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Scheduled Breastfeeding: A Complete Guide

Breastfeeding is a healthy practice that is recommended by doctors worldwide for its numerous benefits to children. These include the complete and unparalleled nutrition of breast milk, its ability to support a child’s developing immune system, and lactation's valuable opportunity for mother-child bonding time.

However, babies don’t come with an instruction guide. It can be challenging to know how to begin nursing your newborn baby during the first few weeks postpartum!

Many mothers worry about the frequency and duration of nursing. How will you know when your baby needs to eat? And will a breastfed baby get enough food with each feeding?

When it comes to deciding how often to feed your little one, there are two generally recognized feeding patterns: scheduled (clock-led) feeding and on-demand (baby-led) feeding.

Scheduled Feeding vs. On-Demand Feeding

In scheduled feeding, you and the clock determine when your baby eats. A mother following a breastfeeding schedule technique will space her feedings out at consistent intervals throughout a 24-hour-period.

These intervals will vary in length as her baby grows. Newborn babies have tiny bellies and need to be fed more frequently than older children. The clock is the primary regulator of a child’s mealtimes in scheduled feeding.

Conversely, on-demand feeding relies on your infant’s hunger cues to determine when feeding will occur. A mother following the on-demand feeding technique must pay attention to her newborn to be aware of their behavior changes and know when it’s time to feed.

Luckily, this step is usually easy as moms quickly learn to identify their baby’s hungry cry and other signs of hunger. You might use the clock as a loose guideline about when to expect another feeding during on-demand feeding.

However, your little one has the final say: it's mealtime when your baby wants to eat!

What Are the Benefits of On-Demand Feeding?

Support Brain Development

Numerous studies have shown that breastfed infants have improved cognitive development. As opposed to scheduled feedings, on-demand breastfeeding takes those benefits even further.

Babies fed on-demand are shown to perform better on standardized tests and even have higher IQs than their schedule-fed peers later in life.

Why might this be? Breast milk supports cognitive development because it offers complete, custom nutrition for infants.

This includes molecules called long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are plentiful in breast milk and are essential for your baby’s growth and cognitive development.

As opposed to scheduled breastfeeding, the additional benefit of on-demand breastfeeding might be connected to the increased milk intake and mother-child contact associated with baby-led feeding.

Children who are allowed to eat when they are hungry have more positive interactions with their mother through the pair’s breastfeeding relationship. Skin-to-skin contact between mother and child is another factor that can improve a child’s cognitive development.

This makes on-demand feeding a powerful tool to help you support your little one’s growing brain.

Support Breast Milk Production

Breast milk production occurs on a supply-and-demand feedback loop. Your body does not operate by the clock. Therefore, feeding your baby on a strict schedule can interrupt your natural milk-production cycle.

Feeding your baby when they are hungry makes it more likely that you will be able to fully empty your breasts with each feeding, leading to increased milk supply for your next feeding. On-demand feeding can also help your body and your infant’s hunger cycles sync up.

Nutrition Tailored To Your Infant

Most babies will eat exactly how much they need to feel satisfied. This means that relying on your infant’s feeding cues to determine a feeding schedule can be a reliable way to get your little one the nutrition they need.

This allows your milk supply to accommodate your little one’s growth spurts and ensure that they get enough milk, even as their needs change over time.

Increased Bonding Time Between Mom and Baby

You don’t have to worry about adhering to a feeding schedule while your little one is nursing in on-demand feeding. Instead, you can enjoy your peaceful time together. The mother-child quality time during nursing is incredibly meaningful for your little one’s development and attachment style.

Some schedule feeding approaches involve limiting the time you and your little one spend nursing at each feeding. This can disrupt the vital bonding experience of nursing.

Support Healthy Growth

Babies who are fed on-demand show more consistent and substantial weight gain than their schedule-fed counterparts. This likely relates to the positive feedback relationship between on-demand feedings and breastmilk production and the freedom to allow a baby to eat until satiated during on-demand feedings.

What Are the Benefits of Scheduled Feedings

Though these benefits of on-demand feeding can’t be ignored, a baby-led schedule isn’t realistic for every family. There are some instances in which scheduled feeding can be beneficial.

Nourish Babies With Low Interest in Food

Some children, such as those born prematurely or with low birth weights, are exceptionally sleepy and may prefer sleeping to eating. In these cases, following a feeding schedule can certainly be beneficial and ensure that your little one gets the nutrients they need.

For babies who are behind on growth, a more-frequent feeding schedule may be the support they need to catch up and thrive. In addition, waking them up allows you to spend more critical bonding time together while your baby feeds.

Schedule Feeding Is Associated With Maternal Wellbeing

In some studies, breastfeeding mothers who adhered to a strict infant-feeding schedule scored higher on certain maternal well-being elements. They were able to get more sleep than on-demand mothers and ranked their confidence as a parent higher than their peers.

Finding The Middle Ground

Although many parenting books and websites seem to draw a sharp distinction between scheduled and on-demand feeding techniques, these two options represent different ends of a spectrum of approaches to feeding.

You may combine an in-tune awareness of your infant’s hunger cues with a loose, time-guided schedule to make feedings more predictable. You may choose to adhere to a schedule but feed your baby in-between if they express hunger.

Schedule feeding that doesn’t limit your baby’s time spent feeding is another possibility.

All in all, remember that how you feed your baby is up to you. With the right balance of techniques, you and your little one can maximize your wellness and time together.

Which Is Better: Schedule or On-Demand Feeding?

Ultimately, every family is different. While you decide on whether to pursue a feeding schedule, on-demand feeding, or a combination of approaches, consider the benefits and drawbacks of each approach.

On-demand feeding has demonstrated positive benefits for your infant and can help them grow, learn, and develop to reach their potential. Scheduled feeding, meanwhile, can provide much-needed nutrients to children in need while allowing you to have a more predictable routine.

What The Experts Say

Doctors recommend that on-demand feeding be prioritized and scheduled feeding discouraged, at least for the first six months of your baby’s life or until solids are introduced to their diet.

Unless you and your little one face unusual circumstances, it’s a great idea to try out on-demand feeding if you can. However, many factors could make scheduled feeding worth a shot, too. Try different approaches and talk to your pediatrician or a lactation consultant to determine what works best for you and your little one.

Make Greater Than A Part of Your Journey

At Greater Than, our Trial 6-Flavor Variety Pack contains endless benefits for mothers and the entire family!

Whether you are feeding on-demand or on a schedule, there are many steps that you can take as a nursing mama to protect your wellbeing.

Staying hydrated and eating well are some of the most fundamental steps to help you nurse successfully and feel your best. Consider a natural energy and electrolyte drink designed for nursing mamas to keep your spirits and hydration levels up during this busy and memorable time!

Sources:

Effect of Breastfeeding Duration on Cognitive Development in Infants: 3-Year Follow-up Study | PMC

Infant feeding: the effects of scheduled vs. on-demand feeding on mothers' wellbeing and children's cognitive development | European Journal of Public Health

Effects of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on neurodevelopment in childhood: a review of human studies | Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids

How Much and How Often to Breastfeed | Nutrition | CDC

Guidelines for Breastfeeding Initiation and Support | Massachusetts.gov

Maternal Diet | Breastfeeding | CDC

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