Have you heard the term “feeding on demand”? This can be confusing for a lot of new parents and often lead little ones down the road of excessive snacking throughout the day and night. If this sounds like your little one, you’ve reached the right blog.
Snacking, although not harmful to your baby, can be time-consuming, frustrating, and often result in frequent, unnecessary night time wake-ups. Starting at the newborn stage, it is encouraged to feed your little one on an average of every 3 hours, regardless of breastfeeding or formula feeding. Why? Feeding every 3 hours allows your little one to get FULL feedings resulting in:
When nursing, full feedings help babies get foremilk and that important hind milk, which is the the perfect balance of protein and fat that is needed for growth and development
It also help nursing mama to maintain milk supply because more milk removed increases milk production
For formula or bottle using babies, it helps parents recognize appropriate hunger cues instead of assuming every cry is due to hunger
Parents will continue to look for hunger cues and feed as needed, hello growth spurts, but will have a better understanding that sometimes babies cry because they are bored (Yes, babies get bored and need a change of scenery especially around 4 months of age)
A more content baby between feedings
Which allows your to enjoy active wake times together
Eventually leads to natural consolidation of sleep overnight
Your feeding routine does not need to be rigid but rather predictable and responsive. You will continue to respond to your baby and their needs but ideally run through a check list of options prior to feeding when it has been less than 2-3 hours since their last feeding. Flexible schedules help you gentle space out feedings that are too close together, allowing daytime nutritional needs to be met, and then naturally helping your little one stretch nighttime sleep.
Sleep and feeding problems usually become parallel. Let me give you an example: An overtired 5 month old begins to take short, smaller feedings prior to bedtime because he’s simply too tired to finish the feeding. He then wakes up earlier in the night because he did not receive his full feeding prior to bed but only takes the remaining 1-2 oz he missed and quickly falls back asleep. He then begins waking up multiple times at night because he’s hungry, even though he was down to only 1 overnight feeding prior, as he didn’t get a full feeding in earlier, only he doesn’t take a full feeding this time either because he’s tired so he falls asleep after just a few minutes of eating. 4:30am rolls around and he’s up again because he’s hungry and has a difficult time going back to sleep so you’re now stuck in a cycle throughout the day trying to find a balance between feeding, sleep… and your sanity!
Did you know we have a pediatric occupational therapist, with 11 years of experience, on our Serenity Sleepers team that provides clients with feeding schedules to accompany their personalized sleep schedule when feedings are troublesome? You can’t just separate feeding and sleep- they’re connected! We also refer to local IBCLCs when breastfeeding questions arise. Check out our Nashville resources.
How do I help my baby get full feedings and stop snacking?
Early Hunger Cues: waking from sleep, stirring, turning of the head, lip smacking, opening and closing the mouth and rooting or seeking the breast or bottle
Active Hunger Cues: fidgeting, stretching, rooting around the chest of whoever is holding them, positioning themselves for nursing, fussing, fast-paced breathing or putting their hand, toy, clothes or just about anything in their mouth
Late Hunger Cues: cry, move their head frantically from side to side, turn red and display signs that they are agitated and distressed
Keeping your baby awake during feedings: This is so important, especially when you’re trying to get your little one on a FLEXIBLE schedule. Make sure the room you’re feeding in is bright with light in order to keep your little one awake and interested in feeding. We also recommend waiting 15-20 minutes after a wakeup to feed, as this will also help separate feeding and sleep times.
Change the environment: Little ones get bored and boredom cries can often be mistaken for hunger cries. Changing rooms, going outside, getting down on the floor with your little one, etc. can all help your little one wait 15-30 minutes longer before feeding in order to help you make sure they are truly hungry and ready for a full feeding.
Please give yourself grace and plenty of time when making adjustments to your little one’s schedule, as you’re both learning something new! If you continue to have struggles please discuss your concerns with your pediatrician or contact a local IBCLC to work with you to resolve feeding issues. My sleep consultant services are here to help your family thrive by balancing sleep, feeding, and development at whatever stage of parenting you find yourself.
It is possible to set healthy sleep foundations and education at any age.