If you are a soon to be mom planning to breastfeed, you may be wondering if you should also breastfeed on a schedule.
Before I answer that question, I want to talk about the basics of breastfeeding.
We live in a time where everything is on a schedule. Our lives are run by the clock. Always in a rush to get to the places we are going.
The goal of the day is to see how much you can get done. Clean the floors, get the groceries, pick up the kids, then start making dinner. Lather rinse repeat.
I get how life can be so hectic and busy that it only makes sense to breastfeed on a schedule as well. But is that really best for you and your baby?
What you will find in this article:
- Breastfeeding Fundamentals
- CDC Breastfeeding Report Card: Breastfeeding Statistics
- Tips for Increasing Breast Milk Supply
- Should You Breastfeed on a Schedule?
Should you breastfeed on a schedule?
One of the most important things to understand about breastfeeding is that it is solely a supply and demand mechanism. It is very simple at the root of it. The greater your baby’s demands are, the greater your supply will be.
That is why the first few months of your breastfeeding journey are the most crucial.
During this time you are establishing your breast milk supply and setting the tone for the rest of your breastfeeding journey. The first few months are also the most challenging to get through.
Some key points of this report are:
- In 2015, 4 out of 5 mothers began breastfeeding when their baby was born (83.2%)
- The percentage of infants exclusively breastfed until 6 months was 24.9%
That is a decline of about 58% in the first 6 months!
What makes for that large of a decline?
One of the most common is the lack of time to commit to the high demands of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a natural process and so some may be surprised at how much work actually goes into it.
Other factors include:
- lack of resources and support
- mothers returning to work and lack of supportive work environment
- issues with lactation and latching
- unsupportive hospital practices
- cultural norms
More key points of the CDC Breastfeeding Report
- Approximately 1 in 6 (17.2%) newborn infants received formula supplementation within the first two days of life
- 46.9% of mothers exclusively breastfed through 3 months
*statistical information sourced directly from CDC.gov
Need for Support
It’s obvious that there is a huge discrepancy in the number of women who want to breastfeed and the number of women who actually breastfeed. You can see that in the high number of women who start off breastfeeding when their babies are born.
There is such a need for support of the breastfeeding mother.
Mothers should be given the opportunity to breastfeed their infants and they should be given the necessary resources to do so. This includes extended maternity leave.
In the United States, maternity leave is only 12 weeks.
12 weeks! That small amount of time is almost laughable. I remember going back to work after my maternity leave just thinking how unfair it is to have to leave my baby.
Now, I was fortunate that at that time my husband was able to rotate his work shifts with mine, so we avoided day care. But for many women this is not an option.
This immediate post partum time period is called the fourth trimester for a reason. Our babies are too small to be able to do anything for themselves. They need their caregivers 24-7. It is a time period of huge adjustment for baby, mom and the entire family.
For the breastfeeding mom, the adjustment can be even more difficult.
Your body has not been your body for the last 9 months of your pregnancy. Hormones are off the wall. Fatigue does not even begin to describe what you feel. Your nipples feel like they just might fall off. Life of a new breastfeeding mom is crazy.
It is important to reach out for help when you need it.
Call on your friends and family is you need a break, or to catch up on household chores. Ask your husband to do the next diaper change. Make an appointment with a lactation consultant. Do what you need to do to not feel like you are in this alone. Trust me, that will only make things harder and drive you mad.
Breastfeeding a Newborn
There is no clear-cut one size fits all answer of what it will be like when you begin breastfeeding. Why? Because every mom is different and every baby is even more different. But there are some general things you can expect.
So, now we come to the question of should you breastfeed on a schedule? The short answer is no and you should understand why.
The basics of breastfeeding can be summed up in three words: supply and demand.
The more your baby demands (breastfeeds) the more your body will supply (increase breast milk production). That’s it. Remember that!
If you feel like you aren’t making enough milk, chances are you do make enough milk to feed your baby if you are exclusively breastfeeding, but many of us get nervous that we don’t. And if you feel like you don’t, then offer your breast to your baby even when they aren’t necessarily giving you hunger cues.
The more your baby nurses the more breast milk you will make.
Remember this from earlier?
Get more tips on increasing your breast milk supply:
- 20 Tips to Boost Your Breast Milk Supply Quickly
- How to Maximize Your Breast Milk Output While Pumping
- Save More Breast Milk While Breastfeeding
- How to Build a Massive Breast Milk Freezer Stash
- What to do When Your Breast Milk Output is Unequal
Supplementing with Formula While Breastfeeding
When people supplement breastfeeding with formula, unless they are pumping to make up the difference, your breast milk supply will decrease.
Our bodies are made to meet the needs of our baby’s nutritional demands. When our babies nurse more during growth spurts, our bodies will adjust and make more breast milk. If we start giving formula instead of breastfeeding, then the demand on our body to make more milk decreases.
Less demand from baby = Less breast milk being supplied
Supply and Demand. Do you see that?
One more time
Nursing your baby more, will promote a healthy and strong breast milk supply.
Plain and simple.
So why shouldn’t we breastfeed babies on a schedule?
If we breastfeed on a schedule, then our bodies will not adjust as well when our babies go through a growth spurt. A baby will naturally want to eat more when their body needs more energy to grow. Thus cluster feedings.
Cluster feedings happen most often in the evening time during growth spurts. Your baby will nurse for what seems to be constantly for several hours at a time. Some babies will breastfeed for an hour at a time, and could do this again and again before the day is over.
If you only stick to breastfeeding on a schedule, then you are limiting your baby’s natural process. Letting you baby nurse whenever they want to is the best way to ensure a strong breast milk supply.
Breastfeeding on demand will allow your body to meet your baby’s needs. Nutritionally and developmentally.
If you are breastfeeding your baby on demand, you will worry less about “am I making enough milk”. The more your baby nurses, the more your body will produce. Did I say that enough times yet?
And keep track of your nursing sessions with my free printable.
This gives you an easy way to remember which side you last nursed on to help keep your breast milk supply even between your breasts.
For more tips on what to do if your breast milk output is uneven:
Don’t breastfeed on a schedule and let your baby breastfeed on demand.
Breastfeeding is a natural process. As natural as growing our babies in our wombs. And as natural as delivering them into this world.
It is best to allow nature to do its thing. Let your baby nurse on demand. It will only benefit you both in the long run.
Questions? Let me know in the comments below!