Feeding Tiny Humans – To Schedule or Not?

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Babies are tiny humans. We all started as tiny humans and, all going well, our babies will keep growing and one day be big humans like us.

Just like for us big humans, a tiny human’s needs for food and drink vary at different times of the day and on different days. And how we meet those needs – whether we gulp or enjoy, have one massive portion or smaller sips here and there – differs too …

Don’t think so?

One of the activities I offer couples in my antenatal breastfeeding preparation sessions (I say offer, because I don’t make you do anything!) is a grid with 24 boxes in it, one for every hour of the day. And I ask them to make a note over a few days of when they eat, what they eat, how much they eat. And drink. Every little sip, every sneaky bite of that chocolate bar …

Take a moment, try to remember roughly, over the last 24 hours, what would that grid look like for you? How about the day before that?

Now imagine someone came into your kitchen, stuck a note on the fridge and cupboard, telling you exactly when you are to open them, how much you are to take out at those times and how much time you have to consume those amounts. With a warning at the bottom that you are to finish every last crumb of that allocated amount!

How does that feel?

Of course, that note would be the exact same for every other person in the household, the neighbour next door and everyone else on the street … no matter how small or big they are, what germs they are fighting, what family dos they’ve been to, what a shitty day they’ve had.

Babies are tiny humans. They too come in different sizes, they fight off germs, they endure family dos, they have shitty days

Offering feeds according to your baby’s needs

  • helps to establish a good milk supply,
  • helps your tiny person to learn about adequate portions and regulate their own energy intake (there is a link between schedule feeding and eating disorders),
  • supports your baby’s trust in and secure attachement to you
  • and makes breastfeeding an always available parenting tool

When recording all their solid and liquid intake in that little activity above, parents usually also notice something else: Recording every little detail, checking the clock, remembering to do all this … it’s quite draining. It takes up a lot of headspace. It takes away the joy. It interrupts the flow. If parents-to-be feel like that, when baby is still safely stowed away in a belly, imagine what recording and clock watching will do once an outside baby is thrown into the mix

But how do you know they need fed? You’ve only just met them and they are not exactly verbal …

Verbal they may not be, communicate they do! First signs of needing a feed include

  • opening and closing mouth
  • smacking lips
  • turning head from side to side
  • sticking tongue in and out

Keeping your baby close, in a suitable baby sling, for instance, means you can pick up on those first cues and respond to them in plenty of time, making feeding a calm experience for everyone. Not like me, when I started my parenting journey, thinking wee dude doesn’t give me any warning before he is looking for a feed (read: crys)… years later I realised he was usually in a different room when he was sleeping, so I missed all those warnings! Baby two and three were luckier …

A cry is baby’s last resort to signal that they need you. This poster shows the three stages of hunger cues really well (I bring it to all events, whether they are feeding related or not!)

httpkemh.health.wa.gov.auservicesbreastfeedingimagesbaby-cues.jpg

The best approach though, is one frequently shared by experienced mothers when it comes to “How do I know if they want fed?”: If in doubt, offer a feed. If they make a noise, offer a feed. If they look at you funny, offer a feed. If they’ve hurt themselves, offer a feed. If they got startled, offer a feed. If you are about to head out for a walk, offer a feed. If … Breastfeeding comes in real handy here!