Pregnancy Articles

Breastfeeding: Demand & Scheduled Feedings

What's a Mother to Do?

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My mother told me that my baby needed to be on a strict schedule. A baby on a schedule is easier to care for and will do better, she said.

However, several of my breastfeeding friends said to use demand feeding. If your baby starts to cry just plug her in, it's the easiest way to keep the baby quiet and content.

But to me, neither demand nor schedule feeding properly or adequately described the mother-infant breastfeeding relationship. I wanted to be able to feed my hungry infant even if the clock didn't indicate it was time. Also, I didn't want to over-feed my infant and nurse him when he really needed other types of attention. Instead, I prefer the terms "nursing on cue" or even "responsive breastfeeding." You and your infant are a nursing team. Is your baby trying to tell you that she is hungry? Does he need to be held, comforted, and loved? Is she tired and in need of a nap? One of the challenges and joys of mothering is learning how your baby communicates.

Infants are helpless and dependent. It's important to be responsive to your baby's first hunger cues. By consistently and responsively meeting your baby's needs, you'll foster deep trust and contentment in your child. What are the pre-cry hunger cues?
  • Squirming
  • Increased alertness or activity
  • Making rooting motions
  • Snuggling or rooting at the breast
  • Sucking on hands
  • Clenching fist by the face
  • Putting fist in mouth
  • Making sucking sounds or little sucking motions
  • Brushing a hand across face
Newborn infants should be nursed whenever they show these pre-cue hunger signs. Remember that crying is a LATE indicator of hunger.

During the first weeks of life your baby should nurse often because his stomach is so tiny. Every 2-3 hours is normal, with 8-12 feedings in a twenty-four-hour period. Frequent breastfeedings will build up your milk supply. Therefore, let your infant nurse whenever he needs to or seems interested. If your baby sleeps more that 3-4 hours between feedings, it may be necessary to wake him to nurse.

The primary purpose is to feed your baby in a compassionate, unrestrictive way. After about 2-3 months of growing, maturing, and developing, infants settle into a routine of their own. A routine that will vary from baby to baby and from stage to stage.

This routine will change often throughout the first year of life as growth and development continue: solid foods are introduced, table food and sippy cups are given, nap and sleeping rituals change, but always with the desire for your infant to receive the best nourishment and nurturing possible.
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About The Author

Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. She teaches prenatal classes and counsels individuals, helping women eat right and stay fit before, during and after their pregnancies.
Becky Hand

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