How to Establish a Breastfeeding Schedule

Babies are born with the amazing ability to eat.  Just like their lungs are ready to breath and the heart can beat on its own, babies instinctually know how to breastfeed.  It’s an inherent reflex and a very important one indeed.  With that vital skill in place, mothers are often left wondering, how often to feed their babies and how to establish a breastfeeding schedule.

While babies know how to breastfeed immediately, schedules are an entirely different story.  Most breastfed newborns will feed between eight and twelve times daily or every 1½ to 3 hours.  This is more than formula fed babies because breast milk is easier to digest and therefore runs through a baby’s body faster.  Most pediatricians and lactation consultants recommend breastfeeding on demand for the first three to eight weeks of a baby’s life.  This will ensure milk production is stimulated often and exactly when the baby needs it.  It will also help mothers learn cues from their babies and assist in the mother-child bonding process.

How to Establish a Breastfeeding ScheduleUnderstanding hunger cues from your baby is the first step to establish a breastfeeding schedule.  Many parents listen for cries to tell them when babies need to be fed but research indicates that crying is a late sign of hunger.  Feeding your baby before crying begins will keep her satisfied and calm.  Newborn hunger cues include opening the mouth or turning the head and open mouth toward an object or person, tongue and lip smacking and biting clenched fists.  Look for these signs to determine if your baby is ready to feed.

Never allow your newborn to go more than four hours without breastfeeding, even if it means waking him at night.  Babies may deem sleep more vital than food, but that’s not always the case, especially if your baby is underweight or not gaining weight steadily after the first two weeks.  During the first week or two, it is common for breastfed newborns to lose up to 10% of their birth weight.  But don’t worry; they will gain it back soon as long as breastfeeding continues.  Most lactation consultants recommend nearly draining one breast at a time to make sure your baby gets the sugary, protein-filled fore milk followed by the high-fat, satiating hind milk that comes later in a feed.

Many parents worry that their babies are not getting enough breast milk as it is very hard to tell how much a baby is getting.  If babies are fed on demand most new moms will produce enough milk to satiate their babies.  Milk usually arrives within three days after childbirth and constant stimulation from there will ensure babies get plenty of that amazingly nutritious breast milk.  In addition to weight gain, look for wet diapers after every feeding and stools after most feedings.  This means your baby is digesting food properly.

While some new mothers choose to continue an on demand style of feeding, many moms need to find a routine for their own sanity.  If that’s you, follow your baby’s cues.  To establish a breastfeeding schedule, keep track of feeding times and lengths as well as wet and dirty diapers.  After a month or two, a pattern will emerge.  That will help you set schedule that will ensure your baby is nourished and happy and you have a little more control over your time.  But don’t be so rigid that you can’t deviate from the schedule when necessary.  When babies go through a growth spurt or are sick, they may need extra breast milk.  Be aware of these special circumstances and adjust accordingly.

Learning how to establish a breastfeeding schedule takes research, patience, motherly instinct and a lot of love.  Follow your baby’s cues and the schedule will emerge before you know it.