Triple Feeding Your Baby, Explained

Getty / Emilija Manevska

As a new parent, there’s not much worse than struggling to feed your baby. If you’re determined to breastfeed and searching for solutions to get your newborn the milk they need, you might have come across a TikTokker or two recommending triple feeding. But what does the strategy entail exactly, and is it worth it?

Triple feeding is more than just a social media trend, however. It’s been around for over a decade, and is considered a “sound intervention,” according to National Lactation Consultant Alliance president Marsha Walker, RN, IBCLC. The three steps involved are as follows: nursing the baby directly, immediately pumping milk as soon as that’s finished, and feeding the baby from a bottle (either breast milk or formula, if needed).

If that sounds time-consuming, well, it is – but it can also be extremely effective. “Sometimes this is helpful,” Walker says, “and sometimes it’s a great burden on the mother.” Often, it’s both.

Experts Featured in This Article

Marsha Walker, RN, IBCLC, is the president of the National Lactation Consultant Alliance.

Rachel O’Brien is an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) based in Massachusetts.

The Benefits of Triple Feeding

There are two main reasons lactation consultants and pediatricians suggest triple feeding: to increase the parent’s milk supply and to give the baby more food. “What we want is for babies under four months old to be gaining about an ounce a day,” says lactatin consultant Rachel O’Brien. She adds, “If a baby is not appropriately staying on their weight percentile on the growth charts, that may be a sign that they are not getting enough milk.” This is when a medical team might recommend triple feeding to boost the baby’s diet.

Walker says that this strategy is often used for late preterm babies who aren’t yet able to take in enough milk through nursing alone. It can also be recommended for babies who have a tongue tie, low muscle tone, cardiac conditions, or neurologic conditions that mean they can’t get a full feeding each time they latch onto the breast. “One of the things that you hear all the time is that a baby is better at getting milk out than the pump, “O’Brien says. “And this is true for some babies, but for a lot, it’s not.”

Without an intervention, the parent’s milk supply will go down if a baby can’t take in enough by themselves. “The breasts will adjust to whatever is being removed from them,” Walker says. By triple feeding, the baby gets the nutrients they need to grow, and the parent ensures they will still have enough milk available once that baby is able to drink all the milk they need on their own.

What a Triple Feeding Schedule Might Look Like

We won’t lie to you: a triple feeding schedule can be challenging. Typically, every three hours – or anytime a baby wakes up from a nap – you’ll nurse on each breast for 10 minutes, then pump for 15 minutes, and give the baby a bottle for 10 to 15 minutes. If you’ve got someone that can help out and give the baby that bottle, you’ll save time; otherwise, feeding the baby can take an entire hour, and then you have to clean the pump parts and the bottles.

It’s . . . a lot. This is why some lactation consultants recommend limiting triple feeding to daytime hours, so the nursing parent can get some rest at night. Fortunately, Walker says that sometimes just a couple rounds of triple feeding per day is all it takes to make a difference. Any additional benefit that can come from triple feeding at night is not worth the lack of sleep. “Your milk supply is not more important than you being able to function,” O’Brien says.

How to Know When to Stop Triple Feeding

Ideally, you should only triple feed for a day or two, according to O’Brien, but for many parents, it takes a week or two to really start to work. Walker has seen it take months.

“Many parents end up doing it for quite a long time, either because no one told them how and when to stop, or they’re seeing improvement, but it’s really slow improvement. And the only way to continue raising supply is to keep doing it,” O’Brien says.

So how do you know when you’ve got the green light to give it up? “Once you are 100 percent making all of the milk that the baby needs, plus a little extra,” O’Brien says.

Another sign to stop is if you’ve been triple feeding for a full week, and things don’t seem to be improving. “If there is no change after seven days, the odds are pretty good that it’s not going to work, and you need some other strategies,” O’Brien says.

What to Know If You’re Considering Triple Feeding

Not only is triple feeding completely exhausting, it can also be tricky to tell if it’s actually working. “Because you are pumping after you’re nursing, the likelihood is you are not going to see when your milk supply gets higher,” O’Brien says. Since the baby will have just eaten, you won’t have much milk come out when you pump – which can feel incredibly frustrating when you’re putting in so much effort to eke out every drop.

That’s one reason why lactation consultants warn against trying this on your own. Make sure you’re only triple feeding if you have the help of an IBCLC who knows what they’re doing – and can look after your mental health during the process. Because the truth is, even if you are having milk supply problems, triple feeding isn’t right for every family.

“Really, this is not something that people should ever be doing unless the baby needs to get more milk than they’re currently getting on their own,” O’Brien says. “It’s a drastic step to take without a really good reason.”

Related: How (and Why) to Advocate For Better Breastfeeding Accommodations at Work

Jennifer Heimlich is a writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience in fitness and wellness journalism. She previously worked as the senior fitness editor for Well+Good and the editor in chief of Dance Magazine. A UESCA-certified running coach, she’s written about running and fitness for publications like Shape, GQ, Runner’s World, and The Atlantic.

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