Breastfed babies have fairly distinct feeding and sleeping patterns which, once understood, can make it easier to understand why they do what they do. Simply put, breastfed babies need to feed frequently over a 24 hour period so they can grow and thrive and be content. Bottle-fed babies are similar, but in comparison, drink larger volumes of milk at feed times and don’t demand feeds quite as frequently as breastfed babies. They also gain weight and grow in a different way to breastfed babies, whose weight can plateau after a couple of months of more rapid gain.
It can be hard for mothers who are keen to have a predictable daily routine and expect their breastfed baby to fit into a schedule.
Small people have their own agenda, making it challenging to have plans around their feeding and sleeping. But that’s the nature of breastfeeding, it’s not meant to be based around timing but rather, what the baby is communicating.
When the relationship between a mother and her baby is sound, there is a two-way communication which occurs. The baby behaves in particular ways and the mother is able to interpret what her baby wants.
Sometimes a baby’s needs are obvious and easier to ‘get’. Other times, their signs are more subtle and confusing. But when it comes to needing to be breastfed, most babies demonstrate behaviour which is very clear and don’t calm until they’re sucking.
Young breastfed babies need to feed regularly around the clock. It’s not until they’re closer to three months of age that many start sleeping for longer periods overnight. However, the general timeframe between overnight feeds is still around 5-6 hours.
Small babies have a small stomach. They can’t drink more than their stomach can contain, otherwise they vomit. The idea of ‘filling them up’ so they’ll sleep for longer overnight is a fine idea but there are limits to how much milk a baby can drink at one time.
Many breastfed babies want to make up for longer overnight breaks of not feeding by demanding extra feeds through the day.
It will be useful to follow your baby’s lead when it comes to their feeding patterns. Hunger cues are clear signals that a baby is ready to feed and needs refuelling. If possible, avoid feeding your baby when they’re distressed and crying loudly. Ideally, feed times are a pleasant and calm experience, which both mother and her baby enjoy.
Expect your breastfed baby to not always feed the same way with every feed. Breastfeeding is a dynamic process and is influenced by many factors. A baby’s hunger, the mother’s supply, the rate the mother’s milk is flowing from her breasts and distractions from what else is going on in the environment all play a part.
Some breastfed babies prefer long, drawn out feed times where they stay sucking on the breast for ages. Others are quick ‘snack’ type feeders who just want to satisfy their hunger and get onto other more important things. Whatever your baby’s feeding style, it will be useful to follow their lead.
Many breastfed babies associate feeding with sleep and settling. They feel warm, content and safe and the action of sucking soothes them. This isn’t a problem for the majority of babies, but it can become an issue for mothers. At some point in time, most mothers become keen to learn how to settle their baby in ways other than feeding.
Speak with your Child Health Nurse and check Safe Sleep Space for more information about breastfeeding and sleep.
It can be quite a challenge to teach your little one the skills to self-settle and learn how to go to sleep on their own. Safe Sleep Space is here to help! You can book a telephone consultation online or call us on 1300 775 337.
You can also get great tips by downloading our Rockabub App, currently available in iTunes.
The NourishBaby - Guide to Babies - is an online program that you can view in your own time. The Guide to Babies helps you to understand and care for your baby and covers key milestones, sleep and settling advice and baby development. There is a section on real parents sharing their experience of adjusting to parenthood.
Many parents have reduced sleep when a new baby arrives. The Safe Sleep Space website has a variety of resources and supports to provide tips and advice on how to assist your baby with sleep. You can also book a phone consultation to speak with a Sleep Consultant.
Written for Safe Sleep Space by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse.