How to Decide If a Breast-Feeding Schedule Is Right for You

Medically reviewed by Karen Richardson Gill, MD on February 16, 2016Written by April Newton on February 16, 2016
breastfeeding schedule

For many new parents, meeting their new baby is the first time they have ever been in the company of a newborn.

It can be nerve-wracking learning all the needs of a new baby, let alone trying to meet those needs. For some new parents, following careful schedules is a good way to get a handle on this whole newborn care thing, and that can include a schedule for breast-feeding.

It’s important to know that many doctors, nurses, and lactation specialists recommend against a set breast-feeding schedule. They suggest that mothers feed new babies whenever it’s clear the baby is hungry, usually about every 90 minutes to two hours.

Still, a schedule may make you feel like you have a little more control at a time when your body, your hormones, and your life are changing rapidly. A breast-feeding schedule can also help you over some humps in the breast-feeding process. As you weigh the benefits of feeding on a schedule or on demand, here are a few things to consider.

Maximize Your Time

If you are more comfortable doing feedings on a schedule than on demand, make sure your window between feedings is relatively small.

Some baby care books and websites will counsel that babies should nurse every four hours, but many doctors say that’s outdated advice. Brand new babies will likely want to eat every 90 minutes to two hours, as mentioned above, since breast milk is easily and efficiently digested.

Information from the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages breast-feeding on demand and provides some helpful advice for making it work for the whole family. The site also reminds mothers that the highest demands of a newborn’s feeding schedule only last a few weeks, so it won’t be long before the day gets into a more regular routine.

Minimize Baby’s Fuss

Lactation specialists recommend you don’t wait until a new baby is fussy and crying to feed it, even when you are on a schedule. Stick to small windows of time between feedings so that your baby doesn’t have time to get upset, which can make latching on and sucking well a stressful experience for both of you. A schedule might help remind your tired, overtaxed brain that it’s time to eat and keep both of you from getting upset unnecessarily. If you are feeding on a schedule and your baby is often very fussy or hungry at feeding time, you probably need to shorten your time between feedings.

Doctors say new babies will eat eight to 12 times in every 24-hour period on their own, so take care that your schedule doesn’t interrupt the baby’s natural progression through the day.

Some lactation consultants even fear that a rigid feeding schedule can interrupt sleep patterns or inhibit a good feeding because a baby doesn’t properly drain Mom’s breast. If you follow a schedule, don’t limit or shorten how long your baby eats, if you can avoid it.

Monitor Intake

If you are concerned about whether your baby is getting enough food, feeding on a schedule can help you track it. Keeping track of the overall number of feedings per 24 hours usually works better than trying to feed exactly on a timed schedule.

Using a diaper chart, you can monitor what sorts of output your baby produces and compare. A baby, eating well, will produce a number of wet diapers and have a couple of bowel movements a day. You’ll find some helpful recommendations for output to compare to input here.

Move Past Difficulties

A breast-feeding schedule can help when you are working through difficulties in the breast-feeding process.

As one blogger points out, breast-feeding isn’t all soft and snuggly. Sometimes it can be very difficult, for a variety of reasons, and a schedule may be the key to getting through infections, bad latching, or low milk production. It can also be helpful if your child has special needs or health concerns that make breast-feeding particularly challenging.

Some mothers find they must express breast milk, rather than putting their baby to the breast, and a schedule can help keep milk production on target.

Make Routines

Each new family gets into their own rhythm, on their own time.

For some families, especially those with older children or those with demanding work, that rhythm has to come quickly. A breast-feeding schedule can help work a new baby into the cycle of your family more quickly. It’s a (somewhat) predictable and (somewhat) reliable way to manage the chaos.

The Takeaway

Growing babies have needs that change quickly and sometimes unexpectedly. A growth spurt, illness, and just plain whimsy, can significantly change how much food your baby wants to eat in a session or how often your baby wants to eat.

Some babies will cluster feed, eating for a long session and then sleeping for a long session. That means that if you choose to follow a breast-feeding schedule, or go with the flow, make sure you are adaptable to change.

Even the best laid out plans can be no match for a newborn!

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