As a lactation consultant, I am always surprised when new parents believe they need to schedule feedings for their newborns. Some parents have received this information online, from medical professionals or well-meaning friends and family. All of whom do not understand how newborn physiology and breastfeeding works. They believe they must put their baby on a strict feeding and sleeping schedule to have a happy, well-adjusted child who is taught to self sooth and self-regulate their appetites
The problem is, to achieve either of these goals you must over-feed an infant and practice sleep training. Both of which are completely incompatible with breastfeeding whether your child is three days, three weeks or 3 months old. Newborns babies have very tiny stomachs after birth, feedings are meant to be small and frequent Since most breastfeed infants will only take as much food as they need and refuse to nurse, mothers have to pump their breasts to obtain large quantities of milk for scheduled feedings. When infants are exclusively breast fed, babies only eat until they are full and do not binge feed to go unnaturally longer periods between feedings and sleep.
Why is this not optimal? When your baby is first born, their stomach is the size of a large marble. It is meant to gradually stretch and increase in size over time. Overfeeding a baby causes discomfort because your infant can not digest all of the food you have fed them. Other side effects of overfeeding are newborn GERD, excessive gas from swallowing too much air during a feeding, excessive spit up or colic. It can also cause underfeeding in older infants because not all babies will complain if they are being fed less, they will just sleep more and gain slowly.
Babies give cues when they are full, whether they are nursing at the breast or using a bottle:
When a baby is starting to become full, the feeding slows down and they take longer breaths and pauses between swallows.
A baby who is full will turn their head away from the breast or detach.
A baby who is using a bottle will start to slow down during a feeding, and pull away.
The amount of food your baby eats daily varies. Just like sometimes you are really hungry and at other times you only want a snack. Infants feel the same way. If you are using a bottle to feed your baby breastmilk, store it in smaller quantities so you are not prodding your child to continue eating when they are not hungry. The same rules apply when using formula.
What if my child seems hungry more than 3 to 4 hours interval? Simple put them back to the breast. Newborns where never meant to go long stretches in between feeding. It is normal for them to eat at closer intervals. Relax and feed on demand. Demand feeding is feeding a child when they show hunger cues. Feedings can be hours apart or sometimes your baby will want to eat again fairly quickly. This is normal and teaches your child to self-pace and have a healthy relationship with food. As long as your baby seems happy, healthy, has good muscle tone, and periods of alertness. You should not worry about varied feeding patterns during the day. Feeding on demand also naturally increases your milk supply as your baby grows. Women who feed on demand, usually breast feed for much longer than women who pump from the beginning because they get more sleep, have fewer problems with supply issues and enjoy the breastfeeding relationship with their child more. So save the pump for something else and start enjoying your baby. more. So save the pump and grueling schedules for when you return to work. The early days, weeks and months after your baby is born should be for the two of you to bond and get to know each other.