrum is only produced in small amounts and in those first few days your baby will want lots of relatively short feeds. Giving lots of feeds is good in these early days as it stimulates your body to make more milk.

After breastfeeding your baby with colostrum for the first two or three days your mature milk will begin to come in (mature milk is thinner than colostrum and produced in much greater quantities). However, you are still establishing your milk supply and will need to feed your baby fairly frequently, including during the night, during these first two to three weeks where breastfeeding is set up and established (night feeding will be needed for several months).

Feeding cues

Sometimes, new mums worry that they are feeding their babies too often or that they do not know when to feed them.

Babies give lots of signals to let you know they’re hungry. Instead of waiting for your baby to cry or assuming that every time your baby cries they are hungry, it can be really helpful to spot your baby’s feeding cues.

Signs that a baby is hungry:

  • He will open his mouth a little bit
  • He will lick his lips
  • He will search and root for the breast
  • He will urgently suck on a blanket, his fist, your finger or even your face.

As you get to know your new baby you will begin to recognise his early feeding cues and distinguish hunger from other signals your baby is giving you.

Your baby’s feeding routine

As your milk supply becomes established and your baby becomes more settled you’ll gradually notice that they develop their own recognisable feeding pattern. They might feed very quickly and request a feed every four hours on the dot, or they may always cluster-feed in the evenings and then have a long stretch of sleep at night. And then gradually the babies will develop their own little pattern. All babies are different.

For how long should I breastfeed my baby?

Every mum comes to a decision about how long they will breastfeed their baby. For most of human history babies have been breastfed for extended periods, beyond their first year. However, at the end of the 20th century the cultural norm and recommendations were to wean much earlier and advice from grandmas and great grandmas can reflect this recent history. This can leave today’s mums confused as their mum (the baby’s grandma) might be suggesting weaning off the breast earlier than their health visitor is recommending.

Based on the best scientific evidence that we have at the moment, the Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding (with no other food or drink) for around the first six months. After this, breastfeed alongside other foods for as long as you and your baby would like to continue breastfeeding. As your baby gets older he may have fewer breastfeeds but may continue with an evening breastfeed before bed. This can be a lovely quiet shared time that you both enjoy and look forward to.