Baby-Led Feeding

By: Michelle Faoro, RN, IBCLC

You may have heard of the terms “on demand”, “cue-based” or “baby led” feeding which simply mean feeding the baby whenever they show feeding cues rather than on a schedule. Because your milk supply is driven largely by demand, baby led feeding ensures you make enough milk for your baby.

Baby Feeding Cues

Watch for feeding cues such as baby bringing their hands to their mouth, rooting, licking or smacking lips and offer the breast each time. Your baby should feed at least 8 times every 24 hours (6-8 on day one); 8-12 times is average but, more is okay. Crying is a late sign of hunger so catching those very early cues such as baby licking lips will help make latching easier for you and your baby.

Waking Baby to Encourage Feeding

Holding your baby skin to skin is the best way to encourage frequent feeding but, if you find that your baby is not waking on their own for at least 8 feeds you will need to wake them to feed.  Although it just feels wrong to wake a peacefully sleeping baby, allowing the baby to continue to sleep for too long can result in inadequate intake causing the baby to become sleepier. This cycle can ultimately possibly lead to low blood sugar and poor weight gain.

Begin to wake a sleepy baby for a feeding by unwrapping and undressing down to a diaper. You might try changing the diaper, as well. Rubbing the baby’s back gently and stimulating the baby’s suck reflex by letting them suck on your finger will help get the baby ready to latch.  Once you get the baby sucking on your finger you can then put them to the breast to latch. Continue to stimulate the baby while they feed to keep them awake by rubbing their hands, feet and head, periodically, as needed.

Cluster Feeding

Cluster feeding is a very normal part of breastfeeding in which your baby will feed very frequently. Not only does cluster feeding help ensure the baby is fed as much as they need, it also helps boost your milk supply quickly. In the early days after delivery the baby is taking in small amounts of breastmilk at a time which is digested very rapidly so it’s very normal for babies to eat very frequently. Also, each mom’s milk supply differs as does each baby’s efficiency and ability to remove milk.

Watch Your Baby, Not the Clock

Following your baby’s cues is the best way to know when to feed. The “every 2-3 hour” feeding schedule is so ingrained in our culture that when an infant displays very normal breastfeeding patterns it often results in panic leading to formula supplementation or the belief that the baby couldn’t actually be hungry. In my experience, I have seen both reactions almost equally. Both can lead to lower milk supply and, possibly excessive weight loss or poor weight gain. So, when your baby starts looking hungry 20 minutes after finishing a feed, watch the baby not the clock. You’ll have a well fed, happier baby.

*It’s also important to note that cluster feeding should be a few blocks of time per day not around the clock.

Keep Track of Feeding

Keeping track of feeding with an app or writing them down, especially in the first week is very helpful. Exhaustion can make it feel like feedings are so much more frequent than they actually are or cause you to not realize If you’re worried about your baby’s feeds while in the hospital, ask the lactation nurse for help early on. They will help you figure out if your baby is feeding effectively and decide if supplementation is appropriate. And of course, if you and your baby are at home call your pediatrician and board-certified lactation consultant for help.

The Florida Craniofacial Institute Breastfeeding team is here to help whether you just need some reassurance or you’re experiencing more complex issues.

Seek help if your baby is:

  • Feeding more than 12 times a day and does not seem satisfied after feeding
  • Falls asleep quickly after latching or is unable to feed for at least 15 minutes of active sucking at least 8 times per day
  • Is not waking for at least 8 feeds every 24 hours after day 1
  • Does not have an adequate amount of wet and dirty diapers
  • Breastfeeding is painful throughout the feeding

Call today for a private appointment with the Breastfeeding Team at Florida Craniofacial Institute, we can be reached at 813-870-6000.