Infant Feeding: Follow Their Lead and Find Their Schedule
December 7, 2010 · Posted in Feeding, Infant Development · Permalink

Here is an excerpt about feeding your baby in the first three months from our book A Mother’s Circle. Enjoy!

“My mother says ‘Put her on a schedule!’ my lactation consultant says it’s critical that I feed her on demand, I am totally confused and it’s making me crazy.”

A new mom is not supposed to know exactly when and how to feed her baby. She and her baby are going to learn this together and  their rhythm, pattern and schedule will evolve over time.

The following three examples  illustrate how different babies can be in their daily rhythms. We encourage mothers to adopt a flexible approach to feeding during the first three months and to freely respond to their babies’ cries of hunger. Most babies can tolerate hunger only in small doses before they cry out. To make an infant wait until the clock says it’s time to eat can be overwhelming and disorganizing for her. Gradually your baby will eat larger amounts less frequently. A baby’s early random schedule will naturally develop into a more predictable pattern.

Babies vary in their feeding schedules. To underscore this point, the following are feeding schedules for two different babies–both born at full term, are breastfeeding, weigh within a few ounces of each other, and are less than two weeks apart in age. Their feeding schedules, however, are very different.

Eliza is eight-and–a-half-weeks-old. She wakes for her first nursing sometime around 6:00 A.M. Generally she nurses again at 8:00 A.M. before napping in the morning, after her nap at 10:00 A.M., and then again at 11:30 A.M. Most days she will nurse every two hours until bedtime at 10:30 P.M. She usually wakes sometime between 2:00 and 3:00 A.M. for her middle-of-the-night feeding.

Georgia is ten-and-half-weeks-old. For over a month now, she has been waking up in the morning around 7:00 A.M., nursing, playing  and then taking her morning nap. Usually she wakes to feed again at around 11:00A.M. Then she doesn’t need to eat again until the afternoon, approximately 3:00 P.M. She nurses again at 7:00 P.M. and twice during the night, at  11:00 P.M., and 3 A.M.

Some babies are much less regulated, and more difficult to predict and  soothe. Another baby, 7 week old Taylor, for example, has a different pattern every day.  Here’s one day last week. Taylor wakes at 6:00 A.M. and nurses for thirty minutes. She is then alert and responsive for fifteen minutes before she begins to seem uncomfortable, even though she is full and has been burped. She dozes on and off until 7:30 A.M. when she cries again and is not soothed by the pacifier or being held and rocked. Her mother feeds her again. This cycle continues throughout the day, feeding about every one and a half hours, with one two-hour nap while being strolled. Every time the stroller stops Taylor starts. While she will go down to sleep at 8:15 P.M. and have her longest stretch until 11:30 P.M., the rest of the night is marked by frequent wakings, feedings, and fussiness. It is no wonder her parents feel overwhelmed.

Here are some suggestions if your baby sounds like Taylor. One is more time on the belly. Pressure on the belly from a mattress or a pad on the floor can help to stabilize a tender or raw gastrointestinal system. Because babies spend much more time on their backs since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended back sleeping, babies have been getting much less time on their tummies. Even if your baby is not overly fussy, it is important to remember to put your baby on her stomach for short supervised periods throughout the day.

Another suggestion is to offer water in a bottle in between feedings to give more time for the baby to fully digest between feedings. It is common with a chronically uncomfortable baby to get into the habit of very frequent feedings. In this vicious cycle the baby’s body doesn’t get enough time to process each feeding before gearing up to digest the next.

A third recommendation is to use the pacifier, the sling, the stroller, the swing, drives in the car, or whatever seems to prolong periods of sleep or calm. As your baby moves into the third and fourth month, the need for all this intervention will wane. Try not to worry that you are setting up bad habits.

As you can see from these examples there is no “textbook” baby. Anytime you hear people give a recipe for feeding that applies to all babies, take it with a grain of salt. Get to know your own baby, follow their sometimes unpredictable lead,  and  trust that in a few short months an organic pattern will emerge that you can then use to set a schedule that is right for your baby.

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