Full Feedings

full feeds and baby sleep

Encouraging a baby to take a full feed, especially a very sleepy newborn or a preoccupied older baby, can take a lot of work and require a lot of perseverance. So why keep at it? Why does it even

Babywise says that "mothers who work to get a full feeding during the first week have babies who naturally transition into a consistent 2 1/2-to 3-hour routine within seven to ten days" (p.77). This compares to many babies that get into the habit of frequent snacking, or small feeds, throughout the day. These feeds often occur anywhere from 30-90 minutes apart. In both situations baby ends up getting the same amount of food, but the frequency of the food and the amount at each feeding is significantly different. I don't know about you, but if baby is going to be getting the same amount of food either way, I'd definitely rather not be feeding him every hour day AND night!

Advantages of full feeds over snacking:
  • Snacking can be very exhausting for mom, especially if she has other children to take care of.
  • When baby breastfeeds he first gets lactose rich foremilk and then gets fat rich hindmilk. If baby eats only small amounts at each feed he may end up only getting the foremilk which can be upsetting to his tummy due to the high levels of lactose. He also can miss out on the fatty hindmilk which can cause weight gain problems.
  • If baby is snacking during the day, he is very likely snacking during the night. This is not only very tiring for whoever is feeding baby, but it doesn't encourage good sleep habits for baby.

What a full feed is not
When I say a full feed, I don't mean forcing your child to eat beyond capacity. You are just encouraging him to eat until his tummy is full (not overfull) and not just until the chemicals in breastmilk or the the soothing act of sucking cause him to fall asleep.

How to encourage full feeds
If you have a newborn, you will have to work hard to keep him awake while he eats. See Sleepy Newborns - tips to keep baby awake during feedings. If you have an older baby who is easily distracted, try going into a quiet and/or dark room to feed him. If your baby is used to falling asleep before he gets a full feed, I suggest you get on an eat/activity/sleep routine, extend out feeds and work at keeping him awake during feeds. 

With newborns, if they start to significantly slow down their sucking, they are probably done eating on one side if breastfeeding or they are falling asleep. Sometimes a baby will unlatch because he is done eating on one side or needs to burp. With my children, when they start to appear to be done with a side (slow down significantly or unlatch), I will burp then try that side one more time. They often only eat a bit more before either unlatching or sucking with very few swallows, at which time I'll switch them to the other side. Once they unlatch on that side or suck and swallow very little, they are usually done for good (assuming they aren't just asleep--this will take some experience on your part to figure out). If you have a child that doesn't feed mainly on one side while breastfeeding (which mine do), you may need to also burp on the second side halfway between the feed.

Additional Info
  • Babies get quicker at eating as they get older. Don't confuse this for snacking. If baby is telling you he is full, take his word for it!
  • Sometimes newborns will eat more often than 2.5 hours. This may occur because baby is premature, has an illness, is in a growth spurt, is cluster feeding, didn't take a full last feed, it works best with your routine, as well as other reasons. If this occurs, I suggest you evaluate the situation to see if there are changes that you may want to make, or if things are as they should be.
  • Older babies, like newborns, may also eat more frequently than is normal for periods of time. This may be due to the same reasons listed above.
  • Babies with certain conditions, like reflux, may benefit from smaller, more frequent feeds instead of less frequent fuller feeds. You will have to check with your child's doctor to see what is recommended.

Related Posts:
Parent-Directed Feeding
EASY or EWS routine


  1. Question: From the very beginning I did an EWS routine and worked on getting full feedings. I didn't wake my baby up every 3 hours, but that was because he woke then (or every 4 hours) naturally and it seemed best to follow his lead and he was a great eater. (only breast feeding by the way)

    This worked fine until he got older and started napping for only 45 minutes at a time. I still follow EWS, but since his wake time is often short since his nap is short, I end up feeding more like every 2-2.5 hours.

    He is now 4.5 months old and is beginning to develop a longer morning nap 1.5-2 hours, much like HSHHC says, but the rest of the day his naps are short till his bedtime around 6PM. Even so, the longer morning nap sets on a better schedule for farther apart feedings, closer to +/- 3 hours. However, sometimes his morning nap is also short, and we're back to feeding every 2-2.5 hours.

    I don't mind feeding him each time he wakes up, but I'm not sure if it's good to do it this often. It doesn't seem to be affecting his night sleep. He was waking every 3 hours until a couple weeks ago when 1) we weaned him from his binky (which was causing even more wake-ups because of his change to adult sleep patterns) and 2) we let him CIO for the 12/1 night feed. Following that he dropped the early 9/10 feed on his own for a few days, only waking at 12/1 and then 4/5... Then recently he woke inconsolable at 10ish, so I finally fed him, but then he slept till 3/4 and the same the next night, which actually helped him on those days to sleep till 7:30 (whereas he usually wakes up at 6:30).

    So his nights are in progress. I'll slowly continue to wean the feedings out I think, but for now I'm okay with two wake-ups.

    I'm not sure what we should do. When I've tried to lengthen the feeds to every 3 hours, it just gets crazy. Sometimes feeds after a nap, or middle of wake-time or right before a nap! I don't like never knowing where we're at. It's much easier to just feed every time he wakes up.

    My question is, I guess, from your experience, is there a problem with that? In BabyWise, as you mention above, it says they'll naturally develop the 3 hour schedule...well my baby didn't. So now what?

    (also, we are very careful about his wake times... Rarely is he overtired, though recently it's getting confusing, seems he can stay up longer than usual... Perhaps he's just getting older and able to be awake longer... Or perhaps he's fighting it because he doesn't want to leave us?)

    1. Niek and Teranne Arentsen-
      Babywise makes it sound a lot simpler than it really is-if you do 'x', 'y' will happen. THis happens sometimes, but not always, and you have to make adjustments for what actually does happens.

      The feeds usually do fall to every 3 hoursish, but if you have short naps, that changes things up. Many people will change the ews patterns, but if you don't want to and night sleep is going well, then you are likely ok. By encouraging those full daily feeds during the day, it helps baby to take full feeds at night and go longer, but it isn't as critical (IMO) as sleep habits at this age. Babies often start to wake more at night at certain times than after so many hours of eating (assuming they aren't used to eating very regularly).

      Both things mentioned above may be making waketimes confusing for you. Putting him down more awake often helps with the confusing of whether he wants to spend time with you and is sleepy or whether it isn't time for bed. Waketimes do often extend out a bit now--you can keep a log to see how his sleep goes and daily mood is with different waktimes.


  2. Abby commented on Full Feedings - My Baby Sleep Guide:

    What is more important/successful? Pushing the 3 hour schedule, or sticking to the EASY method and watching cues? My 6 week old is going the wrong way: eating more frequently, and shorter naps as I follow her cues. She was following the 3 hours on the dot before. I have been feeding when she wakes up even if it hasn't been the 3 hours because I find she feeds better when she's just woke up and is content and stays awake for wake time, then goes back doen for anout an hour it puts us more on a 2.5 hr schedule Am I messing up the system. She is also waking more often at night. Or... Is it a growth spurt?

    1. Abby commented on Full Feedings - My Baby Sleep Guide:

      Also...she is good at falling asleep from drowsy.

    2. Abby,
      If she seems to be taking full feeds and is eating more, then it very well might be a growth spurt. Especially if it came up out of no where.

      If she sleeps for 1 hour then that means she's up for about 1.5 hours (eating is included in awake time). That is a lot of wake time for that age and may be adding to the short naps. If you drop waketime, then you'd be at more of a 2 hour routine in which case you might want to change up the easy cycle a bit if you can't extend the naps (see the extending nap post).

      Good luck! Hopefully it is a growth spurt and things will go back to normal soon!

    3. Abby commented on Full Feedings - My Baby Sleep Guide:

      Thank you. I will try shorter waKe times to see how that works. We have stuck to a pretty good three hour schedule today, and that was with a wake time this morning of closer to an hour n

  3. Hi - I could really use some help! I have a 3 day old that I am desperately trying to breastfeed. My milk just came in and I have a newborn that is a sleepy snacker. She likes to eat every hour on the hour around the clock. My lactation consultant told me to go with it, but I really can't. I have 3 other kids that need me to not be a zombie through the day. Last night was terrible - I fed her for 7 feedings straight until 4 am until someone finally came and put me to bed and stayed up with my girl. My question is this - how do I know she is getting a full feed if she won't break the latch? I've noticed toward the end of her feed when she won't be woken up any more that her suckling is more of a pacifier type suck than she is trying to eat. So I started breaking the latch for her and calling it - usually at the 20 minute mark per breast. Is that okay? Or should I just let her keep sucking until she breaks the latch on her own? I just don't know if she ever would. I'm thinking I'm being used like a pacifier...

    1. PAtricia, this post goes over how to tell the difference.

      I would definitely not consider her done eating until she breaks the latch. Some babies will actually sleep pretty much all night long on mom's breast if you let them, just like some will sleep all night with a pacifier in their mouth, just sucking occasionally. I'm sorry you are so worn out-I can't imagine!

  4. My 8 week old daughter has been a sleepy eater from the beginning and within the last few weeks I've been trying to follow a sleep-wake-eat cycle but she still sleeps through a lot of her feedings. She is pretty consistent with about 45 minute feedings total, hitting both sides during that time and usually unlatches herself from each breast. While her eyes are closed, she is still actively sucking and getting milk on her face. Is the closed eyes thing an issue? Does that mean she is actually asleep? Is that taking away from her nap times? (By the way I'm using a nipple shield so not sure if that affects anything in these questions)


    1. Jennifer Bull,
      Eyes closed at this age doesn't mean much while a baby is eating. If she's sucking with lots of swallows then she's probably eating and not just sleeping. It is tricky to figure out as a new mom, but you'll get the hang of it. You can also see if she responds when you talk to her etc which will give you a bit of an idea if she is awake--but eating does make babies sleepy so she may be ab it sleepy and happy eating to respond :)

  5. Hi! I'm so glad I found this blog because i need serious help. I have a 10 week old son and he is an excellent napper during the day. He's on the eat/wake/sleep routine but when he goes down around 8 he's up again at 10:30pm to eat, which is fine. Last night he went back to sleep at midnight and was up every 1.5 hrs eating, finally quitting at 6am. He's now in a dead sleep and normally would sleep straight til 10-0:30am. How can I get him to sleep straight thru at earlier hours? Preferably 12-5 or 1-6. I'm losing a lot of sleep and cranky during the day :(. Help!!!

  6. I am formula feeding our baby (it's a baby in our care, not our biological baby, so breast feeding is not an option) and I'm really struggling to figure out when he's full rather than sleepy. This is the first baby we've cared for, so we don't have anything to compare him to.


    1. Kate,
      The main thing that will help you is experience and baby getting older. You'll get an idea of how much he usually eats and when he starts to get sleepy (but isn't necessarily full). Let that kind of guide you. As he gets older, he will be more awake so he won't snooze so easily while eating.