Many new mothers wonder “how often should I feed my baby?” and “should I schedule baby’s feeds or should my baby feed on demand?”
Breastfeeding mothers receive a lot of conflicting advice in the first few weeks. This advice includes feeding every 2-3 hours or 8-12 times in a 24 hour window.
But what happens if a baby doesn’t wake up for a long period and wants to feed every hour after that?
The shortest answer to how long you should feed your baby for is:
Watch your baby, not the clock.
Demand feeding is the best way to go about for breastfeeding in the early weeks. Demand feeding means to feed your baby anytime they show signs of hunger. Early signs of hunger in babies include licking or smacking of the lips, sticking out their tongue, sucking on fingers and rooting around searching for food. When you demand feed, you don’t have to worry about timing the feed. You simply need to follow your baby’s cues and allow them to latch and detach when they are ready. Signs they have had enough may include detaching themselves and not attempting to return to the breast, sleeping comfortably, and feeling/appearing very relaxed following the breastfeed.
What are the benefits of demand feeding?
Demand feeding is extremely beneficial particularly in the first few days of life as it encourages the development of an adequate milk supply. When ‘night two’ rolls around and baby is unsettled and requiring extra breastfeeds and attention, demand feeding is one of the crucial components to stimulating a good milk supply.
Without knowing the exact fluid volume that a baby takes at each breastfeed, demand feeding allows the baby to decide when they have had enough or require more. This of course occurs once an adequate milk supply has been established.
Does demand feeding ever not work?
If you experience issues relating to tongue ties, jaundice, prematurity, breast and nipple size,s demand feeding may have to be delayed until resolution of these issues. For babies in these circumstances, demand feeding might not be feasible initially as baby can tire easily and not wake to feed on their own often enough to encourage weight gain and stimulate milk supply. These babies will need to be woken initially every 3-4 hours until adequate weight gain achieved.
Written by Keryn Thompson, RM & IBCLC (L-301766)
Dykes, F., 2005. ‘Supply’ and ‘demand’: breastfeeding as labour. Social Science & Medicine, 60(10), pp.2283-2293.
Iacovou, M. and Sevilla, A., 2012. Infant feeding: the effects of scheduled vs. on-demand feeding on mothers’ wellbeing and children’s cognitive development. European Journal of Public Health, 23(1), pp.13-19.
Trainham, G. and Montgomery, J., 2005. Self-Demand Feeding for Babies. The American Journal of Nursing, 46(11), p.767.