Feeding On Demand: Frequent Feedings and Nursing Your Newborn on Cue

Have you every been told you’re spoiling your baby by nursing too often? Mothers are sometimes encouraged to put their infants on a feeding schedule because old wives’ tales encourage the belief that letting babies nurse whenever they’d like creates a spoiled baby. This belief is especially popular in Western cultures but has lost a lot of traction in recent years in favor of “nursing on demand.”

Most midwives and OBGYNs understand the significance of placing an infant on their mother’s chest after birth. This practice, known as “skin to skin” helps keep the baby regulate a its body temperature and blood sugar all while decreasing stress. While practicing skin to skin, many babies practice rooting and may even attempt to inch themselves towards their mothers’ breasts. Immediately after birth, most babies are ready to nurse and, over the next few days, they’ll be nursing in a style all their own. Some newborns will nurse eight times a day, some will seem to stay latched on for ages and others may nurse more frequently with quick burst-like nursing sessions.

The mother who nurses her baby on demand may experience all three of these phases in their baby’s breastfeeding life-some may witness all the behaviors in just a week’s time! If you practice or are thinking of trying out nursing on cue, there’ll be times when feeding your baby feels draining but even so, we think that there’s plenty of reasons to trust your infant.

What is Feeding on Demand?

Breastfeeding on demand or nursing on cue is simple and intuitive. All that mothers must do when practicing feeding on demand is pay attention to their baby’s hunger cues and nurse whenever these signals are present. This practice assures that baby is getting exactly what they need in terms of comfort and nourishment.

In order to nurse on demand, parents should learn the signals which indicate that their baby is hungry before their baby begins crying. Some of these cues include:

  • Rooting
  • Smacking their lips
  • Sticking out their tongue
  • Fidgeting
  • Putting their hands to their mouth
  • Sucking on nearby items like toys, clothing, or blankets

Feeding your baby when they’re showing signs of hunger but not yet crying and agitated is the best way to adhere to a feeding on demand approach. A fussy, angry baby can be tough to nurse, especially in the first few weeks of nursing!

What Does Science Say About Nursing on Cue?

Early and frequent breastfeeding strategies help establish a resilient milk supply. Since healthy babies tend to nurse very frequently in the first few days of life, nursing your baby on cue ensures that your milk supply is robust and resilient to change.

The make up of human breast milk also says a lot about how we should nurse our babies. Some mammals are known as “spaced feeders,” like rabbits for example who leave their babies in nests for extended periods at a time. The milk of spaced feeders is high in protein and fat, making their offspring full for longer periods of time. Other mammals, like chimpanzees, are known as “continuous feeders” and carry their babies with them, nursing frequently throughout the day. The milk of continuous feeders is comparatively low in fat and protein but high in carbohydrates. While spaced feeders can leave their infants for several hours at a time because their milk is high in elements that take time to digest, continuous feeders need to nurse more often because their carbohydrate-rich milk is processed quickly. Human milk falls in line with the milk of continuous feeders: high in carbs but low in fat and protein. This likely indicates that human babies need to nurse frequently just like our evolutionary relatives, chimpanzees.

It’s important to note that breastfeeding provides our babies with much more than food. While breast milk certainly offers all that our infants need nutritionally, babies also use breastfeeding to receive comfort when they feel unwell, warm themselves, soothe teething pain, and meet emotional needs. Babies who are nursed frequently and carried close to their parents cry less overall.

Coping with Frequent Feedings

There are times when the practice of feeding on demand is tiring. During teething and growth spurts, human babies nurse much more frequently. To get through those days or weeks when your baby seems to nurse constantly, you’ll need some tricks and tools. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Stay hydrated and well fed. Keep a water bottle near your favorite nursing spots and a few snacks too because you can’t feed a baby if you’re undernourished. Make your snacks between meals fun and healthy. Try trail mix with bits of chocolate and walnuts or strips dried fruit and cheese slices.
  • Sleep when baby sleeps. Yes, you’ve probably heard this one before, but it bears repeating because it’s such good advice! Rest is important as a new mother and so we strongly suggest that you maximize your sleep by relaxing when your little one falls asleep. If napping is tough for you, try getting comfy and reading a book or watching something calming on television. If you can’t fall asleep, at least you’ll get a little physical reprieve.
  • Use a baby carrier. Many baby slings and carriers allow you to breastfeed while baby is riding against your chest. This makes it easy to run errands, do the dishes, or work on your computer while your baby has yet another marathon nursing session.
  • Catch up on phone calls. If being at home with your frequently nursing newborn has got you feeling isolated, use these nursing sessions as opportunities to catch up with friends and family.
  • Practice your nursing technique. Use frequent nursing episodes to perfect your breastfeeding technique. These times are great for practicing nursing positions, latch, and style.
  • Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner, friends, and family for a little help during times of frequent feedings. Children aren’t meant to be raised alone, asking for help shows that you’re a smart parent who understands their limits!

Breastfeeding on demand makes for happy babies because it’s nursing the way nature intended. Get help from friends and family and ask for aid in working around the house or cooking during the first few weeks after your baby is born or when your baby is going through a growth spurt and nursing more frequently. Our modern lifestyle sometimes makes feeding on cue difficult, but we think you’ll find that with a little help and a lot of patience, it’s a practical and loving way to nature your baby.

One comment

  • How do you transition from nursing on demand/cue to a scheduled approach? I will be returning to work which will require a scheduled pumping and feeding time. Thank you!

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