How A Breastfeeding Schedule Can Ruin Your Milk Supply
Breastfeeding schedules are not good for baby
People are amazingly clever. We’ve landed on the moon, we fly in airplanes, we have internet-connected computers that fit in our pockets. I could go on for pages. But one of the drawbacks of being surrounded by all our cleverness, is that we sometimes forget that we are animals. Clever animals for sure, but still animals.
Our bodies are driven by biological processes that don’t care about our cleverness. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, when you’re hungry that’s almost all you can think about. You might tell your body, “It’s more convenient for me if I just go pee twice a day, once at noon and once at midnight.” But your body doesn’t care about clocks or time tables. If you gotta go, you gotta go.
It’s the same with a breastfeeding schedule. Your baby’s body doesn’t care about clocks or schedules. If your baby is hungry or thirsty, he cries to let you know. He nurses until his body tells him it has had enough, or until he drifts off into a milk induced blissful sleep. In the same way the frequency (how often he nurses throughout the day) and his duration (length of each session) tells your body how much milk to make. Your milk production doesn’t care about schedules either! Now, if only that were true of bosses!
When a baby is put on a breastfeeding schedule and a clock determines when he feeds it damages his confidence and feelings of security. That goes contrary to what advocates of scheduled breastfeedings say. They say putting your baby on a schedule will teach him delayed gratification and discipline that he can use to learn to sleep through the night.
That clever argument ignores the fact that your baby is ruled by his biology. He is an animal, not quite a Tasmanian Devil (that happens when he turns two), but biologically, an animal. Perhaps limiting yourself to just one pee at noon and another at midnight might teach you discipline and delayed gratification, but at what cost? How much would you resent and mistrust the person who forced you to do that?
Breastfeeding schedules are not good for baby.
Breastfeeding schedules are not good for your milk supply.
Let’s say a baby, freed from breastfeeding schedules, would have nursed for a total of 3 hours and 40 minutes yesterday, but was limited to just 3 hours due to his breastfeeding schedule. In this case the mother’s body missed out on 40 minutes of vital milk-making stimulation. Here’s how it works:
As baby nurses (or you pump) the sucking sensation travels along your nerves, up your spine and into your brain. There it stimulates the release of prolactin – your milk making hormone. Prolactin travels to receptors in the breast that instruct it to make more milk. In the above example of a breastfeeding schedule, the mom missed out on 40 minutes of stimulation, which resulted in less prolactin being released, which results in less milk being created.
Whenever a breastfeeding schedule reduces the amount of time that baby would have nursed it’s going to harm milk production. Now a breastfeeding schedule that limits the time between nursings – for example: No more than 3 hours from the start of one nursing to the start of another – or a breastfeeding schedule that specifies a minimum amount of time for breastfeeding – for example: Baby must nurse for at least 10 minutes on each side – are just fine. They support breastfeeding and milk supply.
Breastfeeding schedules do not account for cluster feedings or growth spurts
Ridged breastfeeding schedules usually don’t account for natural increases in a baby’s amount of breastfeeding. Two of which are cluster feedings in the evening before bedtime and growth spurts. A schedule that limits the baby’s natural tendency to “tank-up” before bedtime will cause the baby to sleep less at night, because he’ll wake up from hunger more frequently. During growth spurts baby’s body needs an increased amount of calories to grow his body, during this time (usually 2 to 8 days per growth spurt) the baby will want to breastfeed frequently and will be fussy if he is kept to a ridged breastfeeding schedule.
If you have your baby on a ridged, clock-based breastfeeding schedule and your milk supply has dropped, you’ll need to throw out that schedule to fix it. Allow baby to nurse on demand and create minimum times between nursing sessions (use 3 hours if you don’t know where to start) and minimum times at each breast (use 10 minutes per side if you don’t know where to start). You’ll also need to add an additional pumping session to help bring your supply back up.
I know with baby-led breastfeeding it can feel like all you do is breastfeed. I’ve been there. Growth spurts are the worst! The baby never wants to get off and all I can think about is the mountain of tasks I want to be working on. How I got through it was to focus on the fact that this is a special and temporary time in my life and right now, breastfeeding is the most important thing I can do. Soon it will be over. Forever. Why not relax and enjoy it?
During growth spurts, I made breastfeeding my main goal and if I did manage to get anything else done I considered it a bonus.