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What does it mean to breastfeed on demand? The myth of breastfeeding every three hours

Many years ago (and unfortunately still recommended by some outdated healthcare professionals), the most widespread recommendation regarding breastfeeding was to breastfeed the baby every three hours and for 10 minutes on each breast.

Fortunately, this has changed: breastfeeding must be on demand . But why should it be this way? What exactly does “on demand” mean?

What does “on demand” mean?

Breastfeeding on demand means giving it whenever the baby demands it and for as long as he decides. In other words, the baby marks both the interval between feedings and the duration of the feedings . Breastfeeding should be without a watch .

And this must be so because babies perfectly control their hunger and satiety . Setting a schedule doesn’t make sense. Don’t you sometimes wake up hungry, eat a lot of breakfast and then skip lunch? Or on the contrary, sometimes we wake up reluctantly and hardly eat breakfast, then have something for lunch. The same thing happens to babies.

Why is it not a good idea to set a schedule? Why should breastfeeding be on demand?

We have already discussed the first reason: babies control their hunger and satiety . So there is no point in setting schedules if they know perfectly well when they need to eat.

On the other hand, our body has mechanisms that regulate the production of milk. The higher the suction, the higher the production and vice versa . If a baby suckles very frequently, or, for example, two babies suckle, the body makes more milk. If, on the contrary, the breast does not empty properly, the so-called Lactation Inhibitory Factor (FIL) accumulates and sends a signal to the body not to make more milk.

At certain times throughout breastfeeding, babies need to eat more, they need milk production to increase. They are the so-called growth crises . To do this, they will suck more frequently and, as we have said previously, we will produce more milk. In a few days the situation will regulate and the babies will return to their usual feeding rhythm. If instead of respecting this, we impose rigid schedules, it is likely that our body will not be able to adapt milk production to the baby’s needs.

Let us also remember that breast milk has a composition that varies depending on the age of the baby, the time of day and during feeding . For this reason, it is very important that the baby decides when he has finished breastfeeding. The first part of the intake is rich in water and carbohydrates, sweeter but less caloric. The end of the intake, on the other hand, is denser, more caloric, richer in fat. Only the baby knows when he has reached the end and when he is satiated. It is important that we let him suckle as long as he needs to get that final part of the feed.

Furthermore, infants up to six months of age drink only milk. When they are thirsty, milk is also their way to satisfy them. Thus, it is common for babies to take more feedings in the summer months, some of them very short because they only wanted to quench their thirst (they will then take only the initial part of the feed, more watery and rich in carbohydrates)

Finally, it is essential to mention that breastfeeding is not just feeding . It is also comfort, calm, closeness, security … Sometimes babies make a very shallow suck and barely express milk while they are at the breast. This is what we call non-nutritive sucking . This type of suction also has its benefits, as it provides comfort and safety to the baby, helps to strengthen their orofacial muscles and increases the production of breast milk.

Do you always have to offer both breasts?

This is a very recurring question. No, it is not necessary to take from both breasts at each feeding . In fact, there are women who can only breastfeed (for example, mastectomies after cancer) and there is no problem. This is also the case with twins, where there are 2 breasts for 2 babies. Our body is capable of adapting its production to needs.

Returning to how the milk varies throughout the feeding, we will say that the breast they take first is the first course and the second course. Some babies get satiated with it. Others, on the other hand, need a “dessert”, or a little water to “pass the food” and for that reason they briefly suck on the second breast. So if the baby falls asleep soundly after taking the first breast, we can rest assured that he has had enough to eat. If you are still awake and / or looking for more, we will offer you the second breast.

When do I know that you have emptied a breast?

This worries many mothers. We have talked about the importance of babies emptying their breasts well so that they get that last high-fat, more caloric portion. However, only they know when they have obtained it.

On the other hand, the chest is never completely emptied (thankfully). So we must leave the baby suckling until it is released or until it falls asleep. Sometimes they end up and fall asleep but with a very shallow suction: it is the non-nutritive suction. In addition to the benefits that we have talked about before (comfort, safety, stimulation of milk production) here they also obtain small amounts of milk, which is just the final part of the feeding.

Are there any exceptions? In any case, should we not offer the shots on demand?

Breastfeeding should be on demand, as a general rule. The “exception” would be premature babies, very low weight or those who have lost a lot of weight in the first days of life or those with a specific pathology in which the pediatrician tells you that you should take the shots with a certain frequency.

In the first days of life, some babies sleep a lot and demand little feedings. In these cases we must be attentive to any sign of hunger, make them very accessible, make a lot of skin-to-skin contact …

What if he asks all the time?

Newborns usually take between 8 and 12 feedings a day, which would mean that they claim the feedings every 2 or 3 hours if we do the average. However, the feedings at this age are very long, so sometimes they will ask even every hour. This is normal. As they grow, they learn to suckle better and empty their breasts much earlier and feedings tend to be spaced a little apart. Let us also remember that throughout breastfeeding there are growth crises in which babies demand feedings much more frequently.

In addition, we have discussed that breastfeeding is much more than nutrition so when they are sick, tired or there has been a major change (for example, the mother has returned to work), they are likely to ask more often.

But if your baby is constantly hooked, does not sleep between feedings, it seems that they never want to let go of the breast … it is advisable that an expert lactation professional review a feed, to see if the attachment is adequate as well as control the weight of he drinks to make sure he is eating enough.

Finally, remember that nature is wise. Babies are born knowing how to regulate their hunger and satiety. They are what they know when they want to eat and for how long. Our role is to be attentive, accessible and facilitate it, respecting their times.

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