Does My Baby Need to Be on a Schedule?
Before your baby was born it was easy to predict how your day would proceed. Now that a new, unique person has entered your life, everything has changed, including the course of a day. It is possible your baby's rhythms are much different from what you expected before your baby arrived. You may not have realized that due to individual differences, healthy full-term breastfed babies breastfeed as often as every hour or as infrequently as every four hours and thrive. Daily breastfeeding patterns will vary from baby to baby and from day to day. Life with a newborn baby can be quite unpredictable.
Having tools to cope with the challenges of raising a newborn can make this time less stressful. Here are some ideas for various situations that may apply to you.
- If you are interested in a schedule because of sleep issues please read our FAQ about sleep and consult our Web resource page on nighttime issues.
- If well-meaning friends or relatives pressure you to "put that baby on a schedule," think about whether the schedule truly meets your baby's needs or if it's meant to please other adults. This article about the biocultural aspects of breastfeeding and mothering is enlightening.
- Besides well-meaning family and friends, some parenting methods suggest a very rigid schedule for babies under a year. As discussed below, restricting the time at the breast as well as extending the time between feedings has inherent dangers for the breastfed baby. Please consult our Web resource page on nighttime issues for the latest information on scheduling infants.
Many mothers are surprised at how quickly and easily human milk is digested (often within 90 minutes of the last feeding). Rather than watching the clock, it is recommended that a mother watch for signs that her newborn is hungry, such as the rooting reflex, chewing/sucking on hands or fingers, or crying. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, crying is a very late cue that your baby is hungry.
Healthy, full-term infants need to nurse every two to three hours during a 24-hour period. This equates to eight to twelve feedings per 24 hours. Your newborn should not go longer than three hours between feedings for two significant reasons:
1) Your newborn needs frequent feedings for adequate nourishment and hydration.
2) Frequent feedings ensure that your breasts are stimulated enough to establish a full milk supply.
In the first few weeks, your baby actually needs to breastfeed ten to twelve times per day. Your baby's feedings will gradually space out as he grows older and his stomach grows larger. Any schedule that prevents babies under six weeks of age from breastfeeding at least every two to three hours (or less during growth spurts!) could potentially cause poor weight gain. See the FAQ on growth spurts for more information about the increase in breastfeeding during this time. Research now shows that restricting the amount of time at the breast and extending the time between feedings can reduce not only your milk supply, but also the fat content of your milk. So, for a healthy, thriving baby breastfeed according to your baby's schedule.
If you are concerned with how often your baby breastfeeds or that your baby doesn't seem to have any kind of schedule contact a La Leche League Leader for assistance.
Resources for Additional Information
These items may be available from the LLLI Online Store or from your local Leader:
Common Breastfeeding Myths. Pamphlet offers medical references for 24 breastfeeding myths such as how often a mother needs to nurse, waking a sleeping baby, and nipple confusion.
THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. Now in its seventh revised edition, this La Leche League International classic title is expanded to include important references and additional resources for the breastfeeding mother. Its vast depth of factual information makes this book a necessary source for breastfeeding mothers, and its warm, friendly tone makes it a classic worth reading again. As the definitive guide for close to 50 years, this edition of THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING brings the importance of parenting through breastfeeding into the current century.