A Real Breastfed Baby Schedule Over Time
If I’d had a better understanding of what biologically natural and normal baby behaviour looked like, my transition to motherhood would have been a hell of a lot smoother. Instead my head was filled with unrealistic, warped societal norms which made me feel like a failure as a mother and as though there was something wrong with my precious baby. These relics of an era when formula was the default choice and sleep-training was a right of passage, left me questioning my every instinct as a mother. Why did my son want to be held all the time? Why didn’t he love his buggy like the babies on TV? How come the car seat seemed to torture him and not soothe him? And did he really need another feed?
Formula and breast milk are fundamentally different. Schedules and routines may work incredibly well for babies who are exclusively formula fed, however, if your little one receives breast milk, a routine (unless it is prescribed by an IBCLC), is almost guaranteed to hinder your milk supply. Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis. The more that you nurse your child (particularly overnight), the more milk that your brain will signal to your breasts to produce. Therefore, during growth spurts or illness, when your baby may need to nurse more frequently than usual, it is not unusual for your baby to nurse for hours at a time. Not only is it not unusual, but from a purely biological and physiological perspective, it is optimal.
Before I learned for myself what normal nursing behaviour looked like, I was stuck in an atypical Westernized mindset. I worried about how I would get the housework done if my son would only nap in my arms? I fretted over how I would ever get to the dozen or so baby groups that I had signed us up for when leaving the house felt impossible? I felt trapped by my own expectations of flitting to yummy-mummy groups every day and I felt like a failure when getting to just one a week felt like a mammoth task. If only I had understood, as mothers in many other cultures around the world, that the fourth trimester was all about healing my body and getting to know my new baby.
With hindsight, I feel a little robbed of the joy that might have been in those first few months if I had known that my perfect little bundle was just that. Perfect. It was my expectations that were warped and it is in the hope that this article helps you that I share this information. This is what a typical day of nursing looked like at various points in my son’s life:
Birth to around 4 months - 10-12 times in a 24 hour period. This included cluster feeding sessions every few weeks for 1-3 hours at at time, day or night.
4 to 18 months - 12+ times a day, including hourly overnight for around 6 months.
18 to 30 months - 8-10 times a day, whenever he was tired, in pain, scared, uncomfortable or in unfamiliar situations, including 3-4 times overnight.
30 to 34 months - 4-8 times a day, including nap times, bedtimes and 2-3 times overnight.
34 to 38 months - 3 times a day (upon waking, nap time and bedtime), then once or twice overnight since introducing parent led boundaries with a view to weaning gradually over the next few months.
I hope you find this information enlightening and maybe even helpful and reassuring. I know that I would have as a new mama. There is so much misinformation out there when it comes to breastfeeding which can leave new parents scared and worried about their babies and toddlers and eating habits. Breast milk is different to formula and the act of breastfeeding is so much more than nutrition. Every mother and child dyad is different and the range of normal and healthy is too. If you experience discomfort whilst nursing, or you are concerned by your baby’s weight gain, seek support from an