In a 1997 statement on breastfeeding, The American Academy of Pediatrics
(AAP) recommends that newborns should be nursed whenever they show signs of
hunger. Those signs include increased alertness, activity, mouthing or
rooting. Some call this 'demand feeding,' while others classify it as
'feeding on cue.'
Whatever they call it, letting Baby call the shots on feeding times might
seem daunting for some mothers, especially those comforted by schedule. With
the right information and preparation, even the most routine-laden mothers
can lessen any anxiety they feel when feeding on demand.
A Demanding Schedule
"She'll regulate her own food intake, provided you offer the breast at least
every three hours," says Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books: The Ultimate Guide to Conception, Birth, and Everything In Between (Wiley, 2002) and The Mother of All Baby Books: The Ultimate Guide to Your Baby's First Year (Wiley, 2002). "Your baby needs to nurse frequently in
order to learn the breastfeeding ropes and help build up your milk supply."
Nancy Mohrbacher, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)
in Arlington Heights, Ill., and co-author of The Breastfeeding Answer Book (La Leche League International, 1997, explains that while milk production is
being established during the first six weeks, research indicates that the
more times per day the milk is drained from the breasts, the more milk is
produced. "Limited feedings by following a schedule during this critical
time can limit or reduce a mother's milk supply," she says. "Also, babies
are not normally comfortable feeding at set intervals during their first six
weeks, because their stomachs are so small."
According to Mohrbacher, the normal feeding pattern during this early period
is called "cluster nursing." This means that babies tend to cluster their
feedings close together, showing feeding cues every hour or less for part of
the day and then going for longer stretches at other times of the day.
"New mothers who are unaware that this is normal often wrongly assume that
they don't have enough milk," says Mohrbacher. "What's important during this
period is not that babies go two to three hours between feedings, but that
babies get the right number of feedings overall."
The AAP states that the normal amount of feedings per day means that Baby
should have eight to 12 feedings every 24 hours. The best way to accomplish
necessary amount of feedings is to practice 'on cue' feeding.
"Fortunately, once babies grow, the period of cluster feeding ends, and they
tend to naturally settle into a more regular feeding pattern," says
Mohrbacher. "As Penelope Leach, a noted British baby expert, says, 'Over
time the behaviors that drive parents crazy change, but they do so when and
only when the infant's physiology has matured to the point that she is a
settled baby rather than a newborn. The we-must-do-something approach is
likely to prolong the process, as well as make it more painful for both
parents and infants.'"
In The Mother of All Baby Books, Douglas outlines how unique each
breastfed baby's feeding patterns are. There are significant variations in
terms of the length of a typical feeding and the duration between feedings.
Some newborns are just slow nursers who like to eat every two hours, she
says. This may make it seem that you are breastfeeding nonstop.
"One feeding schedule will never be right for all mothers and babies because
of individual differences," says Mohrbacher. "One difference that research
has only begun to explore is 'breast storage capacity,' which is the amount
of milk a mother's breasts can store between feedings."
Mohrbacher explains that a woman with a large storage capacity, which may or
may not be related to breast size, may be able to space out feedings
comfortably because she can store more milk in her breasts without feeling
full between nursing sessions. "Full breasts signal the body to decrease
milk production as well as put mothers at risk for plugged ducts and
mastitis," she says. "Also, because the mother with a large storage capacity
has more milk in her breasts, her baby can take more at a feeding, keeping
him comfortable for longer stretches."
Research indicates that women with smaller storage capacities produce plenty
of milk for their babies, but they need to feed more times per day.
Go With the Flow
"If you're the kind of person who thrives on schedules or routines, you'll
find those early weeks and months of motherhood to be a whole lot less
stressful if you accept the fact that your new 'routine' may mean no routine
at all," says Douglas. "Your life won't always be this unpredictable. Before
you know it, your baby's sleeping and eating patterns will begin to fall
into some sort of reasonably predictable routine."
"I always breastfed on demand," says Angel Dickson, a mother of two from
Maine. "My kids were good nappers, always happy. People used to say they
were the most content babies in the world."
Mohrbacher suggests that new mothers who are frustrated with the cluster
feeding during their normal sleeping hours and taking long sleep stretches
throughout the day need to remember first and foremost that it is
completely normal. "Babies tend to be born with their days and nights mixed
up," she says. "Hopefully, knowing that her baby's frequent feedings do not
mean there's something wrong will alleviate some of the anxiety."
Another way that new moms can minimize some of the stress is to ensure that
they sleep when the baby sleeps – where it is possible. This is usually not
as easy when there is more than one child, unless you can all nap
"To maximize sleep, a mother should learn to nurse lying down so that she
can rest while the baby feeds," says Mohrbacher. "This is one benefit of
breastfeeding that many don't think about. No one has to be fully awake
while Baby feeds. It can take a little practice to get good at this, but it
is well worth the effort."
Here are some key things to remember when you feel overwhelmed by the lack
of routine during those first few months:
- Keep your sense of humor. Laughter is truly the best medicine for
- Keep a positive attitude. Accept the reality that most of your time will
be spent nurturing your infant.
- Let the housecleaning go for a while; the sweeping can wait.
- Accept any offers of help that come your way, and take that time to
- Find distractions where possible to manage the stress. Learn to breathe
- Simplify your life wherever possible.
- Play soothing music in the daytime while nursing. Enjoy your
Adjusting to a new baby is difficult at first, but with practice, things
will feel normal and natural. Breastfeeding nurtures a baby both
nutritionally and emotionally. It creates an ongoing bond between mother and
child. So relax and enjoy your special time with your baby. Before you know
it, you'll be longing for those quiet moments of closeness you once shared
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