Does my baby need a feeding routine?
When you compare a baby's needs to those of an adult (who is generally not trying to gain weight – at least, not to double or triple their current size!), it is easy to understand that expecting a baby to eat according to a strict regime, which restricts the duration and quantity of feeds, is not only unrealistic and unkind, but can also contribute to a failure to thrive.
Consider how often you eat, drink, nibble, snack or sip through an average day. Did you know that you would be having a cup of coffee at four o'clock this afternoon, or did you just feel like one? Did you tell your work colleagues you wouldn't be able to have lunch with them at midday because you are not scheduled to eat until one o'clock? Doesn't your hunger and thirst change according to the weather and your activity level? As adults, we eat and drink according to our own body signals, not a predetermined schedule – and so should babies.
While a gentle rhythm to your day may help you feel a sense of control as you adapt to your new lifestyle, and a feeding and sleeping routine may appear to suit some babies, being pedantic about enforcing a routine to 'train' your baby is likely to result in lengthy bouts of crying and can have adverse effects.
Leaving a baby to 'cry it out' in order to enforce a strict routine when the baby may, in fact, be hungry, is similar to expecting an adult to adopt a strenuous exercise program accompanied by a reduced food intake. The result of expending energy through crying while being deprived of food is likely to be weight loss and a failure to thrive.
Also, apart from not being conducive to an optimum environment for infant development, parent-directed feeding regimes (as opposed to responding to your baby's hunger cues) can result in low milk supply and premature weaning.
In the early weeks, as your milk supply changes from being hormonally driven to baby-driven, your milk production capacity will be set by the amount of milk your baby removes as you establish breastfeeding. This is because, in the first three months postpartum, there is ongoing development of hormone (prolactin) receptors that facilitate an abundant and ongoing milk supply. Limiting your baby's access to the breast by stretching out his feeds in the early weeks can interrupt this process, and many women who may have been able to make a strict feeding routine 'work' initially can experience an abrupt drop in milk supply after around three months.
Many of these women say, 'I have lost my milk,' or, 'My milk dried up.' At this time, a diminished milk supply may not respond to normal methods of increasing supply, such as more frequent breast emptying or even medications. This is because the mother's hormone receptors didn't have an opportunity to develop in the early weeks, and there will now be an insufficient number. This sudden weaning can be very disappointing and stressful for both mother and baby, especially if the mother had planned to nurse for longer. On the other hand, by being sensitive to your baby's cues as you establish breastfeeding and ensuring adequate breast stimulation and milk removal, you will enhance your breast development, build a good milk supply, and your baby will probably be happier and sleep more soundly because he has plenty of milk to meet his needs.
If your baby is unsettled and not due for a sleep, it is likely that she is hungry and looking for a feed. If you learn to identify your baby's early hunger signals and allow him access to the breast as soon as you see these signals, you will be able to avert hunger cries (crying is a late hunger signal for most babies), and know that she will take exactly the amount of milk that he needs.