Mom kissing her baby on the forehead.

Doctor-Approved Advice for Breastfeeding on Demand

Mothers have been breastfeeding their babies since the dawn of time, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. There are millions of women around the world who struggle with breastfeeding. Whether it’s because of latching issues, milk supply frustrations, or the hormonal imbalance that often follows pregnancy, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. Unfortunately, with so many different recommendations for when to breastfeed, how often to nurse, and how the entire process should go, it can be confusing—and sometimes downright discouraging—for new moms to begin this journey. Should you stick to a schedule, breastfeed on demand, or utilize a mixture of both? For more information, we’ll discuss some advice from the professionals for breastfeeding on demand.


Benefits of Breastfeeding

The benefits of breastfeeding are unsurpassable for both mom and baby. The more research that’s performed, the more the scientific evidence surrounding the health effects of breastfeeding has unearthed. Breastfeeding results in optimal health outcomes in newborns and developing babies. It reduces the risk of common conditions otherwise experienced by newborns, which notably includes lower respiratory infections, general infections, asthma, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to provide your newborn with the essential vitamins and nutrients they need to develop mentally, emotionally, cognitively, and physically.

Breast milk also plays an important role in strengthening your baby’s immune system, as you pass antibodies and other germ-fighting properties to them during nursing. This is jumpstarted in the first few days of breastfeeding, when your body is releasing colostrum—a nutrient dense part of breast milk, often referred to as liquid gold. Colostrum is a great way for your baby to begin their development, as it acts almost as a natural “vaccine” against infection. It’s packed with fat-soluble vitamins, immunoglobulins, protein, and can further assist in digestion and nutrient absorption.

In order to supply your baby with all of the breast milk they need to kickstart development, breastfeeding on demand is recommended during the first few weeks of life.

What is Breastfeeding on Demand?

Breastfeeding on demand, also known as responsive feeding, is a term that’s used to describe nursing your baby whenever they show hunger cues rather than sticking to a pre-determined schedule. This is most important during the first few weeks of life, when growth and development is occurring at a rapid rate. At this time, your baby will likely be hungry about every one to three hours, but this isn’t always consistent. If you have a particularly sleepy baby, you may need to wake them for feedings to ensure adequate weight gain and development. Your newborn shouldn’t go more than four hours without feeding, even throughout the night.

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The best way to ensure you’re giving your newborn what they need is to learn to recognize their hunger cues and nurse them as needed. Avoid trying to make a schedule until they’re a little more developed, as doing so will only lead to disappointment and can result in a very colic newborn. You should expect to breastfeed your baby about eight to 12 times per day in the first month. Afterwards, many babies decrease their feeding frequency to about seven to nine times per day, less as they continue to age. The older your newborn gets, the more predictable their schedule will become. So, when breastfeeding on demand, just try to be patient. Eventually you’ll fall into a rhythm and be able to create a schedule that adapts to your lifestyle.


Benefits of Breastfeeding on Demand

The first year of your baby’s life is one of the most important times for nutrition. This period of rapid growth requires a lot of vitamins and minerals, and the best option for this is through breastfeeding. Many doctors and researchers recommend that babies be fed by demand, as there are several benefits that follow. Some of the most notable benefits include:

Optimal Nutrition

Breastfeeding on demand will help you ensure that your baby is receiving an adequate amount of breast milk during their initial weeks of life. In fact, even the World Health Organization talks about the importance of breastfeeding newborns on demand, at least during the first few weeks after birth. They also recommend avoiding the use of bottles, teats, or pacifiers during the first few months of life to avoid any nipple confusion or difficulties with breastfeeding establishment.

Skin-to-Skin Bonding

Nursing and breastfeeding on demand will also help you increase the amount of skin-to-skin contact during your newborn’s first few weeks of life. This has been proven to have several benefits for both baby and mom. Newborns who experience a substantial amount of skin contact with their caregivers have shown to have more control over body temperature regulation, more stable blood glucose levels, and a higher ability to cope with any pain or discomfort. It can also reduce stress levels for both newborn and mom while strengthening your bond. Finally, oxytocin is released during feeding, which can strengthen emotional connection and produce a calming effect.

Improved Cognitive Development

Another benefit of breastfeeding on demand is the enhancement of cognitive development in newborns and infants. There is scientific evidence indicating that children who are breastfed on demand develop higher IQs later in their life when compared to babies who were breastfed on a schedule. Responsive feeding is a great way to ensure that your child has a good future and is supported as they grow. This enhancement of cognitive development is in conjunction with the physical and emotional resilience that is often associated with breastfeeding.

Stronger Milk Supply

Breastfeeding on demand is also a great way to support a strong milk supply. Since your milk ducts tend to work on a supply/demand basis, the breastfeeding demands of your baby during responsive feeding will help you create a stronger supply over time.

Although recommended, every mother has a right to choose how to feed their newborn. If you’re having difficulty breastfeeding, consider working with a lactation consultant prior to switching to formula. These professionals are equipped with resources, education, and plenty of great tips on how to make the process easier. However, if you’d prefer to use formula, that’s okay too. Talk to your pediatrician for recommendations on formula brands and nutrition for more personalized options for your newborn.


How Often Should Newborns Eat?

As mentioned, most newborns will need to eat every one to three hours. They should never go more than four hours between feedings. As they get older, these timelines will continue to spread out, allowing you to go longer between feedings. By the time your baby is six months old, about the age a baby starts teething, you can start introducing solids as a supplement to breastfeeding. This may elongate the time between nursing sessions, but it shouldn’t replace them altogether until your baby is at least one year old. At this age, babies will likely breastfeed about three to five times per day or more, depending on their development.

By utilizing hunger cues from breastfeeding on demand, you’ll gain a better understanding of when and how much your baby needs to nurse. If you’re worried about your baby’s feeding schedule, talk to your pediatrician. Every baby is different, but as long as they’re healthy, that’s all that matters.


Tips for Effective Breastfeeding on Demand

Since breastfeeding on demand relies solely on your child’s hunger cues, some mothers think it may be too stressful to incorporate into their schedules. While it can be more time-consuming during initial months when newborns tend to cluster feed, you’ll eventually fall into a natural routine. Once breastfeeding is established and your child gets a little older, it becomes easier. You can also supplement nursing with breast pumping if your schedule makes it difficult to utilize responsive feeding on your own.

At the end of the day, what you do is your decision. There are so many different ways you can nourish your baby and they’re your child, so don’t feel pressured into doing something you’re not comfortable with. If you’re struggling with the breastfeeding process altogether, consider working with a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant will be able to help you address everything from a weak latch and inconsistent feedings to sore nipples or feelings of breastfeeding aversion. Ask your doctor for a recommendation or find a specialist in your network online. Regardless of how you choose to nourish your baby, Byram Healthcare can help. We offer a wide selection of free breast pumps through insurance to new and expecting moms to help you give your baby the nutrients they need for a healthy development. Browse our comparison chart and get started with our easy, three-step ordering process today.