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Feeding on demand, or keeping a routine?

Should my baby be feeding on demand or should I schedule my baby's feeds? What's best?

Ghrelin is a peptide hormone, which has an effect on growth hormone secretion and energy balance. It also has a central effect on eating behavior and regulation of body weight for life. Babies that have been born small for gestational age, have been found to have higher Grelin levels. In general, Grelin levels are at their highest during the earliest years of a child's development.

Leptin is the hormone secreted when your baby is full and has had enough at that particular feed.

What does this all have to do with feeding on demand or scheduling your baby's feeds?

In a nutshell, Grelin influences hunger in children, enabling them to regulate their appetite & growth, which may impact on future eating behaviour, body development throughout life. It may also impact on childhood obesity & associated disorders normally seen in older adults such as diabetes, cancer & heart disease. Leptin enables your baby to regulate their intake by exhibiting fullness or satiety cues.

Children have their own natural appetite regulation hormones - if fed on demand, we are encouraging our children to feed to their natural biological rhythms from the start. This sets patterns up for eating & body composition later in life, minimising their chances of obesity, heart disease, diabetes & cancer. This is why we support & encouraging babies to feed on demand, whether they are breast or bottle fed.

What about Scheduled feeds?

When babies have insufficient growth, most of the time they are absolutely ravenous and want to feed not only often, but a lot to catch up. For infants that are unwell - for example, with premature, respiratory or cardiac issues, professionals will often recommend a feeding schedule including supplementation which adds extra calories to their diet. This is to compensate for their medical issues which impact on their growth. It is not uncommon for parents to be recommended with newborns to feed them every 3-4 hours for example. This is usually because newborns may be sleepy or gain excessive amounts of weight in their early days of life.

If your baby is having a minimum of 8-12 feeds per 24 hours this is considered normal and healthy for exclusively breastfed infants. However, some babies will feed less than this and still thrive.

There are large variations in growth between babies and this has to do with not only what their feeds, but genetics as well. We find that infants tend to have similar growth patterns to their siblings & parents.

Other things to consider as well, is if feeds are scheduled, this would mean you would need to wake your baby, who is having much-needed sleep. Sleep in infants is paramount in ensuring a happy, healthy and thriving baby who is able to meet their health & development milestones. Infants secrete high levels of growth hormone during sleep. So if we disrupt their sleep, we could be influencing their growth hormone secretion as well as their circadian rhythms with melatonin production.

If left alone, most babies will develop their own natural biological rhythms or sleep-wake patterns. Their own rhythms indicate internal hunger cues, internal satiety cues & their own regular healthy sleep-wake cycles. In my experience, if we mess too much with Mother Nature, it's more likely to work against us. This is what we work with here at Milk...early parenting support - gentle & holistic support, based on the latest that science has to offer.

Scheduling your baby's feeds is not something that I would recommend unless there are health indicators that make this necessary & this is usually a temporary measure. This is something that needs to be discussed with your health care provider.

If you would like us to help you, feel free to use our chat function online or arrange a booking with us

We provide expert breastfeeding, lactation, bottle feeding & infant sleep support in Bundoora VIC 3083


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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

At MILK early parenting support, I strive to be your go-to source for all your parenting needs – from pre-birth to post-birth. I'm a passionate and experienced International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). I love empowering expectant and new parents with all the knowledge and support they need to make the right decisions for their family.

Whether it’s helping you find the best feeding and sleeping strategies, or ensuring that your baby is getting the nutrition they need for optimal growth, I'm here to make sure that you and your baby get the best start in life.

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