Feeding on-demand

My pediatrician’s office gives handouts for all regular infant visits.  This last time, for Ewan’s 4-month visit, the handout said that 4-month-olds should be nursed 5 times per day and I should not nurse him after 11pm.  It said I should “eliminate the 2am feeding now,” or it “will become a habit” that will be hard to break later.  But, after a whole paragraph warning me about this, it says: “Note: Some breastfed babies will continue to need a feeding during the night.”

This is such confusing advice!

Only nurse him 5 times per day?  What if he is asking for it?  Should I deny it?  I think not.  This advice assumes that all babies get the same amount of milk every time they nurse, which isn’t true.    And, it assumes that all women have the same milk storage capacity, and that all nursing sessions are the same, which is not true either.

I have never had Ewan on a feeding schedule, and it is best for a woman's milk supply to feed on-demand.

Ewan regularly takes only one breast and then will take the other in an hour or so.  I guess those 2 feeding sessions could count as 1, but counting feeding sessions is unnecessary.  My baby seems to know how much he needs to eat.  I can’t feed him if he’s not hungry and I can’t deny him if he is.  It is so much less complicated to let him decide when he wants to eat and how often.  I just take him with me everywhere and if he decides he wants to eat while we’re out, I find a place to feed him.  I have fed him in the car while parked outside a restaurant, in the food court at a shopping center, and on a bench on the street.

It is a good idea to make a mental note of the last time a baby ate so you can make sure that he or she is eating frequently enough, but a feeding schedule is unnecessary with a breastfed baby--mostly because you don't have to worry about wasting food if the baby doesn't have a full meal.

With a bottle fed baby, the caregiver has to prepare a bottle and refrigerate the unused portion, if there is any, to offer later.  If I had to do all that work every time I fed Ewan, I would probably be in favor of a schedule, too.  The schedule would make it more likely that he is ready to eat a full meal every time--making my life easier as a caregiver.  Breastmilk doesn't spoil in the breast, though, so if my breastfed baby doesn't take a full meal, it doesn't matter.  He will just eat later when he is hungry.

As for the advice to cut out the middle of the night feeding, I tried it for a few nights.  I didn't feed Ewan when he woke up in the wee hours.  I just held him and rocked him back to sleep.  Guess what happened.  He woke up an hour later.  He was hungry.  The Dr. Sears Baby Book says that his wife always nursed their babies to sleep, and I don't see a problem with it.  It's my experience that if I offer it in the middle of the night and Ewan doesn't want it, he will let go and just cuddle.  Sometimes he wants a pacifier to suck on if he wants to suck but not eat.

Dr Sears has a saying that for babies: their wants and needs are the same thing.  If a baby wants something--anything--he needs it.  Don't worry about spoiling your baby with caregiving.  It can't be done.

If you get advice from another mother or healthcare professional to breastfeed your baby only so many times per day or only for so many minutes, don't do it.  It is much healthier for both of you to feed your baby on-demand--even if it's at 2am.