From birth to approximately 12 months of age we encourage parents to feed their babies on demand. This means no schedules. While it may be nice to know when your baby was last fed to give you an overall idea of how feeding is going, it’s really not part of the equation when it comes to the next feeding. Your baby will tell you when he is hungry. This will fluctuate from day to day, week to week, and from one growth spurt to the next. Let me explain.
The first year of life is a time of rapid growth. When your baby is hungry, feed him. This is called feeding on demand. Allow him to take as much, or as little, as he needs. You are your child’s expert. You are in the best position to read your child’s needs. Be inquisitive. What is your baby trying to convey? What clues do you have on how your baby is behaving? Your child is crying. Think, what type of cry is this? Check diapers. Check sleep. Check if your baby just needs holding and cuddling. Ask yourself, is this a hunger cry? Don't rely on an expert’s schedule to feed your baby. Growth spurts differ in each and every child. Get to know your child’s cues on his needs. One example of a baby needing food is when a baby sucks on his fist. Interpreting your baby’s cues often means that you don’t have to wait for crying. You already know he is hungry because you have read his cues. Parents and caregivers can also read a child’s cues for fullness. What does that look like in your child? Does your baby turn his head away? Does suckling slow down or stop? By honoring your child’s signals of hunger and fullness you practice feeding with a clear purpose. Babies rely on parents and caregivers to feed with purpose, which means feeding baby when he is hungry and stopping when baby is full.
The Breastfed Baby
When breast-feeding, mom usually stops feeding when her baby signals he is done. An example may be baby pulling away from the nipple. This is what we call feeding on demand. Mom may try to re-latch baby, but baby is not interested. It can get trickier if parents/caregivers become attached to expert’s opinions on how many ounces your baby should be drinking at a certain age. This, at times, can interfere with allowing the baby to self-regulate and take as much or as little as he needs.
The Bottle-fed Baby (with formula or breast milk)
If the baby is bottle-fed, the bottle might be filled to the 4-ounce mark. The bottle is offered to baby and when the bottle is empty the parent stops feeding. Should the parent offer more? The answer lies in what the baby is saying. Does the baby want more? It is important to remember that you are in charge of refilling the bottle but your baby is in charge of feeding until he is full. This means interpreting your baby’s cues. Offer more if his cues tell you he is hungry. If he refuses the offer or stops soon after, he could be letting you know he is full. Parents often get stressed when bottle feeding if they focus only on the number of ounces consumed at each feeding. While it can be used as a guideline, it is also important to consider the child’s overall growth, development, and situation. Feeding on demand also applies to bottle-fed babies so paying attention to their hunger and fullness cues is just as important.
Reading baby’s cues (signals) with respect to hunger and fullness are essential to establishing a healthy relationship with parents/caregivers. Feed with purpose. Feed because your baby is telling you he is hungry and, stop, because your baby has signaled he is full. Respond to your baby. In turn, your baby will trust you. This approach will also let your baby know that he can self-regulate:
When I tell you I’m hungry, you provide. When I tell you I’m full (as I and only I can know when I’m full) I can trust you to stop feeding.
This is essential to establishing a long-term, healthy relationship with eating and food.