So you have made the decision to breastfeed your new, warm bundle of joy, but you are getting advice about feeding your baby coming at you faster than you can blink…Sound familiar? Somehow, once you have your baby, everyone within a one mile radius and their aunty feels qualified to give you advice. Feed on demand so your body understands you are no longer the boss, this 8 pounder is. No, scheduled feeds are better because they allow you a routine. Truth is although establishing a routine is important, feeding on demand will train your body to produce the amount of milk that your baby needs.
Most people know the importance of breastfeeding and the numerous benefits it affords your baby, as well as the health advantages the mother receives. Not many are aware of the hardships mothers face, especially if they choose to exclusively breastfeed. Whether you are worrying about not producing enough milk to satisfy your growing bubba, a fussy baby when feeding, sore and cracked nipples or even whether you should time the feeds or feed on demand, fact is you will probably be juggling many different things at once.
Don’t panic, its normal. Take it one step at a time. Solve one issue, then the next, and before you know it, you will be through the hard part, and onto the joyous, magical moments when your baby will know that you are their most important, ever present, ever willing ally.
Should I Feed on Demand or Should I Time the Feeds?
Lets bring this back to basics as there are a few things to consider here. Firstly, the best advice you can get in the first six months is to keep the baby on you as much as is reasonable and possible. If you are planning on breastfeeding your baby, take this advice blindly. The more the baby stays on you and feeds, the more your body realises it needs to up its milk production and accommodate for the needs of your growing baby.
If you schedule feeds, the major advantage is that this will enable you to set a routine and work around it. But one thing you have to keep in mind with kids is that you just can not expect to stick to a schedule. You can certainly pretend or try to but most times you wont be able to simply because a growing baby is such an unpredictable entity, you will fast come to the realisation that timing feeds simply does not work unless you are super-organised (that rules out 95% of us mere mortals). At least not until your baby is above 6 months old.
I also firmly believe that feeding on demand serves a very important purpose. Babies nutritional, immune and growth needs change daily. If you have made the decision to breastfeed your baby, you probably already know how difficult it can be to stick to it. Feeding on demand ensures that you are able to efficiently meet the daily needs of your rapidly growing baby.
You see how I keep harping on about the importance of allowing your baby to suckle as and when they need? Well, lets look at why. Your body releases a hormone called oxytocin during labour, and after birth, as well as during breastfeeding. It helps to relax the mother and in response to suckling at the nipple, oxytocin is released to enable the ‘let-down reflex’, allowing milk to come out from the nipple. Again, the more the baby suckles, the more amplified the signal is to the brain, the more oxytocin is released, and so the milk production increases.
If you stick to a schedule, you may inadvertently miss your babies cues that they need more milk, which means your baby will suckle less. This has a knock on effect on your milk production. Not taking lead from your baby when he or she needs more milk (i.e. during growth spurts or when they are not feeling well) means that your body will not receive the signal that milk production needs to increase, which means that you might well end up falling short of what your baby requires.
Now this is where it gets interesting.
A study compiled in 2013, involving 10419 children, explored the effects of schedule feeding vs. demand feeding on maternal well being and on both the academic, and cognitive, development of the child. Factors to assess maternal well being were confidence, depression and whether the mother was getting enough sleep. The results show that demand fed babies had a 4 point advantage in IQ levels at age 8, whereas mothers who schedule fed their babies had higher scores on maternal well being (except depression).
What does this mean exactly? This study suggests that feeding your baby on a schedule (at set times throughout the day) helps boost your confidence and ensures you get more sleep than if you were feeding on demand. This does however come at a cost. Poorer cognitive development and weaker academic performance is found in these children.
Another important thing to note is this: depression in the mother is not affected by how the baby is fed. I wonder if this is an indirect result (i.e. the reason why the mother is schedule feeding may lead her to feel depressed or conversely the mothers who feed on demand may start to feel overwhelmed which can lead to depression). Either way, the results of the study seem to favour feeding on demand.
A different study shows that premature babies who were formula fed on demand were discharged from hospital earlier than their schedule fed counterparts, and required fewer feeds.
Although some may opt for schedule feeding due to a number of reasons (convenience, establish a routine for later on, ensure baby gets enough milk if they are underweight or gaining weight too slow), it seems the better option (if you can do it) is to feed on demand.
Taking in and acting on your babies cues means you respond to their needs as they express them to you. This increases satisfaction on both sides – for you as you are interpreting and successfully fulfilling your babies needs, and for your baby as they learn to depend and trust you to address their needs without unnecessary delay.
TAKEAWAYS: Feed on demand if you can. Avoid timing your babies feeds. If your baby is actively sucking, then let them feed until they come off the breast themselves. This will keep your milk supply at the right levels to meet your babies needs. In addition to this, evidence suggests babies who are fed on demand tend to have better cognitive development and show superior academic performance. To conclude, feeding on demand is favourable to feeding on schedule.
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