Breastfeeding on demand. It’s recommended in blogs, books, and prenatal classes. What does it really mean? Breastfeeding on demand is just that – feed the baby when the baby wants to be fed. Sounds reasonable, right? Somehow, after the baby is born, we gravitate into schedules. So, what’s better? Let’s take a deeper dive into breastfeeding on demand.
Increased Milk Supply and Weight Gain
There are some significant advantages that go along with feeding on demand. First and foremost, when babies feed on demand, milk supply flourishes. When babies latch, they are communicating their need. Their need for milk, their need for security, their need for nourishment. In response, milk supply and weight gain increases. It’s a win win situation. Do you want to learn more about the magic behind your milk supply? Check it out here
Breastmilk changes all the time. Calorie and fat content, along with nutrients, can change based on the time of day and the length of feed. When babies feed on demand, they control these changes to benefit their growth. When babies are restricted, or denied feeds, weight gain and milk supply suffer.
Babies are happier and calm when needs are met. Breastfeeding on demand is meeting your baby’s need for security, food, and comfort. What better way to calm and connect to your baby than to offer the breast whenever they need it? Babies breastfeed for many reasons, and not just for food. Babies fed on demand are experiencing increased skin to skin contact and decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. You can read more about the many ways babies benefit from non-nutritive feeding here.
Increased skin to skin time and decreased stress for both mother and baby can result in a calmer baby and more productive feeds overall.
What about feeding schedules? They seem to be popular, and can it really be problematic to feed babies on a schedule? Let’s look at the information.
Breastfeeding parents are often told to feed the baby every 3 hours. In addition, if you are responding to your baby’s needs and feeding frequently, you may get pushback from others who think your baby should not be feeding as often as they are. So who’s right?
I always tell new families that babies did not set up a schedule and they do not know anything about a schedule. Feeding your baby at scheduled times can lead to less time at the breast for feeding, and less stimulation for milk supply. If this continues, milk supply can decrease. You may also have a very unhappy baby on your hands.
Regulating Feeding Habits
Babies who are fed on demand are better at regulating their feeding habits. When babies can feed when they want and for however long they want, they learn how to recognise when they are hungry and when they are full. When babies are fed on a schedule, they do not learn their cues for feeling full and feeling hungry.
It is important to remember that all babies are different. They have different feeding patterns, different cues, different needs. What one baby does is not necessarily what another baby does. Scheduling feeds and feeding on demand comes up a lot when I meet with patients early in the post-partum period. One of my clients was nursing her fifth baby. She was very different than her other children when it came to feeding, and sometimes this was hard to manage. She told me once:
"It’s been one of the harder things with Mollie because she is not on a schedule whatsoever. Nursed 5 min ago... could want to nurse now, 30min, 1hr, be fine for 3, it’s different every single time. My middle kids could nurse and be fine for at least an hour usually 2."
It can be hard to accept feeding on demand in a society where things are heavily structured and measured. However, breastfeeding on demand is an important part of ensuring your baby is getting enough milk and that you are responding to your baby’s needs. Having support
throughout your breastfeeding journey is an important part of reaching breastfeeding goals.