Breast Babies and Schedules

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Breastfed babies typically need to nurse more often than their formula-fed peers. You may have a friend whose baby is on formula remark that her baby only feeds every 3-4 hours during the day and sleeps through the night.

Breastfed babies typically need to nurse more often than their formula-fed peers.
You may have a friend whose baby is on formula remark that her baby only feeds
every 3-4 hours during the day and sleeps through the night. You may wonder why
your breastfed baby’s eating and sleeping patterns are quite different than this.
Perhaps you have tried to put your baby on a schedule only to find that he cried
before you thought he should or you found that you were constantly looking for
other ways to pacify him until feeding time.

Breastmilk is digested with much more ease than formula. In fact, your first
milk, known as colostrum, has a natural laxative effect on the baby, enabling
him to pass the meconium (the stool he has been storing since before birth) more
quickly. The earlier this stool is expelled the less likely your baby will develop
jaundice. Due to breastmilk’s ease of digestibility, breastfed babies are rarely
constipated while only receiving mother’s milk.

Formula consumption, on the other hand, puts a strain on baby’s digestive system
causing it to work “overtime”. Thus the formula-fed baby sleeps for longer stretches
of time and demands to feed less often. However, in this case, sleeping longer
is not necessarily a good thing! The formula-fed baby is more likely to suffer
with constipation than the solely breastfed baby.

Putting your breastfed baby on a rigid schedule may interfere with the successful
intitiation of breastfeeding and put your baby at risk for slow weight gain and
other developmental problems such as failure-to-thrive. Breastmilk is produced
on a supply and demand basis. The more your baby nurses the more milk your body
will make. The less your baby nurses the less milk your body will make. Insisting
on an artificial schedule may result in not enough stimulation to your breasts
and therefore a scanty milk supply. As a result you may not be able to fully meet
your baby’s nutritional requirements thus resulting in the need to supplement
with artificial milk.

In the first few weeks of nursing when lactation is just becoming established,
frequent, unrestricted feedings are crucial to establishing a healthy milk supply.
Nursing at least every 2-3 hours during the day and at least once during the night
even if your baby must be awakened for the first few weeks will ensure that your
milk supply is established and remains adequate as your baby grows.

These frequent feedings also ensure that your baby is getting the milk that he
needs. Most young babies need to nurse at least 8-12 times or every 2-3 hours
during a 24 hour period. Studies show that newborns who are allowed to nurse frequently
and on demand regain their birthweight more quickly and are at less risk for developing
low blood sugar and jaundice. Conversely, babies who are fed strictly by the clock
regain birthweight more slowly and need medical intervention for treatment of
low blood sugar and jaundice largely due to the fact that their mothers’ milk
is slow to become more plentiful due to less frequent feedings.

Crying is actually a late hunger cue. Babies will all demonstrate early hunger
cues such as turning the head side to side, rooting, bringing the hands to the
mouth, and even sucking the hands before they cry.

As baby grows he will experience periods of heightened growth that generally
last for several days. Commonly referred to as growth spurts , these periods require more feeding flexibility. Baby demands to feed more often
and your body responds to this increased demand by increasing your milk supply.
Adhering to a set schedule during these times may result in a baby who’s increased
caloric needs are not met. Furthermore, your breasts will not receive the added
stimulation they require to boost up your supply to meet your baby’s growing needs.

Many babies also “cluster feed”, “stack feed” or “bunch feed”. These are all
different terms to describe a feeding pattern in which the baby nurses almost
constantly for several hours. This is a normal pattern for a breastfed baby. Many
will feed in this way prior to bedtime as they “tank up” for a longer period of
sleep. Also milk supply is normally lower in the late afternoon and evening hours.
Many babies compensate for this slight daily drop in mother’s milk supply by feeding
more often.

Finally, babies need to suck and find great consolation at the breast when they
feel lonely, insecure, tired, overstimulated, and overwhelmed with the changing
world. It is this non-nutritive need for mother’s breast that ensures that this
emotional as well as physical need is met. Thus, breastfeeding - unlike bottlefeeding
- is more than feeding. It is communication between mother and baby. It is a form
of nurturing; it is an act of love.

Written by Becky Flora, BSed, IBCLC

Last revision: July 19, 2000 Source: La Leche League’s, “The Breastfeeding Answer Book” (1997) by Nancy Mohrbacher,
IBCLC and Julie Stock, BA, IBCLC

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