A mother smiling at her newborn.

You’ve heard the phrase “never wake a sleeping baby,” but that old adage just doesn’t work for a brand new baby. In fact, when you give birth you’ll be instructed to offer your newborn a feeding every couple of hours. But once you leave the hospital it’s hard to know how long you should follow these instructions—including knowing when it’s ok to let your baby keep sleeping without waking them for a feeding.

How Long Should My Newborn Go Between Feedings?

You should feed your newborn as often as your baby is showing feeding cues. The longest your baby should go between feeding is three hours from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next feeding. But the fact of the matter is that your little one may want to eat even more often than that…even every hour in some cases. Try and get ahead of your baby’s hunger. If baby is crying or frantically hungry, it could actually be harder to get them to calm down, latch properly, and feed well. Look for feeding cues like smacking lips, putting their fingers in their mouth, and turning their head looking for your breast (known as rooting).

Keep in mind, when timing baby’s feeds, the clock starts ticking at the start of the feeding. So if you’re offering a feeding every two hours and baby begins nursing at 2pm, you’ll offer another feeding again at 4 pm (no matter if baby eats for 20 minutes or 45 minutes). Newborns need to eat between 8 and 12 times minimum in a 24-hour period. If you do the math this number can feel overwhelming…and like you’ll be feeding your baby nonstop (which is sort of true). But not to worry mama—the time between feedings will start to get longer soon enough.

Why Do Newborns Eat So Often? 

There are actually a number of reasons.

  • Babies typically lose a percentage of their birth weight after delivery, and frequent feedings help them get back up to (and eventually surpass) their original weight. 
  • Think about how tiny your baby’s stomach is. In fact, at birth it’s about the size of a cherry, and at one week old baby’s stomach is about the size of an egg. It doesn’t take much to fill their little bellies, but they need to fill them often.
  • When breastfeeding, frequent nursing sessions will also help your milk supply come in and get established. After all, breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. The more milk your baby needs, the more your body will produce.
When Can Baby Go Longer Between Feedings? 

In the early days with your newborn, your baby’s provider will keep a careful eye on their weight gain and growth patterns. You’ll typically have an appointment or two over the first week after delivery for baby to get weighed, and to talk about how they’re doing with their feedings. Once your little one seems to be on a solid track of gaining weight (and has reached or surpassed their birthweight), most providers will give you the go-ahead to feed on-demand and not wake them up to feed during the night. Not letting a baby go longer than three hours from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next during the daytime may help them sleep better at night. Once they are sleeping well at night, you can let them space their daytime feedings out too.

We know that making sure your baby is getting enough to eat (and growing well) is a big deal. Track your baby’s feeds and wet diapers, and keep in close contact with baby’s provider if you have any concerns about the length or frequency of your little one’s feedings.