During the first feed after birth, the first question you’ll ask your nurse is “How often should I feed my baby?”
There are two routes you can follow:
A feeding schedule or feeding on demand.
The best method will be the one that works well for you, your baby and your family life. As a new mom, it can be hard to get unbiased information from family and friends. This guide will provide you with information about demand feeding. It will help you develop the skills to observe your baby closely, so you know when they need to feed.
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Newborn Feeding Schedule
Friends and family have probably told you to get baby onto a feeding schedule as soon as possible. For breastfed babies means feeding every 2-3 hours and never more than 4 hours apart. It helps your baby develop a routine which can fit into family life.
A routine will appeal to your inner control freak planner. It helps you feel like you have a plan and less clueless about all this feeding malarkey.
The problem is that feeding schedules have developed over the few decades when formula feeding was a more popular feeding choice. The need for new-born babies to sleep longer and feed in a pattern is a modern-day need. In fact, it’s harmful to breastfeeding.
So I’m going to throw a spanner in the works and tell you to ditch that plan.
Breastfeeding offers more benefits when you and baby feed on demand.
Feeding on Demand
Feeding on Demand, or responsive feeding is a way of closely watching your baby for signs they need to breastfeed. No more watching the clock during a feed or worrying your baby is feeding too often.
You need to Watch Your Baby, Not the Clock.
Your baby’s needs will be different from other babies. That’s why feeding schedules are not great for breastfeeding. They lead to hungry babies and stressed out Mamas.
Newborn babies don’t know how to follow routines. They do know how to instinctively give you cues to what they need when they are:
- Needing comfort
- Ready to wean
With demand feeding, you learn to recognize these cues in your baby. That way their needs are met early, and you aren’t frazzled from a baby who is screaming for hours on end.
5 Benefits of Feeding on Demand
Feeding on demand is about so much more than keeping your baby from being hungry. Child development studies have shown that when your baby’s needs are met promptly it improves their health. This includes their physical, mental and social well-being.
1. Helps Milk Supply
Your breastmilk is made on a supply/demand basis. That means the more your baby eats the more milk you’ll make. Now you can see why it’s important for your baby to feed as often as they need. You’ll notice your baby goes through periods of feeding all. The. Fricking. Time! That’s because they are helping you up your milk supply for a growth spurt.
2. Allows baby to self-regulate
Feeding on demand allows a baby to learn the difference between feeling hungry and full. This means your baby will trust their body’s judgment on calorie intake. Starting from an early age helps your baby to strengthen this ability. With obesity becoming an epidemic amongst children, promoting positive eating behavior is essential.
3. Helps bond with baby
Breastfeeding is about so much more than eating. It involves lots of hormones that promote bonding with your baby. With the power of touch, and skin to skin with your baby only strengthens this bond. Breastfeeding is a great way to comfort your baby when they are upset. This means it’s much easier to calm and stop them crying as much.
The response you have to your babies needs also lets you baby develop early communication skills. It’s the building blocks to teaching them how to interact with other people.
4. Improves development
When a babies needs are not met their brain releases a stress hormone called cortisol. Studies have shown that prolonged periods of cortisol can lead to poor development. This includes mental and physical development in children.
The oxytocin which is released during frequent breastfeeding is an antidote to the cortisol. As we’ve mentioned above, it encourages strong bonds and emotional control and communication.
A baby who feels safe and secure will flourish better than a baby who feels the need to fend for themselves.
5. Growth and immunity
The amazing thing about breast milk is that it can change to meet the need of your baby. The breast milk you make for your new-born is different to the milk you’ll make when they are 6 months old. The nutrients change to support your baby’s growth needs. Your baby will often feed more to get a bigger calorie intake for growing.
Your milk will also change to produce different antibodies. This helps improve your baby’s immunity when they are ill. Your body will pass these antibodies over to strengthen your baby’s immune system and fight infection.
Feeding on Demand Concerns
Is my baby getting enough?
You may think that because your baby is feeding often they are not getting enough. Or you have comments from family such as ‘is that baby feeding again, they must be hungry’.
This isn’t true. Your baby will feed as often as they need to. Especially in the early days of establishing your milk supply. Unlike with formula feeding, you won’t see how much your baby is getting with each feed. The best way to know your baby is getting enough milk is by monitoring their pee, poo, and weight.
Starting a routine
Being available for your baby to feed when they need to can be tiring for a new mom. You’ll feel like your baby does nothing but feed. That phase does eventually pass. Try to take this time to slow down and get to know your baby. Consider using a baby carrier so you can go about your routine and baby can feed whenever they want.
Your baby will actually begin to develop their own routine for feeding as they get older. This is much better than forcing a routine on your baby, which can have a negative impact on breastfeeding.
Sleeping through the night
Having a baby that sleeps through the night is an obsession for modern moms. It’s important to realize that it’s completely normal for breastfed babies to wake frequently during the night. You can consider developing a bedtime routine around 3-6 months old.
It’s unusual for a healthy newborn to go more than 4 hours without a feed, so expect to do at least one night feed. When you are breastfeeding it’s best to room share with your baby so you can recognize feeding cues overnight. You can also consider co-sleeping with your baby; however, it’s essential to make sure you set up a safe sleep space for baby.
Spoiling my baby
If you get comments about ‘spoiling your baby’ each time you pick them up, pay no attention. I cannot stress enough that you can’t spoil a newborn. Your baby cries because it has a basic need. That may be food, diaper change or a little comfort.
A new baby doesn’t know how to manipulate you. All they know is how to adapt to when someone responds to their cry and when they don’t. As they grow, a baby who feels safe and secure is more likely to become less needy than one who doesn’t.
Newborn Feeding Cues
These are the feeding cues you need to look out for in a newborn. It seems a lot to take in at first, but you’ll get to recognize them quickly in the first few weeks. Knowing what to look out for will help you avert a 2-hour crying spree from your fussy baby.
We’ve already discussed that all babies will have different feeding habits. Feeding on demand means watching your baby and not timing feed. If you have concerns about your babies feeding habits, it can be handy to know what is considered ‘normal’ for the average baby. If you have any concerns with your baby, seek help from a qualified professional.
How often should I breastfeed?
Think of your eating and drinking habits as an adult. You may graze on snacks all day and drink lots of water. Your colleague may prefer to have three large meals and only drink at mealtimes.
The reality is that even if you have set mealtimes, you are likely to have a snack or drink in-between. That’s how your baby will breastfeed too.
Your baby won’t wait until the next hourly feed if they are hungry or thirsty. They will show you signs they need a feed now.
In a 24 hour period, a newborn baby will probably feed between 8-12 times. That means every 2-3 hours. Your baby may feed more often than this. If you are feeding less keep a close eye for any feeding cues, which may show baby is looking to be fed more.
Remember, if your baby is well hydrated, gaining weight, peeing and pooing then they are feeding enough, regardless of the number.
How long should a feed last?
Usually, a feed will last anything from 5-40 minutes. It depends if your baby is thirsty (short feed) or hungry (longer feeds). Just like adults, some babies take longer to eat than others.
Rather than timing feeds, make sure your baby is having a mixture of both short and long feeds. This gives a good indication of a healthy milk intake. If your baby is settled and relaxed after a feed it’s a sign they are full.
How long should I let my baby sleep?
It’s common for a newborn to become very sleepy and not wake for feeds. If there are health concerns, you should consider hand expressing colostrum or cup feeding breastmilk. This gives you peace of mind baby is feeding, without risking them losing weight or becoming dehydrated.
In the early days of breastfeeding try to feed at least once during the night. It’s a great way to boost your milk supply. Your hormone levels are highest at this time and will signal to your body your baby needs more milk.
Going for long periods of time without feeding can also become very painful and cause you to become engorged. Demand feeding can benefit you too, by easing this discomfort.
When should I stop breastfeeding?
The current recommendation by the WHO is to exclusively breastfeed (no other drink or food) for at least 6 months. There is no limit to how long you can breastfeed for. It will ultimately come down to how long you or baby wish to feed for. Most babies will begin to self-wean between 1 and 2 years old. Your baby will start to feed less or go long periods without feeding. Gradually they will stop feeding all together.
Feeding by schedule is beneficial to moms who need the convenience, routine and planning this provides. Feeding on demand is more beneficial to breastfeeding and your baby. It’s likely that routine breastfeeding results in more moms quitting due to poor supply issues.
Ultimately the decision is up to you. If either method is working for you, your baby and your family then stick with it Mama.