True Life: Breastfeeding on Demand
Updated: Jun 11
you’re stuck in bed for hours at a time
you’re without television, without your kindle and without your cell phone
your hair is up in a messy bun because you can’t recall the last time you brushed it
your newborn hasn’t detached from your breast in over an hour
you’re staring at your husband snoring on the couch and don’t want to wake him to ask for another glass of water because he is just as sleep deprived as you are
you can’t remember the last time you were able to get up to use the bathroom
you haven’t slept more than 2 consecutive hours in weeks and start questioning whether or not you’re a zombie
you are absolutely starving even though you just ate 3 servings of your mother-in-law’s lasagna 15 minutes ago
Welcome to a day in the life of many new breastfeeding mothers. It may sound quite dreadful, but these experiences are the ones you will cherish most, as you will be giving your baby your most undivided attention. You will admire every little move and sound he makes. You will be comforting one another and syncing your rhythms. You will be resting skin to skin while making magic happen together.
“A newborn baby has only three demands. They are warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three." -Grantly Dick-Read
The basic concept of supply and demand is well known in our culture. However, apply this to breastfeeding and confusion arises. It is an honest mistake to assume you would have to breastfeed your child only whenever he literally threw his hands up in the air and demanded breast milk; but this is not the case. Breastfeeding on demand, now commonly referred to as responsive feeding, or child led feeding, is imperative and it is time we all receive and review such necessary clarification.
Breastfeeding on demand will run your entire life… for all the right reasons. It is the only way to navigate towards “extended” breastfeeding, which in reality is actually breastfeeding to natural term. If you wish to follow the World Health Organization’s recommendation of breastfeeding your child for at least 2 years, you must offer the breast constantly in order to maintain the supply your growing child needs. The hospital provides an informative brochure to help mothers identify hunger cues as well as an instructional video about breastfeeding. The real secret is, if you are constantly holding your child and always offering the breast, you will never have to worry about looking for signs of hunger. I’m almost certain my son does not even know what hunger feels like as I am always near him providing access to his nourishment.
We rarely focus on how important it is for new mothers to find encouragement and plenty of assistance from within the community. In order for mamma to keep herself so readily available for baby, she needs a strong support system. Breastfeeding is anything but simple, and if a mother is not well taken care of, she will not be as successful in caring for her newborn child. It is nearly impossible for a new mother to tend to her other duties while breastfeeding exclusively, confirming the validity of the statement, “it takes a village to raise a child”. However, the truth is, mamma is raising the child while mothering through breastfeeding, and the village takes care of mamma and all of her household chores.
As new mothers, we are constantly doubting ourselves because every experience is new and looks completely different from what our neighbors went through. We question everything and always worry that something is wrong with our babies. Our culture obsesses over infants “sleeping through the night”, making the majority of breastfeeding mothers feel as if they are doing it all wrong because their babies are still waking to nurse at least 3 times a night. The general rule of thumb we are left with after giving birth is to breastfeed our infants every 2-3 hours. I have seen and heard of these miraculous babies who can go a full 3 hours in between meals, but as parents we must recognize that all children are different, even on a day to day basis. For example, there may be times that your child will need to nurse:
Every half hour
Every 45 minutes
Every time he wakes up
Every time he falls asleep
For 2 hours at a time
When he is thirsty
When he is hungry
When he is teething
When he is tired
When he is overstimulated
When he is bored
When he is hot
When he is cold
When he just wants to be cuddled
And the list goes on! You are your baby’s safe space and help him to feel the most secure. Do not doubt yourself if your child seems overly attached to you. Some weeks will be exactly like that, but as long as your baby has enough wet diapers and regular bowel movements, you can almost always rest assured that what you’re experiencing is normal. Some breastfed infants will even have up to 5 bowel movements or more in a 12 hour period. Some babies will wet their diapers every half hour and need to be changed constantly. If your baby is otherwise healthy and seems happy, it’s all normal. Mamma knows her baby best and needs to be confident enough to trust her instincts. If there's ever a doubt, offering the breast will cure baby’s discomfort 99% of the time.
Breastfeeding fulfills so many of our children’s needs. With mothering through breastfeeding we comfort, connect, feed, hydrate, soothe and calm our children. Keep pushing through the tough times because you will never look back and say that you wasted too much time breastfeeding your child.
This may seem exhausting, but you will naturally fall right into the routine and before you know it, you'll be reminiscing about the days when your child was an infant and was constantly attached to you, going through 20 diapers a day. In the blink of an eye, your breastfed toddler is doing cartwheels and acrobatic moves across your body every time he nurses all while he’s attached to your poor, little nipple. Sooner than later, you go back to work and start wishing that breastfeeding your child was still your one and only responsibility.
When breastfeeding on demand, baby is in charge of making the schedule. Mamma’s plans always depend on baby’s daily routines, which may vary a bit. Everything else in life, from careers and hobbies to parties and pedicures, must be temporarily put on hold in order to allow you to meet your breastfed baby’s needs. If mamma sincerely wishes to maintain a supply that will allow her to breastfeed her child to natural term, she will need to always follow the baby's lead and trust her body. To most, this sounds awful. To me, it’s heavenly. I could only wish to spend so much precious time with my son for the rest of my life.
The days are long but the years are short. Do more than just breastfeed your baby. Be present each and every time he latches on. Listen to his tiny breaths. Smell his sweet scent. Analyze every little feature while he nurses. Smile back at him when he looks into your eyes. Hold him close and tightly because you never know when your breastfeeding journey will come to an end.
Brown, Amy, et al. “Importance of Responsive Feeding • KellyMom.com.” KellyMom.com, 28 Mar. 2018, kellymom.com/ages/newborn/bf-basics/importance-responsive-feeding/.
“Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?” La Leche League International, www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/is-baby-getting-enough/.