What is the best breastfeeding schedule?
There are all sorts of baby schedules out there.
The list goes on and on. I’m not a fan of schedules, and I will explain exactly why, plus what to do without them! Because I think the best breastfeeding schedule is none at all.
Breastfeeding Schedules? Get Rid Of Them!
I spoke with a mama this month about breastfeeding her new baby. She was using what she thought was the best breastfeeding schedule out there. She was concerned because she was told to breastfeed every 2-3 hours, but recently her baby would start screaming his head off before that time. Breastfeeding became a challenge because her baby was too upset by feeding time that he wouldn’t latch on to the breast. She’d started only offering a bottle, and realized it wouldn’t be long before he stopped breastfeeding completely.
She didn’t know what to do and reached out to me.
After getting to know her and asking her a whole bunch of questions about her baby, I realized that the schedule was throwing them off.
Her baby was getting hungry BEFORE the scheduled feeding time.
And that brings me to my reason why to throw out the schedules:
Babies Are Little Humans
Obvious, I know. But hear me out.
My husband eats two VERY large meals per day. He has a huge breakfast, a small lunch, and huge dinner. That’s how he eats.
On the other hand, I eat all day long. I have 5-6 smaller meals or snacks throughout the day whenever I feel hungry.
I know for a FACT that if I tried to eat the way my husband does, I would be a MONSTER. I’d be hungry and cranky and miserable… nobody would want to be around me, I assure you.
I also know that if my husband tried to eat the way I do, he would gain weight immediately and be extremely upset with the way he looks and his performance.
All that to say, adults don’t all follow the same eating schedule, so why should we expect babies to? The best breastfeeding schedule probably resembles an adults eating schedule.
Some babies probably get hungry between 2 and 3 hours, and some babies probably get hungry sooner.
As a note… newborn babies sometimes will choose sleep over eating, even when they NEED TO EAT. So, although I don’t recommend rigid schedules, I DO recommend that you wake your baby at the 3-hour mark to eat if they are younger than 2 months old.
If you decide to drop the schedule, I bet you’re wondering…
How will I know when to feed my baby?
Again, if your baby is a newborn please don’t go longer than 3 hours without feeding them. That’s not only for your baby’s health, but also for establishing your supply.
But, your baby might get hungry as soon as 20 minutes after the last feeding. The way to tell is simple:
I can’t stress this enough. Hunger cues are EXTREMELY important for you to recognize as a new mama.
What they look like is this:
- Baby rousing. Often an early hunger cue in a newborn baby is just them waking up. For very new babies, they pretty much sleep and eat. If your baby is under 2 months old, rousing and waking is often the first hunger cue.
- Some babies are more subtle and will just start to wiggle a little in their sleep. For these babies, it helps to hold them skin to skin or in a baby carrier throughout the day. You will be able to catch their hunger cues easier when they’re right against you.
- Mouth movements. This is a pretty good sign that your baby is hungry and ready to eat. Young babies will turn their head while opening their mouth (this is called rooting). They seem to be searching for a breast, and they are!
- Sucking on… things. Your baby might suck on their fingers, on their bottom lip, on your arm, or anything else they can suck on! If your baby starts sucking on things- especially their own hands and fingers- it’s probably feeding time.
- Crying. Unfortunately, crying is a late hunger cue. It’s important to try and catch baby’s signs before crying starts because feeding is difficult if a baby is past the point of initial hunger.
I hope that helps clear things up for you! If you can start to recognize your baby’s hunger cues and feed them at the right time, they will be thankful. It also helps to take the stress from you and the clock. Just pay attention to your baby, and I assure you that you’ll be feeding them enough.
How do I know if my baby is eating enough?
Diapers are always the best way to know if your baby is getting enough milk.
The rule of thumb I use is: 4 diapers by day 4. Breastfed babies should have 4 poopy diapers on their 4th day of life. If your baby is pooping at least 4 times a day, they’re getting enough milk.
Gaining weight is the second way to tell your baby’s intake.
Your pediatrician should weight your baby at each appointment. They look for growth in your baby, to ensure they’re gaining weight adequately. Your baby will probably lose some weight immediately after birth but they should be back to their birth weight by 2 weeks. Then they should gain about an ounce a day or 5-7 ounces per week. If your baby isn’t quite meeting those numbers, it might benefit you to speak with a lactation consultant.
As you can see, I am passionate about babies being little humans! They all have their own personalities, likes and dislikes, and hunger times. If you start to recognize your baby’s hunger cues, you can scrap the schedule and just pay attention to your little one.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.
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