• What Your Breastfeeding Schedule Can Look Like During Your Baby's First Year

    To choose to breastfeed takes dedication and commitment. Prepare to adjust to your baby's breastfeeding schedule.
    by Rachel Perez .
What Your Breastfeeding Schedule Can Look Like During Your Baby's First Year
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  • The advantages of breastfeeding is unquestionable. But it can be challenging especially for first-time moms because it takes dedication and commitment (and pain if your baby doesn't latch properly). You are at your little one's beck and call. It will make you wonder just how many breastfeeding sessions does your baby need. How long are these feedings going to be? Is there really such a thing as a breastfeeding schedule, or should you just nurse your baby on demand?

    When to start breastfeeding

    Barring any birth complications, breastfeeding ideally should start right after birth or at least within an hour after delivering your baby into this world. Along with drying immediately, delayed cord clamping, and immediate skin-to-skin contact, initiating breastfeeding is part of the Essential Newborn Care (ENC) protocol. It's part of the worldwide program Unang Yakap (First Embrace) of the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as well as the Philippine Department of Health (DOH).

    It should be part of every hospital's birth protocol, but still talk to your doctor about this and make sure to include it in your birth plan. It doesn't matter if you gave birth vaginally or via C-section. Those first few drops of thick breast milk are filled with nutrients and antibodies your baby needs.

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    How often to breastfeed your baby

    You and your baby's breastfeeding routine will change as your child grows. Here's a guide on the breastfeeding frequency and duration.

    Breastfeeding at birth to one month

    Newborn breastfeeding is most challenging as you and your baby are just starting to get used it. Keep in mind: A newborn's stomach is just as big as a calamansi, so he gets full faster but he also gets hungry quickly. Babies can easily digest breast milk since it's produced by a new mom specifically for her baby.

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    Your little one doesn't need a lot of milk during his first week of life, but he will feed more frequently. Newborns feed every one to three hours starting at birth — a total of about eight to 12 feedings (or more!) in 24 hours. Believe it or not, that's good — and keep in mind that it gets better over time.

    Breastfeeding works like supply and demand. More frequent feedings signal your body to produce more milk and will help establish your milk supply. It also means more opportunities for your baby to perfect latching, sucking and swallowing and for you to practice breastfeeding positions.

    Breastfeeding your baby on demand is crucial at this stage. You're not making your baby prone to obesity or spoiling your baby, and a study showed it may help your child's cognitive development. Instead of waiting exactly an hour or three before nursing again, observe for your baby's hunger cues.

    If your baby is moving his head from side to side as if looking for your nipple, opening his mouth or sticking his tongue out, putting their hands or fists to their mouths or mimics sucking, or showing a rooting reflex, offer your breast as your baby could be hungry.

    Try not to use your baby's crying as cue that he's hungry, advises pediatrician and International Board Certified Lactation Certified (IBCLC) Dr. Teresa Maria Ribaño. A crying baby is already an overly hungry baby and may tend to bite and refuse to latch. Calm your baby first before offering your breast.

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    Nursing at 2 months to 6 months

    As your baby grows, his stomach also expands as well. Over the first few weeks and months, an exclusively breastfed baby's feeding sessions will start to become longer and less frequent as the little one consumes more milk to fill his growing stomach for every feed. Your baby may begin to feed every two to four hours, or longer.

    Experts still advise to continue feeding your baby on demand, but you won't feel so tied down compared to when you're nursing a newborn. This may be a good time to catch up on sleep or get together with family or friends when you and your baby are well-adjusted to your breastfeeding routine.

    You can start expressing breast milk as soon as your baby reaches six to eight weeks old. Pumping milk and cup-feeding it or introducing a nursing-friendly bottle to your baby can allow you more time for yourself and to prepare your milk reserves for moms who will eventually go back to work.

    At six months, babies will have their first taste of solid foods, which serve as a complementary source of nutrition. However, it doesn't mean you should stop nursing. Breastfeeding is still highly recommended for babies up to two years and beyond.

    If you're back at work or plan to be away from your baby for longer periods, try to stick to a regular interval of expressing milk. If your baby typically feeds every three hours or so, try to express milk every three hours. It will help signal your body to keep producing milk even if your baby isn't latching.

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    6 months to a year and beyond

    By the time your baby starts eating solid foods, he may begin to nurse even fewer times in a day. Some tots want to breastfeed only in the morning and/or before naptime and bedtime as they get a bulk of their daily nutrients from solid food. Others continue to drink breast milk as a more substantial portion of their diet.

    Comfort feeding, or your baby latching for comfort and not because he's hungry, is also common among toddlers. That's okay, but you might want to eventually wean your baby from comfort feeding and introduce a pacifier. You may offer the pacifier earlier but only when breastfeeding has already been established.

    How long feedings sessions will last

    Some newborns may feed for just a short as 10 minutes to as long as 45 minutes on each breast. It depends on several factors such as your let-down reflex, milk flow, correct latch and proper positioning, and your baby's mood if he's more hungry, sleepy, or easily distracted (for older babies).

    IBCLC Joyce Zaragosa-Martinez explains that babies usually feed until they are full and not until they empty their mom's breasts. While women generally produce more milk on their right breast, alternating feeding on both sides will help ensure your breasts continue to produce milk, will not get engorged and prevent you from having clogged ducts, or worse, mastitis.

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    Some babies, not just newborns, may feed every hour in a day. Don't panic. Your baby is cluster feeding as he's going through a growth spurt and will need more milk to fuel it. It can be a trying time for a nursing mom with a baby who's cluster feeding. Your baby can become fussy, clingy, and will breastfeed like there is no tomorrow.

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    Remember that cluster feeding and the growth spurt will pass. Plus, The tradeoff may well be worth it: After cluster feeding for hours, your baby may have longer sleep intervals of 4 to 5 hours. Read: You can also get some well-deserved shut-eye.

    Should you put your baby on a breastfeeding schedule?

    La Leche League International advises against strict breastfeeding schedules. A baby who is exclusively breastfed should be fed on demand and not on a schedule. Scheduled feedings have been associated with slow weight gain in babies. It has also been linked to early weaning since schdules may adversely affect a mom's milk production. Instead of scheduling feedings, observe your baby's hunger cues.

    Worried if your baby is getting enough milk? Count diapers; it should indicate that he's consuming milk. Wet diapers are good, but dirty ones are a better gauge, suggests doula Noelle Pollack of the Pinay Doulas Collective. Within the first 24 hours, your baby should have pooped at least once. After a week, your baby should use up at least six wet nappies and two poop-soiled diapers.

    Should you wake your baby to breastfeed? Some newborns can be very sleepy. IBCLC Kelly Bonyata suggests to gently rouse a newborn to feed every two hours during the day or four hours at nighttime until you and your little one establishes your nursing routine.

    As you and your baby get used to your routine, track your baby's eating and sleeping patterns as well as wet and dirty nappies. These can give you an advantage like anticipating when your baby is hungry.

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