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Simply put, breastfeeding on demand means feeding your baby whenever she's hungry, instead of looking at the clock to gauge whether or not she "should" be hungry. Young babies don't eat out of boredom or habit; they eat when they need to.
Years ago, babies were fed strictly by the clock, about every three or four hours. If they cried in between mealtimes they were soothed, but not with food. This theory reflected the belief that babies and mothers do better with a predictable routine, and in many areas of development (like sleep and bathtime) this is still true. However, the latest school of thought is that babies should be given food whenever they're hungry, so they grow up secure in the knowledge that their most basic needs will be addressed.
You may be wondering, how can I tell when my baby is hungry? Crying is the first and most obvious clue, but a hungry baby may also grow squirmy, root for a breast, smack her lips, or even make sucking motions. (If your baby's crying and you offer her the breast and she's not interested, something else may be bothering her, like a wet diaper.)
Feeding your baby on demand may open you up to all sorts of criticism from well-meaning relatives, so be prepared to explain why you're feeding your baby so often. You can say that breast milk is digested quickly, and some babies need to eat more frequently, especially newborns with tiny stomachs. You might say something like, "She needs to eat often now, but it won't be like this forever," or "The doctor suggests I feed her whenever she's hungry, which is pretty often. Once she grows a little bigger she'll be able to go longer between feedings." --Jessica Hartshorn
Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.