So, imagine yourself sitting around a circle with other mothers. And as per usual, the conversation turns to how much our babies are sleeping and how often they are feeding. I’m sure this isn’t hard to imagine as it can be a weekly occurrence for many of us! As we sit there we start to wonder, “Is there something wrong with my baby? Why isn’t my baby sleeping as much as Sarah’s baby?” This is something that many of us struggle with and we start to think our babies are weird and there is something wrong with them. We can’t help but compare to all of the other babies!
However, if a baby is sleeping in very long chunks of time (for 4-5+ hours) overnight and feeding on a schedule during the day (while your baby is waking constantly and not on a predictable feeding schedule), there are usually reasons as to why this is happening! Here are some possibilities:
1. The parents have implemented “shoosh and pat” or “pick up, put down” techniques. Have you heard of these sleep training techniques? They are marketed to parents as gentle methods, however for many babies, there will be nothing gentle about it! They are sleep training methods. If someone is purposefully not picking their baby up when they are crying or asking to be picked up, or they keep picking them up and then putting them back down over and over until they finally fall asleep, this type of sleep training will eventually lead to a baby sleeping longer. However, it also usually involves a lot of crying and upset from their baby. For those of us who do not want to do sleep training and want to breastfeed our babies when they cry, this option will not feel right for us and will be something we avoid. Therefor, our baby will wake more often than our friend’s baby. For more information on the difference between sleep training and gentle night-weaning, check out my blog post on that HERE. Or you can have a read of my sleep book, “Boobin’ All Day…Boobin’ All Night” for gentle alternatives to sleep training.
2. The mother has been trying to “stretch out” feeds. This is one that appears to be harmless, however this can significantly change how often a baby is feeding. Even if you try to just stretch out a few feeds by a half an hour each time, think of how much breastfeeding time has been taken away within a 24 hour period by doing this. Scheduled feedings can work for some breastfed babies, however trying to implement scheduled (3 or 4 hourly) breastfeeds, takes away the very important other reasons a child might breastfeed for. These include: hunger, thirst, comfort or pain relief.
3. Using a pacifier to settle baby instead of breastfeeding for comfort. Pacifiers were invented to take the place of what normally happens at the breast. So if your baby does not use a pacifier, all of their comfort feeding (or any type of feeding!) will happen through breastfeeding. This means your baby will be breastfeeding frequently, and not on a schedule. For babies who use pacifiers, their breastfeeding might appear to be a more of a “schedule” as so much of their comfort feeding happens by using a pacifier. Click HERE for more information on pacifiers and breastfed babies.
4.They are mixed feeding both formula and breastmilk, or 100% formula feeding. There is research which shows that breastmilk has a faster gastric emptying time than formula. What does this mean? Formula sits for longer in a baby’s digestive system than breastmilk. Because of this, babies can feel fuller for longer and therefore breastfeed less frequently. Again, appearing to be on a more of a predictable schedule than breastfed infants who are drinking something with a much faster gastric emptying time.
5.The baby is a “unicorn baby”! Yes this is a thing! For some people, even if they breastfeed on demand, bedshare and follow their baby instead of the clock, their baby still sleeps and breastfeeds pretty much on a schedule. Regardless of how much attachment and responsive parenting they do, the baby is just happy to feed on their own predictable schedule and sleep for long periods of time overnight. This happens sometimes! And when it does, we call them a unicorn baby. 🙂
In summary, for those of us who are breastfeeding on demand, bedsharing and practicing responsive parenting or attachment parenting, we find that since we are mothering THROUGH breastfeeding and answering their needs by breastfeeding and cuddles, it makes sense that our babies will not follow a predictable feeding schedule. Just as we need comfort, food, drink or extra cuddles at random times during the day and night, so do babies! This is the biological norm. And it is 100% normal (and expected!) if your breastfeeding baby or toddler is on their own varying schedule, 24/7.
There are ways to combine schedules with demand breastfeeding! I have a BOOBinar (breastfeeding webinar) where I cover that. You can sign up for it HERE.