One of the most important questions a new mother has is whether to schedule feed their baby or practice breastfeeding on demand.
Arguably, the best method to use depends on what works for you, your family, and your baby. Every situation is different and getting advice from your friends and family on this matter is likely to give you any unbiased information.
Many people advocate for a feeding schedule, and you will quickly notice that a lot of your friends and family members advocate for this method as well. This means feeding your baby every 3 hours at the maximum and never letting them go unfed for more than 4 hours. This is supposed to get your baby get used to a routine that works for your family life.
For many mothers, sticking to a routine helps them feel like they’re in control and have a plan for feeding their babies. They’ll feel a lot less clueless about feeding.
The problem is that schedule feeding isn’t natural. This is a practice that came about with the advent of formula feeding. Feeding on a regular pattern and making your baby sleep for longer periods at a time is something very modern. It’s also pretty harmful to the proper growth and development of your child. How? Well, let’s take a moment to talk about the benefits of the other side of the coin: feeding on demand.
This is also known as responsive feeding and is based on you closely observing your child for any cues that show they need to feed. You watch your baby, not the clock.
Your baby will definitely have needs which are different from those of other kids. A rigid feeding schedule won’t help your breastfeeding as your baby will be hungrier and you will be more stressed.
Your baby doesn’t know or understand what it means to follow a routine. All they know is how to follow their instincts and give you cues for their different needs, such as feeling thirsty or hungry, feeling full, feeling the need for comfort, and so on.
Breastfeeding on demand forces you to become cognizant of these cues and meet the needs of the baby early, thereby preventing them from crying for hours on end.
This isn’t just about keeping your baby well fed. There are many studies on child development that show that meeting the needs of your baby on time generally leads to better health for the baby, and you as well. We’re talking complete health here; mental, physical, and social.
The milk in your breasts is prepared on the basis of supply and demand. When your baby feeds more, your breasts will make more milk. Because of that, it’s very important that your baby feed as often as possible. There are even times when you baby will be feeding all the time. Don’t get frustrated by this. It sends a signal to your mammary glands to produce more milk in preparation for a growth spurt.
The baby will learn the difference between hunger and satiety much more easily via feeding on demand. They will learn to trust the judgement of their body when it comes to the intake of calories. Feeding on demand, when started early enough, allows the baby to strengthen this ability and may even help them avoid diseases like obesity in the future.
Breastfeeding isn’t just about breastfeeding; it’s about a lot more. You’re not only passing nutrients to your baby but also hormones that help you two bond. The mere power of skin to skin touch goes a long way in strengthening the bond between you and your baby.
Breastfeeding also comforts your baby when they’re feeling upset. You’ll notice that it’s much easier to calm them down when they’re breastfeeding than it is when they’re not.
Breastfeeding can also help your baby develop vital communication skills. They will learn to interact with other people through the interactions they have with you.
When babies aren’t catered to, their brains will release cortisol, a stress hormone. When they are exposed to this hormone for long periods of time their development may be slowed down, or even stunted in some respects.
Breastfeeding, on the other hand, releases the hormone oxytocin in the baby, which counters the effects of cortisol. Oxytocin encourages a lot of things in a baby, such as better communication, emotional control, and easy bonding with the mother. Such a baby, who feels secure, will do much better in the future than a baby that constantly felt abandoned.
Breast milk has the remarkable property that it doesn’t maintain the same composition as your child grows and develops. The breast milk you produced when you child was fresh out of the womb isn’t the same as the breast milk you produce when the baby hits the six month mark.
The different nutrients put into your breast milk by your body are necessary for the different stages of growth that your baby undergoes. Sometimes your baby needs to take in more calories to aid a growth spurt and your body replies in kind. At the same time, the antibodies present in your breastmilk aid the baby’s body in fighting the different diseases they may encounter, making their immunity much stronger.
It’s a common worry among mothers that, because their baby is feeding rather frequently, they might not be getting enough per feed. Your friends and family might not help with this, either, commenting that the baby must be hungry whenever they seem to want to feed more often.
The truth is the baby’s needs keep changing and they will feed as often as necessary to meet these needs. With formula feeding, you are sure just how much your baby is getting at every meal. With breastmilk, however, you don’t know, and this will leave you in uncertainty. Don’t worry, however, as long as your baby is gaining weight and producing healthy pee and poo, then they’re feeding enough.