The one thing that is certain with babies is they change every day. Knowing what the range of normal is for infant feeding can help parents make better decisions about the family rhythm.
Exclusive Breastfeeding and Human Milk Feeding
0-6 weeks: This is the time when babies nurse constantly. Their tiny tummies want a constant and steady fuel supply, just like they were accustomed to in utero. The placenta nourished the baby so well, hunger is something completely new after being born. It’s easiest to feed babies before they show signs of agitation. Nursing in clusters is common. Nursing every 1-3 hours day and night is normal. Nursing sessions may last 5-35 minutes at a time. Babies frequently fall asleep at the breast and nurse in their sleep. Expect 10-15 nursing sessions per 24 hours. Babies should be fed on cue or on demand. No medical organization endorses scheduled feeds for breastfeeding infants.
6-12 weeks: This period is usually full of what most people call growth spurts. Babies this age are still nursing around the clock. Remember, human milk is digested in about 90 minutes. The tummy is still small, maybe as little as 2 or as many as 5 ounces. Some babies will have a “witching hour” in the early evening where they feed in a cluster of sessions. Babies who have been separated from mom during the day may be particularly interested in a marathon evening nursing session. Nursing and bottle feeding human milk should continue on cue or on demand.
3-6 months: The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that babies continue to receive only human milk at this time. Babies in this age range have a variety of sleep patterns and growth patterns. Teething may begin during this stage which may disrupt feeding or increase night wakings. All of this is normal. The stomach size is 3-5 ounces. Babies in this age range may increase their nursing or cluster feed just as newborns do. On cue feeding should continue at this age.
Breastfeeding with Complimentary Solids
6-9 months: Most babies will have a first tooth appear at this point. Babies who have a tooth, can sit well unsupported, and have lost the tongue thrust reflex are ready to begin solids in compliment to human milk. Human milk is still recommended as a primary source of nutrition. Ideally, the baby is nursed first then solids are offered as “dessert.” You may have heard “food before 1 is just for fun.” Small amounts of complimentary solids are important for iron and other minerals as stores from birth are utilized by this age. Human milk should be offered on cue. Solid foods can be offered at scheduled meal times.
9-12 months: Most babies are interested in self-feeding. They have mastered the pincer grasp and can put bits of food into their own mouths. Human milk is still the bulk of their nutrition. Some babies may not have had a tooth erupt yet. Nursing through the night is very common.
Nursing a Toddler
12- 15 months: The American Academy of Pediatrics feels this is a safe time to replace human milk with other foods including the milks of other mammals. Many mothers continue to nurse their toddlers for nutrition. Toddlers at this age are busy and may have nutritional gaps because they are out exploring the world instead of eating. Their stomachs may only be a few ounces bigger than they were a year ago. Continuing to breastfeed at this age can help a growing toddler meet nutritional needs during a “picky” phase.
15-18 months: Children who are still nursing may continue to do so at night as well. Mothers commonly explore night weaning around this age. Other mothers are glad to nurse through the night to help with the pain and wakings associated with eruption of molars.
18-24 months: By this age, most children are well established on solids interested in eating with the family at more regular times. Self feeding has been mastered. Many children can drink out of a small cup unassisted. Toddlers who are nursing may nurse frequently or only once a day. The range of normal is very wide.
Full Term Nursing
2 years and beyond: The World Health Organization recommends that children breastfeed for a minimum of 2 years with nursing continuing if both mother and child so desire. Children often self-wean some time after the second birthday. Pregnancy or extended separation may motivate a child to wean faster from nursing.