Active & Passive Feeding

Newborn babies need to feed an average of 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. While frequency of feeding is important, so is the quality of the feeding. Here are a few tips to help you determine how well your baby is feeding at the breast.

Active Feeding (Look and Listen)

Ideally, baby should be active while they are breastfeeding. When baby is drinking at the breast, their chin will drop down and pause for a swallow. Observe the pouch under their chin. You should see it drop down toward their chest during a swallow. Swallows can usually be heard. Sometimes they are described as a “puh” or “kuh” sound. They typically increase with milk let-down and you may even hear baby “gulping” at the breast. In the early days of milk production, it may be difficult to tell if baby is drinking. Swallows will be less frequent with colostrum than mature milk due to the volume. This is where it can be helpful to look for swallows by observing for that longer drop in the chin. If they are active with the feeding, you will be able to see or hear swallows.

Passive Feeding

Even though baby may be at the breast every few hours (or more), it doesn’t necessarily mean they are drinking. Babies can be latched and sucking at the breast, but not drinking any milk. Sucking can be observed by the chin moving up and down in quick little bursts – but if the chin is not dropping down to pause for a swallow, there is no drinking. If baby is being passive with feeds, they may fall asleep at the breast, which can result in a shallow latch and sore nipples. A baby who has fallen asleep at the breast will not drink. They will need stimulated to stay awake and active with the feeding.

Encouraging Active Feeds

Offer both breasts per feeding. Try to switch sides before the baby gets too sleepy or fussy at the first breast. Feeding from both breasts promotes milk production and helps the baby to get more milk with each feeding. Use breast compressions when baby becomes passive. Compressing the breast with gentle pressure to help move the milk toward the areola and encourage baby to drink.