Pinky McKay ... "As adults, we should eat and drink according to our body signals – and so should babies."

Pinky McKay ... "As adults, we should eat and drink according to our body signals – and so should babies."

Did you know you would be having a cup of tea at 4pm today, or did you just feel like one?

Did you tell your work colleagues you wouldn’t be able to have lunch with them at midday because you’re not scheduled to eat for another hour?

Allowing babies to feed according to their own appetite, rather than rigid feeding schedules, is better for both mothers and babies 

Does your hunger and thirst change according to the weather and your activity levels?

As adults, we should eat and drink according to our body signals, not a pre-determined schedule – and so should babies. Trying to impose a strict feeding schedule, rather than watching your baby’s hunger cues, is not only likely to result in unnecessary crying, but may be a risk to his health. When you compare a baby’s needs to those of an adult (who’s generally not trying to gain weight – at least, not to double or triple their current size!), it’s easy to understand that expecting a baby to eat according to a strict regime, which restricts the duration and quantity of feeds, is not only unkind, but can also contribute to failure to thrive.

There’s evidence that allowing babies to feed according to their own appetite, rather than imposing rigid feeding schedules, is more compatible with the biology of both mothers and babies. Although breastfeeding according to a schedule may seem to work at first, many women who use strict feeding schedules in the early weeks find that their milk supply dwindles, and their baby may be weaned by about three months. By restricting feeds or repeatedly spacing them out with dummies (which, at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, have no calories), you’ll not only reduce stimulation that signals your breasts to make milk, but you may limit the development of the hormonal process that enhances ongoing milk production. This translates to: early and frequent breastfeeding will promote a continuing milk supply, which means your baby will get lots of milk, so he’ll be likely to cry because he’s hungry.

Another reason for watching your baby, rather than the clock, is that mothers have varying breast milk storage capacities: ultrasound studies by biochemist Dr Peter Hartmann and colleagues at the University of Western Australia have shown that although most women have the capacity to produce similar amounts of milk over a 24 hour period, breast milk storage capacity can vary up to three times as much between individual women (this isn’t necessarily related to breast size and doesn’t influence milk production ability). This means that while some women who have a large milk storage capacity will be able to feed their babies enough milk to go three or four hours between feeds (providing their baby has a big enough stomach), other women will need to feed their babies more often. For women with a smaller milk storage capacity, a three- or four-hourly feeding schedule could result in a hungry, unsettled baby and a mum who questions her ability to produce enough milk – when really, it’s the schedule that’s inappropriate, not the mother’s feeding ability.

Instead of becoming stressed about how much milk your breasts are making or storing, think in terms of drinking out of a cup – you can still drink a litre of water, whether you drink it from a large cup or several small cupfuls. If you allow your baby to nurse whenever he lets you know he’s hungry, you’ll never have to worry about your milk storage capacity.

Whether he wants to feed because he’s hungry or simply thirsty, your baby will be able to regulate the type of milk he needs, if you let him set the pace. The composition of breast milk changes throughout the course of a feeding. The first (‘fore’) milk is rather like skim milk. This quenches your baby’s thirst, which is why he’ll often have very short, frequent feeds on hot days (if you feed your baby according to his needs, he won't need bottles of water). As the feed progresses, the milk’s fat content increases and more closely resembles whole milk. Hunger will be satisfied by longer sucking periods when your baby gets this fatty ‘hind’ milk (like a rich, creamy dessert) that’s squeezed into your ducts by the let-down reflex.

So by watching your baby rather than the clock, and by respecting his cues (crying is a late hunger signal), your breasts and your baby will soon become synchronised in a perfect balance of supply and demand – and you’ll make exactly the right amount of milk to help your baby thrive!

Bikkies for your Boobies
An international board certified lactation consultant and best-selling baby care author, Pinky McKay is launching an exciting new product - Boobie Bikkies, which are nutritious cookies made from all natural, organic ingredients to help boost your energy and support a healthy milk supply. For your free e-book, Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally by Pinky McKay, and a free sample of Pinky’s Boobie Bikkies (samples available from Tuesday May 1), check out www.boobiebikkies.com.au.