Breastfeeding on demand vs. on a schedule

breastfeedingWe often receive questions from new moms asking when they should start their newborn’s next feeding. If they breastfed their baby at 2pm, they wonder if they should wait to feed their baby until 5pm. The golden rule is to feed your baby when she’s hungry, called “on-demand” feeding. It is more important to watch your baby for cues that she’s hungry rather than worry about the timing of her feeding.

If you have ever gone to a party, the hostess usually will offer you food or a drink without first asking “are you hungry?” She offers you the food and then you can decide if you want to eat. The same should go for your baby. If she seems unsettled, try breastfeeding. If she is hungry and feeds, you made a good guess; but if not, then you know you can try to settle her in another way (rocking, walking, etc.)

Newborns may eat between 8 and 12 times over 24 hours, which is about once every 2 to 3 hours. If that seems like a lot, it is! Feedings may last about 15-30 minutes. But each baby is different and your baby may need to feed more often or for longer amounts of time.

Will you have enough milk for all these feedings?

The amount of milk a woman can produce and store varies greatly and is not determined by the size of her breasts. As your baby sucks on your nipple, she stimulates your hormones to send a message to your brain telling your body to produce milk. Your hormones, along with your baby’s suckling causes your breasts to “letdown” and provides the milk to your baby’s mouth. Letdown may also occur when you think about your baby, or hear her or even another baby cry.

The more often you nurse, the more milk your body will produce. Your milk production will slow between feedings when milk accumulates in your breast and will speed up when the breast is emptier. Your body is producing milk all the time, the only thing that changes is the speed of production. Your breasts do not need to feel “full” in order to produce enough milk for your baby. The key to breastfeeding on demand is to feed your baby when she wants for as long as she wants. Ignore the clock!

Still not convinced? Here’s the science behind milk production

Your body produces two hormones, prolactin and oxytocin. The hormone prolactin tells your body to use its proteins, sugars and fat from your blood supply to make breast milk. The oxytocin tells your body’s muscles to contract and push the milk into your ductal system and into your nipple as your baby sucks. As your baby continues to suck, your body releases more prolactin which triggers your body to make more breast milk. Between feedings your body’s prolactin levels off, but once you start feeding again, your milk production restarts. So, if you want to produce more milk, you will need to breastfeed or pump more often.

Tips to keep in mind

• If your baby feeds more often than every two hours, it does not mean there is a supply problem.
• For most babies, breast milk is easier to digest than formula. This is why a breastfed baby may feed more often than a formula fed baby.
• You do not need to wait for your breast to ‘refill’ before your baby’s next feeding.
• Certain factors can affect your letdown reflex such as being tired, being stressed or having pain in your breast. Seek support when you need it. 
• Read about common breastfeeding myths in Breastfeeding myths debunked –part 1 and part 2.
• Remember, any breast milk you provide your baby is beneficial. It’s important to find the methods and solutions that work best for you and your baby.

Worried if your baby is getting enough to eat? Visit our page.

Have questions? Email us at Askus@marchofdimes.org.

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