Does my baby need a routine? 4 ways to measure their hunger without the stress of a routine.

baby clockDoes my baby need a routine? How to I get him into one? I heard baby should feed every 4 hours?

So what is a routine?

For some mothers a ‘routine’ is a strict set of rules regarding when their baby should be fed and for how long, when and for how long their baby should be awake and ‘playing’ and when the baby should be asleep.

For other mothers a routine is a more general concept – feed every few hours, bath in the morning, walk in the early afternoon with sleep in between.

Or a routine may be a combination of these two ideas. A mother’s idea about her baby’s routine can come from her own experience and expectations, or those of people around her – her partner, their families, friends, health professionals, books, websites or strangers in the street!

Mums often call the Breastfeeding Helpline when they are worried that their baby doesn’t fit the routine, thinking that they must be doing something wrong. After speaking with a counsellor about what is actually going on, the mums often discover that it’s the routine that is wrong for the baby.

Mums often call the Breastfeeding Helpline when they are worried that their baby doesn’t fit the routine, thinking that they must be doing something wrong. After speaking with a counsellor about what is actually going on, the mums often discover that it’s the routine that is wrong for the baby.

How many breastfeeds?

Here are 4 indicators you can look at to help you determine your baby’s needs, without having to resort to a rigid routine.

1. The age of the baby. Younger babies tend to feed more frequently than older babies.

2. A mother’s breast storage volume. This is the volume of milk a mother’s breasts can hold in between feeds. A mother may have a small storage volume, which means that her baby feeds more frequently than a baby whose mother has a large storage volume. However, some babies of mothers with large storage volumes still need to feed frequently, so this is only one factor.

3. The weather. In hot weather a thirsty baby may want to breastfeed more frequently but for shorter periods. In this way he is getting more fluid.

4. Baby’s needs other than hunger, such as comfort, reassurance and ‘connection’ with mother. Breastfeeding is more than just transfer of food.

The misguided advice to breastfeed a baby every 4 hours is old and outdated, but it still gets trotted out. And it isn’t based on science. Newborn babies need 8-12 breastfeeds every 24 hours. Simple maths will tell you that this biological fact will make it impossible to expect a 4-hourly feeding routine to work for a newborn baby, and it can often lead to either poor milk supply (your body thinks your baby isn’t that hungry, so stops making so much milk), or engorgement (your hormones are doing their own thing and making milk anyway, but it isn’t being released). This can then cascade into ongoing problems with supply, mastitis and baby weight gain issues.

Allowing your baby to set the pace by feeding her according to her needs and recognising tired signs may seem harder than watching the clock initially, but once you learn to ‘read’ your baby life is much less stressful. Your baby will get into a routine eventually (and the number of breastfeeds per day does reduce!) but it will probably the THEIR routine – not one decided by mum, dad, a book or website.

 

Happy Mothering!

Further information:

  • Contact the Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268

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Janet Murphy

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