Feeding a newborn can be exhausting. Even though your baby’s tummy is tiny, it seems as if he constantly wants to eat. While some feeding philosophies encourage parents to get their babies on a feeding schedule right away, our experts agree that feeding on demand (also known as feeding on cue) is the way to go. Feeding on demand means that you aren’t feeding on a strict schedule or making sure a certain amount of time has passed between feedings; instead, you are watching for your baby’s hunger cues and feeding accordingly. This method of feeding applies to both breastfed and bottle-fed babies alike.
Strong4Life expert and registered dietitian Wendy Palmer wants parents to know: “Your baby was born knowing how much she needs to eat; so, when you withhold a feeding simply because ‘it isn’t time,’ you are teaching her to ignore her body. If you follow your baby’s lead and feed her when she shows you she is hungry, you are teaching her to listen to her body while giving her a sense of security because she knows you are there to provide what she needs.”
Following a schedule can also be very stressful for everyone involved. When your baby has been trying to tell you she’s hungry without any relief, her cues quickly to turn into cries (crying is considered a late hunger cue). And that’s not fun for anyone.
As babies get older, they naturally fall into more of a schedule when it comes to feeding. This typically happens around the 3-month mark. While we’re calling it a schedule, keep in mind that this isn’t a strict one but rather more of a predictable routine. Think about yourself: Are you usually hungry around the same time for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks? This is what’s happening with your baby; he’s getting used to the regular routine of daily life, his body is naturally falling into a schedule and some days he’s hungrier than others.
A schedule is a wonderful thing for you and your baby, but it’s important to be flexible because things never seem to go according to plan when it comes to babies. Every baby is different, and they are all bound to have “off days” that throw a wrench into the regular feeding routine. When this happens, just go with the flow (following those hunger and fullness cues) and try to get back on track tomorrow.
In addition to those “off days,” you can also expect changes in the routine when your baby is going through a growth spurt or is experiencing other developmental changes. For example, when your baby starts sleeping more at night and skipping night feedings (yea to more sleep for everyone!), she’s probably going to eat more often during the day. And keep in mind that as she’s growing, her stomach is growing too, so she’ll start being able to take in more breastmilk or formula at a time which may lead to her eating less often. Just remember that your baby is getting her nutrition over the course of the day, so it’s OK if she eats less at one feeding and more at another.