Encouraging a baby to take a full feed, especially a very sleepy newborn or a preoccupied older baby, can take a lot of work and require a lot of perseverance. So why keep at it? Why does it even
Babywise says that "mothers who work to get a full feeding during the first week have babies who naturally transition into a consistent 2 1/2-to 3-hour routine within seven to ten days" (p.77). This compares to many babies that get into the habit of frequent snacking, or small feeds, throughout the day. These feeds often occur anywhere from 30-90 minutes apart. In both situations baby ends up getting the same amount of food, but the frequency of the food and the amount at each feeding is significantly different. I don't know about you, but if baby is going to be getting the same amount of food either way, I'd definitely rather not be feeding him every hour day AND night!
Advantages of full feeds over snacking:
- Snacking can be very exhausting for mom, especially if she has other children to take care of.
- When baby breastfeeds he first gets lactose rich foremilk and then gets fat rich hindmilk. If baby eats only small amounts at each feed he may end up only getting the foremilk which can be upsetting to his tummy due to the high levels of lactose. He also can miss out on the fatty hindmilk which can cause weight gain problems.
- If baby is snacking during the day, he is very likely snacking during the night. This is not only very tiring for whoever is feeding baby, but it doesn't encourage good sleep habits for baby.
What a full feed is not
When I say a full feed, I don't mean forcing your child to eat beyond capacity. You are just encouraging him to eat until his tummy is full (not overfull) and not just until the chemicals in breastmilk or the the soothing act of sucking cause him to fall asleep.
How to encourage full feeds
If you have a newborn, you will have to work hard to keep him awake while he eats. See Sleepy Newborns - tips to keep baby awake during feedings. If you have an older baby who is easily distracted, try going into a quiet and/or dark room to feed him. If your baby is used to falling asleep before he gets a full feed, I suggest you get on an eat/activity/sleep routine, extend out feeds and work at keeping him awake during feeds.
With newborns, if they start to significantly slow down their sucking, they are probably done eating on one side if breastfeeding or they are falling asleep. Sometimes a baby will unlatch because he is done eating on one side or needs to burp. With my children, when they start to appear to be done with a side (slow down significantly or unlatch), I will burp then try that side one more time. They often only eat a bit more before either unlatching or sucking with very few swallows, at which time I'll switch them to the other side. Once they unlatch on that side or suck and swallow very little, they are usually done for good (assuming they aren't just asleep--this will take some experience on your part to figure out). If you have a child that doesn't feed mainly on one side while breastfeeding (which mine do), you may need to also burp on the second side halfway between the feed.
- Babies get quicker at eating as they get older. Don't confuse this for snacking. If baby is telling you he is full, take his word for it!
- Sometimes newborns will eat more often than 2.5 hours. This may occur because baby is premature, has an illness, is in a growth spurt, is cluster feeding, didn't take a full last feed, it works best with your routine, as well as other reasons. If this occurs, I suggest you evaluate the situation to see if there are changes that you may want to make, or if things are as they should be.
- Older babies, like newborns, may also eat more frequently than is normal for periods of time. This may be due to the same reasons listed above.
- Babies with certain conditions, like reflux, may benefit from smaller, more frequent feeds instead of less frequent fuller feeds. You will have to check with your child's doctor to see what is recommended.
EASY or EWS routine