Are you watching the clock or watching your baby?
The authors of baby training books make millions off of sleep deprived parents. Women bring these books into hospital with them when they are in labour, women turn to them after they have had little sleep, women listen to their friends as they tell them, “you NEED this book! My baby sleeps straight through the night now!” Yet for many of us it just does not feel right. Our baby cries for boob but it has not been three hours yet! Our baby breastfeeds to sleep but the book says, “Don’t let them do this! It’s a prop”! It feels so natural to breastfeed when our baby shows signs that they are hungry but the book states that we must follow this, “sleep, play, eat” (or is it eat, play sleep?!) routine or our babies will be all over the place! Breastfeeding maniacs with no routine! What are we to do? Listen to THE BOOK and our well meaning relatives or listen to our babies and our instincts?
It is possible to have routines AND breastfeed on demand. It is possible to keep these rituals and routines (at nap time, bed time etc.) while fitting breastfeeding randomly in between, or during them!
“…but the “baby whisperer” sleep book worked amazingly well for my friend! Now her baby sleeps ten hours straight every night!”
Why do most babies breastfeed so frequently without naturally following a schedule?…
Sleep trainers and “baby whisperers” have entire books filled with why it is so important to breastfeed on a schedule and train your baby to fall asleep without doing the one thing that babies are literally made to do (fall asleep while breastfeeding) but they also fail to mention the many different reasons a baby breastfeeds for. Why is it that so much of the mainstream information in Western societies focuses on hunger as the only valid reason a baby must breastfeed for? My BOOK includes a whole list of reasons a baby breastfeeds for but I will just list a few here; hunger, thirst, comfort, pain relief, to fall asleep happily and to wake up happily. One reason is not more important than another. By breastfeeding on demand you are meeting every need your baby has! No need to figure out why they are crying, just offer them the boob. Most of the time this is exactly what they are looking for and for most mums this follows what her instincts are telling her to do.
I recently wrote a letter to the editor of Kids On The Coast, a local publication filled with things to do with your children and articles. A quote from Tizzy Hall (a self described “baby whisperer”) stated that, “If you follow a routine you know your baby won’t be hungry and you know your breast milk will be its best quality. If you don’t follow a routine you can end up with watery breast milk and a very hungry baby.” I wrote a an entire page for a response and will post the link here when it is published on their website, but for now I will just share with you a portion of what I wrote in reply…”This statement about breastfeeding is not only incorrect with absolutely no evidenced based research to back it up, but can be harmful t to a mum’s breastmilk supply and her baby. There is absolutely no evidence to support her statement that breastfeeding on demand creates, ‘watery breast milk’, yet there is ample evidence to show how important breastfeeding on demand is for babies.”
So why is feeding on demand (baby led feeding) so important (especially in the early months)?
As many of us know, our breasts work in supply and demand. The more our babies breastfeed, the more milk we will make. It is crucial to follow baby led feeding as it ensures you are allowing this supply and demand system to start working at optimal levels! Our baby breastfeeds as much as they need so our breasts match that need and produce the right amount for our babies. There are incredibly immunological and nutritional qualities to our milk as well. When our babies are getting sick or have been exposed to an illness then they will breastfeed more frequently to help fight the illness or prevent it. Amazing! This also applies to toddlers and older children who are breastfeeding. The awesome qualities of our milk are present the entire time we breastfeed our children for.
“So why did the sleep book work so well for my friend? She schedule feeds and has enough milk.” Yes it is true that for some it works! Why is this? Some babies happily breastfeed on a schedule. Maybe they are an “easy”, relaxed baby? It could also be due to the mum’s storage capacity within her breasts. Women (with a normal, healthy milk supply) will produce the same amount of milk within a 24 hour period, yet we will all have a different storage capacity. This means that for some babies, breastfeeding every 3-4 hours works just fine as they will get enough milk! For others this means that they will actually be receiving much less milk than they need due to their mother’s storage capacity being on the lower side. The lower storage capacity, the more often your baby must breastfeed to get enough milk within a 24 hour period.
From La Leche League’s website, “Research has shown that healthy, full-term breastfeeding infants have a remarkable ability to regulate their own milk intake when they are allowed to nurse ‘on cue’ and that mothers’ rates of milk production are closely related to how much milk their babies take…Human beings have survived and flourished because mothers have met these needs by responding freely to their babies’ cues and behavior, particularly their feeding behaviors.”1
Why night feeding is important
The entire contents of these baby sleep books teach women how to “train” their babies to sleep through the night. That means many hours of sleeping without a baby waking to breastfeed. Yet it is incredibly important for babies (and toddlers) to wake to breastfeed. Here are some reasons;
1. Research shows that frequent night waking to breastfeed and sleeping with your baby following safe sleep guidelines2 reduces the risk of SIDS.3
2. Babies need comfort at night, breastfeeding is what comforts them.
3. Even as adults we wake at night. We learned to self settle eventually which your child will do as well! Head here to my ARTICLE on night weaning for when your child reaches the 18-24 month mark. You will not have to breastfeed throughout the night forever! 🙂
4. Babies need frequent cuddles and human touch. It is the biological norm for babies to need frequent breastfeeds, 24/7.
It is not normal for babies to sleep through the night (and often times toddlers as well). If it was normal people would not be making millions off of training their babies how to sleep. They would just be born sleeping ten hours straight at night! It is going against what happens naturally.
It is the biological norm for babies and toddlers to fall asleep at the breast. Our breasmilk contains components which help relax our babies and put them to sleep.4 We are helping our babies sleep, and oxytocin is being released which helps us relax as well. Cuddle up with your breastfed babe and follow your instincts as a mum to mother through breastfeeding if that is what your feel is right for you and your baby or toddler…even if that means breastfeeding them to sleep. It is not a “prop” as these books like to call it. It is the biological norm and this is what women have been doing since the beginning of time. You might like to read more about this topic of breastfeeding to sleep here, “Breastfeeding your baby to sleep…what’s the big deal?!”.
“BUT I’M TIRED!” I understand! I have three children! I know! I’m exhausted too…does anyone have a cup of coffee they can give me? Have a read of my ARTICLE on getting more sleep without having to train your baby. 😀
Many of us feel as though we would like to breastfeed when our baby is showing cues that they are looking for boob, or when our toddler is asking for it. Many of us feel like it is the right thing to do. Many of us really enjoy breastfeeding our babies and toddlers to sleep. Many of us love waking up slowly as the sun shines into our room while breastfeeding our little ones. These books often tell us to go against our instincts.
If the book’s schedule and not breastfeeding to sleep is working for you and your baby is not crying, then great! Keep doing what works for you, your milk supply and your baby. Yet if you happen to be one of the many women out there who feels though it is not working and creating an obsession of watching the clock instead of your baby, it might be time to start listening to your instincts and following the lead of your baby…instead of the book.