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Benefits of On-Demand Breastfeeding & 6 Evidence-Based Tips

by Vannessa Rhoades 16 Aug 2023
Benefits of On-Demand Breastfeeding & 6 Evidence-Based Tips

Breastfeeding is a natural and healthy way to feed your baby, but it can be challenging for new mothers. There are many different opinions on how often and when to breastfeed, and it can be difficult to know what is right for you and your baby. Let’s take a closer look at doctors’ advice on breastfeeding on-demand, the benefits, how often newborns should eat, and tips for nursing effectively.

Advantages of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is recommended as the best source of nutrition for most infants across nearly all medical disciplines. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months, and then continue nursing while introducing appropriate complementary foods until the child is 12 months old or older. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization also advise exclusive breastfeeding for about the first 6 months, with continued breastfeeding along with introducing appropriate complementary foods for up to 2 years of age or longer. Breastfeeding infants have a lower risk of asthma, obesity, Type 1 diabetes, severe lower respiratory disease, acute otitis media (ear infections), sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and gastrointestinal infections (diarrhea/vomiting). For nursing mothers, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.


Benefits of On-Demand Breastfeeding & 6 Evidence-Based Tips

Advantages of Breastfeeding On-Demand

Breastfeeding on-demand (also known as “responsive feeding,” “feeding on cue,” and “baby-led” feeding) means feeding your baby whenever they show signs of hunger, such as rooting, sucking on their fingers, or fussing. There is no set schedule for breastfeeding on-demand, and you may find that your baby wants to feed more often during certain times of the day, such as when they are growing or teething. 

Is there an advantage to feeding babies on-demand instead of following a strict schedule? Evolutionary, cross-cultural, and clinical research says YES! Infants are built to feed on cue. Nursing on demand offers several major advantages:

1. It’s the perfect way to keep milk production in sync with an infant’s needs.

Breastfeeding works on supply and demand principles. A mother’s breast milk production is stimulated by the frequency of sucking.  The more often an infant breastfeeds, the more milk is produced by the mammary glands. Less frequent nursing results in less milk production. This feedback is critical to establishing an early milk supply. In fact, research has shown that nursing within an hour of delivery helps establish production and ensure sufficient supply in the following days. Furthermore, additional studies show that frequent feedings during the early weeks after delivery (e.g., 10 feedings per 24 hours, as opposed to 7 feedings per 24 hours) result in greater milk consumption and weight gain in newborn infants.

2. It helps ensure that infants, particularly newborns, get enough milk.

Even after the first few weeks postpartum, doctors continue to recommend on-demand breastfeeding. Why? Breast milk is constantly changing in both its quality and energy content in response to the evolving needs of a growing baby. Secondly, infants vary in their capacity to effectively extract milk. Thirdly, larger babies or those experiencing growth spurts may require a greater quantity of milk compared to others. Finally, not all babies possess equal proficiency in suckling. Babies who encounter difficulties tend to extract milk at a slower pace, requiring more time at the breast to fulfill their nutritional needs. Prematurely ending a breastfeeding session can result in a deficiency of calories. When parents determine the duration of breastfeeding instead of responding to the baby's cues, the likelihood of the baby feeling hungry or unsatisfied increases.

Moreover, if parents disregard the baby's hunger signals and insist on adhering to a predetermined feeding schedule, the situation can worsen. In such cases, not only does the baby experience hunger, but they may also become frustrated and distressed, hindering their ability to nurse efficiently. Lactation consultants have observed that even a brief disregard for a baby's hunger cues can lead to the baby becoming unsettled and upset. This, in turn, makes it challenging for the infant to latch on correctly, reducing the effectiveness of milk extraction.

In short, imposing an adult-defined feeding schedule is unsuitable for meeting the needs of babies. The most effective approach to ensure that babies receive an adequate amount of milk is to allow them to communicate their hunger and permit them to continue feeding until they are satisfied.

3. It benefits emotional and cognitive development.

Breastfeeding offers more than just nutritional advantages for babies. During breastfeeding, infants engage in skin-to-skin contact, which aids in regulating their body temperature and blood glucose levels. Research shows that this contact also assists babies in managing pain. Other studies have demonstrated that it also decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol in newborns. Therefore, responsive breastfeeding can address both the physiological and emotional needs of the baby.

Mothers also experience stress-related benefits through breastfeeding. The act of breastfeeding triggers the release of oxytocin in mothers, which has an immediate and calming effect. By promoting more frequent nursing sessions, breastfeeding on demand may aid mothers in managing their own stress levels.

The Snuggle Me Organic Feeding Pillow is designed to fit you and your baby’s unique feeding needs. Crafted with narrow ends that easily tuck behind your back and a thick center that brings baby right to you. This modern feeding pillow places your baby in the perfect feeding position, allowing you to lean back and relax while nursing or bottle-feeding your little one.


How Often Should Newborn Babies Nurse?

For the initial month, doctors recommend that newborn babies breastfeed approximately 8-12 times per day. This frequency is necessary because breast milk is easily digestible, leading to frequent hunger in newborns. These frequent feedings in the early weeks serve to stimulate milk production. As your baby reaches 1 to 2 months of age, the number of nursing sessions will likely decrease to around 7 to 9 times per day.

During the first few weeks of life, breastfeeding should be done on-demand, responding to your baby's hunger cues, which typically occur every 1 to 3 hours. As newborns grow older, their feeding frequency tends to become more predictable, with some babies nursing every 90 minutes while others may wait 2 to 3 hours between feedings. It's important not to allow newborns to go more than approximately 4 hours without feeding, even during the nighttime. Ensuring regular feeding intervals is crucial for their nutritional needs and overall well-being.

By paying attention to hunger cues and practicing breastfeeding on demand, you can develop a clearer understanding of your baby's individual nursing needs in terms of timing and quantity. If you have concerns about your baby's feeding schedule, consult with your pediatrician. Every baby is unique, but as long as they are healthy and growing, that’s really all that matters.


Benefits of On-Demand Breastfeeding & 6 Evidence-Based Tips

Breastfeeding On-Demand: Tips for a Nursing Parent 

1. On-demand nursing is exhausting, but naps can have surprisingly rejuvenating effects.

When you have experienced a significant sleep deficit, it is common to assume that you need to compensate by sleeping for extended periods of time. Fortunately, the human brain has the ability to adjust our sleep patterns, enabling us to experience deeper sleep when we have been deprived of sufficient rest. Research shows that taking a couple of thirty-minute naps can effectively counteract many of the negative consequences associated with severe sleep deprivation.

​​2. Making a conscious effort to expose yourself to sunlight during the day while minimizing artificial lighting at night can make a significant difference.

While it may be tempting to abandon normal routines when feeding your baby every 2 to 3 hours, it's important to resist that temptation, particularly when it comes to lighting. The brain relies on light cues to regulate its internal clock, so it's beneficial to expose yourself to natural daylight in the morning and afternoon while avoiding artificial lighting at night, especially sources that emit blue wavelengths of light. Maintaining a consistent pattern of natural lighting helps your brain maintain a sense of time and supports healthy circadian rhythms, facilitating an easier transition back to regular sleep patterns as your baby grows. Additionally, exposing your baby to natural lighting patterns can potentially expedite the development of mature sleep rhythms. Therefore, make an effort to share sunlight with your baby and ensure a dark environment during the nighttime.

3. Seek help.

Our ancestors had a lot of family and communal support after the birth of a baby. It is unrealistic to believe that you have to manage everything on your own. It is essential to seek support from partners, relatives, and friends who can lend a helping hand. Consider pumping your milk and allowing someone else to feed your baby while you take the opportunity to get some rest. Take advantage of any available chances to prioritize your own rest and well-being.

The Complete Book of Breastfeeding, 4th Edition, Paperback offers a comprehensive introduction to breastfeeding - how to prepare for breastfeeding before baby arrives, how to involve the baby's father and other members of the family.


4. Share a room (not a bed) with your baby. 

In-room co-sleeping enables parents to closely monitor their babies and minimizes the disruption to maternal sleep during nighttime feeding sessions. With the baby sleeping in the same room, they can be promptly attended to and fed without the need to relocate. Avoid sharing a bed with your newborn, as this increases the risk of SIDS.

5. Try wearing your baby in a sling or carrier.

Being in close proximity to your baby is advantageous for breastfeeding as it allows you to promptly recognize hunger cues. This may explain why practices like carrying or wearing infants during the day are associated with a heightened ability to respond promptly to early hunger cues. Research also suggests that when babies are actively involved and carried throughout the day, they tend to develop more mature waking and sleeping patterns, potentially leading to longer stretches of sleep during the night. Consequently, baby-wearing and carrying can aid in establishing healthier sleep habits for your baby.

6. Seek support from breastfeeding-friendly individuals and organizations, and when facing criticism from friends or family members, share the evidence that supports responsive breastfeeding.

It's not just about understanding the benefits of breastfeeding on demand; it's also about providing individuals with the freedom to nurse wherever they need to, even when they're away from home.

Unfortunately, not everyone grasps this concept. Many people feel uncomfortable seeing a person breastfeeding, often because they associate exposed breasts with sexuality or eroticism. It's important to remind them that this discomfort is a cultural bias, and most societies around the world do not share this perspective. In fact, in the majority of societies studied by anthropologists, breasts are primarily seen as a source of nourishment for infants. In a cross-cultural study, only 13 out of 190 cultures surveyed considered breasts as objects of sexual interest. Unfortunately, sexual attitudes towards breasts often act as a barrier to breastfeeding on-demand. 

The Takeaway

Ultimately, the decisions you make regarding how to nourish your baby are personal and should be based on your own comfort and preferences. Remember that there are various ways to provide nourishment for your child, and it's important not to feel pressured into doing something that doesn't align with your feelings.

If you're experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding, it may be beneficial to seek assistance from a lactation consultant. These professionals can offer guidance and support, addressing issues such as latch problems, inconsistent feedings, nipple soreness, or breastfeeding aversion. You can ask your doctor for a recommendation or search for a specialist online within your network. Regardless of the method you choose to nourish your baby, ANB Baby is available to provide assistance and support along the way.

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