Schedules for Breastfeeding and Formula-Fed Babies

breastfeeding baby sleepIsn’t it confusing sometimes whether you should feed your baby on demand or put her on a schedule? As many things with parenting, everyone has their two cents and opinion and your mind spins with the possibilities. This article will talk about schedules for breastfeeding and formula-feeding babies.

Rigid schedules for breastfeeding babies? What about formula-feeding babies?

The main thing about schedules for breastfeeding or formula-feeding babies is that I want to tell you today that a schedule is only as rigid as you make it. Just because you set your alarm for 6:30 a.m. does not mean you don’t hit snooze 2 3 a few times does it? Just because you tell your friend you want to meet for lunch at 12 doesn’t mean you can’t call her and tell her you’re starving and ask if you can meet at 11:45, instead, right? So, the first thing about schedules for any baby, not just breastfeeding babies, is that you do not have to be married to the clock to the point you are running a boot camp.

How rigid you make your schedule generally depends on your particular personality. I am, personally, a Type-A personality (INTJ for you Myers Briggs people, except I am sometimes an “E” oddly enough). A Type-A personality is generally much more conscious of the time on the clock and, being an INTJ, I generally need to know what time it is at all times (generally you would wear a watch, but my cell phone now does the job just fine, now). Basically, I am a planner. I like to know roughly what I am doing every day and this includes on vacation (I’m sure, on vacation, my mother-in-law thought it was crazy to think about dinner when we just had lunch LOL). I honestly can’t help it.

So, when I birthed a highly unpredictable, inconsistent baby, this essentially drove me a little crazy. BUT, he was also unable to get on a schedule until he was older (past 7 months, in fact!). I just had to deal and like many things you imagine go differently in your head before you actually have a baby, I had to adjust my thinking.

Nope, he didn’t get hungry at the same times every day.
Nope, he didn’t wake up at the same times every day. EVER.
Nope, he couldn’t go 3 hours between breastfeeding sessions at a young age, like the books told me he could, and he NEVER got to 4 hours. EVER. (He can barely do it now and I suspect it’s a blood sugar thing.)

Yet, I still had a “schedule” which I now call a “routine” of feeding him every X hours based on his age and abilities as well as sleep after Y hours, based on his behavior / sleepy cues, age, and sensitivity to over-tiredness (which got better as he got older). That doesn’t mean that if he was hungry sooner I would make him wait, or force-feed him if he wasn’t hungry until later (he rarely refused breastfeeding anyway!).

As your baby grows older, he will generally become more predictable (if he didn’t start out that way) as his brain and nervous system mature and sleep organizes, even if it’s never identical to the day before. We, eventually, did get to a true by-the-clock schedule. Keep in mind that I did have to modify my own natural tendency and do what worked best for my baby. And, some babies actually function a lot better on a more predictable routine and schedule, even if your natural tendency is to “go with the flow.” Some babies are SO easy-going that they won’t cry when they get hungry! And, if you don’t have a rough schedule, you could actually be skipping feedings, when you shouldn’t. Rare, but true. Slow to adapt babies generally enjoy more predictability and many will thrive on the sometimes elusive eat-play-sleep routine from a very young age.

Feed on demand or on a schedule?

There is not just one answer here to the question of whether you breastfeed / formula-feed on demand or feed on schedule. I fed on demand for quite awhile, because it was what worked best for my son and made the most sense to me, at the time. It’s not like he could go into the pantry and get a snack anytime he wanted. To this day, he eats more frequent, smaller meals. He has a very fast metabolism and he is very high energy.

HOWEVER, breastfeeding a baby every two hours during the day past the newborn phase is not always a good idea. I have had clients with babies who have not gained enough weight, because if you feed more frequently, your baby may not be getting the richer, higher calorie, and fattier hindmilk. For those parents, the answer was to start spacing out feedings so their baby would take a fuller feeding and get that hindmilk. This brings me to my next point:

Just because your baby hasn’t gotten on a schedule on his own, does not mean he can’t.

When it comes to sleep, just like waiting too long to put your baby down can lead to short naps when she’s younger, putting her down too soon when she’s younger can result in short naps, too! Confusing, I know.

The bottom line is that all babies and families have different needs and it’s okay if you don’t know THE answer for you, yet. Take some time to experiment with your baby’s routine and schedule. There is a lot related to parenting that is “learn as you go” and I don’t think schedules for your breastfeeding or formula-feeding baby are any different. Oh, and just when you figure it out, they change anyway! :D

Because I was a breastfeeding mom, all of our sample sleep and feeding schedules are appropriate for both breastfeeding and formula-feeding parents (and combination). These are just guidelines and designed to give you ideas to make your own schedule, so please review them and post your own for the thousands of visitors that frequent this site.

If you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine during the day, I encourage you to download our FREE guide, 7 Common Napping Mistakes, or explore Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-tos” of good baby sleep. With over 40 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about!

Did you have a schedule for your breast-fed baby?

Feeding Schedule or Feed on Demand?

Feeding ScheduleThere are different theories about daytime feeding and the link to nighttime sleeping. Babywise is one of the books that popularized the thought that if you can help a baby go longer between feeds during the day, the baby will sleep longer stretches at night. But, attachment parenting advocates recommend feeding on demand, when your baby is hungry. Which method promotes better nighttime sleep?

Feeding Schedule

The benefits of a feeding schedule is that it is predictable for both parents and baby, reducing stress when you have a newborn. Also, the theory is if you help him get used to going 3-4 hours between feedings during the day, he will be able to go longer at night without a feeding, too. Another thing parents really like about a feeding schedule is it deters baby from being a snacker, which can be rather inconvenient at times.

Feeding on Demand

The goal of feeding on demand is to let your baby guide you and feed when she feels hungry or thirsty (since breast milk and formula is also their source of water for the first 6-12 months of life). Proponents of feeding on demand feel this not only respects your baby more, but is a healthier way to teach your baby how to eat, since dietitians will tell you that we should eat when you’re hungry, and to avoid overeating to make up for waiting until you are famished.

Feeding and night sleep

Does a feeding schedule or feeding on demand promote more night sleep? I am not a doctor, but it is my belief that feeding on demand would most likely promote more night sleep more than a feeding schedule, if either do at all. Sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone and the way I think about feedings is that your baby (and you) need so many calories a day and the more she gets in during the day, the less she will need at night. Add to that, their tummies will only be able to fit so much breast milk or formula in there, so even if you CAN get her to wait 3 or 4 hours to eat, she might not be able to fit as much in as if you fed her twice every 2 hours, during the day. Believe me, if your baby is waking every 2 hours at night and is older than 2 months old, most likely she has a poor sleep association with breastfeeding or a bottle and it has nothing to do with hunger.

Feed on demandOn a personal note, both my boys ate every 2 hours during the day for several months. They were both exclusively breast fed and since breast milk digests in 1 to 3 hours, this made sense to me. They simply became too hungry to wait any longer than that and my view is why should they? It’s not like they can go in the pantry and get their own food and don’t I eat when I’m hungry most of the time? Because I worked and pumped I know the size bottles each of my sons took in. My eldest son never took bottles bigger than 4 ounces of breast milk, either, while my younger son ate up to 5 1/2 (he was a chunk at 6 months!).

Side note: I would not categorize myself as an “attachment parenting” mom (though both my boys do have a healthy attachment to me and my husband), mostly since my view about cry it out is not that it is absent parenting in all cases, but I do believe in letting a baby guide you in the feeding department that might build healthier eating habits when they are an adult. The trick is to make sure you offer enough healthy food as options.

My eldest son snacked a lot, too, taking 2 ounces here and then another 2 ounces an hour later (or nursing one side and then the other an hour later) and the snacking was a bit hard to handle, sometimes, but he was only eating at night twice at 4 months and once by 7 months, on his own. To this day, my older son (now 3 1/2) eats rather often and gets cranky when he’s hungry. His afternoon snack is close to the size of a whole meal. My younger son (17 months now) snacks a lot less than his older brother. So, in general, I try to accept that they are just different, but neither could go too long without eating when they were very young. I am honestly not sure how people wait 3 hours to feed because my sons would cry so hard, but I also attribute that to their intensity.

In general, as long as your baby has the appropriate number of night feedings for her age, the decision whether to feed by schedule or on demand will depend on what works for you and your baby (keep in mind that some babies are more regular than others). I would not really choose one or the other based on how it may or may not affect their night sleep. Babies thrive on routine and the schedule can be as loose or strict as you make it.

Did you have a feeding schedule or did you feed on demand?