When my first baby was born I knew I needed a good routine. I’m a predictable person, and the fact that I had a tiny human doing all manner of things I wasn’t familiar with, made me realize a need for order. For me to be a calm and settled mother, I decided to breastfeed on a schedule. I’m a big believer in mothering to your strengths. As long as the baby’s needs are being met in a nurturing and loving way, why shouldn’t a mother order her day in a way that benefits everyone?
If you prefer to go with the flow, and you find peace and relaxation that way, go for it. If you want to breastfeed on a schedule, don’t listen to the naysayers and loud angry voices who say it isn’t possible. It’s very possible. It’s doable. Mothers around the world do it every day. Val, Emily, and Lauren to name a few. Not to mention countless of my real life friends, Kelly and Christie included.
I’m going to say this at risk of people throwing cyber tomatoes at me. Even life with a newborn can be calm and predictable when you breastfeed on a schedule. Not because you have a perfect baby or because you’re a perfect mom. But because when you meet a baby’s needs in a regular way, they are generally calm and content (medical issues not withstanding).
Note: I’m not attempting to convince breastfeeder mothers to schedule feed. I’m attempting to answer the breastfeeding mother’s question, “Is it possible to breastfeed on a schedule?”
1. If the baby is hungry, feed it.
Scheduling isn’t about getting your baby to meet some arbitrary time for feeding. It’s about feeding your baby in a way they get the calorie rich hindmilk at each feeding (aka. a full feed) so they naturally go longer between feeds and don’t to snack for 5 minutes every hour. It is one way (not the only way) to give your baby all the nutrients they need as they begin their life in our families. It’s also prevents you from constantly breastfeeding a baby 24/7 who snacks for five minutes then falls asleep for 20.
But I’ll repeat it so no one sends me hate mail: if the baby is hungry, feed it. When you naturally give your baby full feeds they’ll fall into a predictable routine. However, when they are hungry, going through a growth spurt, or just generally needing to feed and they are off schedule… feed them anyway. All 3 of my babies naturally fell into a 2.5 – 3 hour feeding schedule from birth, but on occasions when they needed more milk at various times I just fed them. Period.
Feed the baby when it’s hungry.
2. It’s absolutely possible and lots of people do it.
When I was pregnant with my first I had quite a few friends recommend a book on meeting a baby’s needs. I was newly married and still a bit shocked to be pregnant so it hadn’t occurred to me to wonder what life would be like post-pregnancy. These were calm, capable and confident Christian mothers. Motherhood didn’t seem to have driven them to the brink of insanity and their children were well behaved, so I read the book. I won’t go into all the Babywise* principles since I do that a lot. Also there are lots of other great books that deal with breastfeeding on a schedule too so I won’t beat a dead horse.
But know, if you are from a certain area or country that promotes demand feeding and strongly discourages schedule feeding, do some little research on your own. Often practitioners are concerned you’ll make the clock your master instead of simply using it to facilitate a nice routine. Refer to #1.
It is not child abuse, cruelty or neglect to work towards a schedule and routine, it may be the best thing you can do for everyone.
3. Monitor supply and demand, and adjust accordingly.
With all three children I’ve been able to maintain an adequate milk supply until nearly their first birthday. My two sons stopped breastfeeding just shy of one year because I’d become pregnant again, and the milk had changed. But that’s another post. My firstborn never fed for more than ten minutes at a time (and this is a full feed) and I was still able to maintain supply feeding 2.5-3 hourly and then as she slept through the night at 4 months. This is without any extra pumping, expressing or tricks to keep up my milk supply. It just naturally worked.
Some mothers find their milk supply on the low side and need to breastfeed frequently to keep up supply. This may mean that scheduling is difficult for you unless you pump during the day. You’ll have to determine whether it’s more convenient for you to feed more frequently throughout the day, or if pumping and storing breastmilk will be enough demand to keep up your supply.
When you drop a feed you may need to express or pump for a while to maintain your supply. And, when babies begin sleeping through the night, much the same. Growth spurts will find your baby feeding more frequently, and this is a good thing. It means that your supply will build up to meet their need because, again, you always feed your baby when they’re hungry.
As with demand feeding, monitoring your milk supply may help you stop any issues before they progress.
4. Menstruation may return earlier… which means… more babies!
Okay, I’m probably the only one crazy enough to think that’s a good thing so soon. You know I love talking about the pros and cons of having babies close together. A wise reader of mine pointed out something interesting. The reason I was able to have babies close together while breastfeeding might be due to the fact that I feed a schedule. Meaning, less constant stimulation may produce less milk which can trigger menstruation. Enough milk to feed baby, yes! Enough to stave off menstruation for a whole year? Perhaps not. I can’t find research to support this (I’m a bad Googler), however, I think it makes sense. It might not be true for every mother, and probably not if you have an abundant milk supply, but it is something to consider.
It depends entirely on the woman, but in my experience, menstruation resumed long before I finished breastfeeding.
5. It’s not “selfish” to put the baby on a schedule.
People’s criticism of scheduling often revolve around two areas. One, that you’re a slave to the clock and don’t care if your baby is hungry. Two, that the baby’s needs aren’t being met since you are worried about a routine instead of just meeting needs as they come. We’ve already combatted the first concern since we agree to feed the baby when they’re hungry. Second, I’d like to postulate that many mothers use routine and schedules specifically to meet the baby’s needs. If the routine doesn’t meet their needs, well, the routine gets changed.
If you are a routined person and feel more confident, comfortable and calm in this setting, I recommend working towards a schedule. Ultimately, the mother is in charge of everyone’s well-being and if she is going against her own natural rhythms there will be dissonance. Babies adapt well to the rhythm the mother sets, and as long as the baby is well-fed, well-rested and content, then you are fine.
A mother should feel free parent to her strengths so long as the baby’s needs are met in a nurturing and loving environment.
Benefits of breastfeeding on a schedule
Part of why the adjustment to parenting is so difficult is the complete life change a mother goes through. Wonderful? Of course. Challenging? Yes. With a newborn on a schedule your days are still, for the most part, predictable. You know when you’ll have time to cook dinner, have visitors, or take a nap. Some days have their challenges, but for the most part you can rest easy knowing what the day will hold.
Easier to manage all children’s needs.
Having had no experience in this area, I honestly don’t know how mothers of multiple children who demand feed newborns get through the day. I truly believe they are more patient and self-sacrificing than myself. I would probably have a nervous breakdown on day 8. Anyway, when you have a schedule and routine you’re able to determine how you can meet everyone’s needs in a timely way. The baby can be fed during playtime, naps, or outside time. The family dynamic will certainly change, but having a routine means the baby isn’t the only one whose needs are met while everyone else just waits.
Newborn finds their place within the family instead of the family being completely newborn-centered.
Inevitably life changes when a new baby enters the home. And what a great change it is! A new sibling to cuddle, a new baby to love, and a host of new needs to be met. I believe it’s comforting to everyone when a newborn can come home to an orderly, peaceful, and well-run home. Of course some days are bonkers and sometimes we lose it, but on the whole, a schedule allows for the family to continue running as a whole even with a newborn. The mother meets the physical needs of the newborn, the older children, and her spouse, while still maintaining order in the home. Everything doesn’t become all about the baby. The baby simply enters into the family who patiently waited for its arrival.
You’re able to schedule in play dates, visitors, appointments, etc. around feeding easily.
The best way to develop good sleep habits with your baby is to let them sleep. Without a schedule they are constantly in the stroller, car seat, or carrier being carted from one place to another. This works fine for a few months until they start becoming more aware and then, if you haven’t done due diligence, you’ll have a baby who doesn’t want to sleep. By having a schedule and a routine you can organize your play dates, appointments, visitors and errands loosely around the baby’s schedule. Again, baby’s needs are being met while things are getting done at inconvenience to no one.
Routine helps everyone settle into the new norm.
The first few months postpartum can be a challenge for the entire family. Children are learning new roles and adjusting as well as the parents. Developing a new routine and schedule that benefits all will help everyone settle into the new norm. Because routines bring security and boundaries to children, they crave them. When a major (and exciting) life change, like a new baby, occurs settling into a new routine is one of the best ways to help the dust settle.
It’s mentally and emotionally helpful for mothers who flourish in routine.
I cannot stress strongly enough (oh if you could hear my real voice which gets very loud when I stress things enough) how important it is to parent how you were made. If you love routine then I can’t see why you’d parent any other way. Children get a sense of security from routines (source) naturally so if you feel calmer in a routined environment, the entire house will run more smoothly. Stress, depression, and weariness are bi-products of functioning too long in environments we aren’t suited for, so don’t make your home one of those.
So tell me, mothers… did you do scheduled feedings? If so, did you love it? If not, why?
*affiliate link which means that if you purchase the book, at no extra cost to you, I receive a small commission
I’ve created a free email series just for you! If you struggle with creating an easy flowing routine or rhythm in your home… this is it. I’ve gathered all my easiest routine hacks into one free series and, best of all, you can get a big sneak peak into our book that has over 25+ routines for babies ages 6 weeks to 5 years. This series will help you:
- find a routine and rhythm for your child
- learn how to juggle multiple routines (for 2 or 3+ kids)
- know what is and isn’t working so you can make one tweak that’ll change your day
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