What Is Breastfeeding on Demand?

May 17, 2023
This article has been written and endorsed by the pharmacist Angela Herrero Marin
In this article, we'll help you to clear up your doubts and discover what breastfeeding on demand is and what you can expect from it.

We can still hear that breastfeeding should be done every three hours to get babies used to a feeding schedule. However, this is one of the biggest myths about breastfeeding, as breastfeeding should be on demand. Keep reading to learn more about this topic.

Breasts don’t work on a schedule. On the contrary, for good milk production, they must receive the necessary stimulation and suction from the baby for the body to produce what the baby needs.

What does breastfeeding on demand mean?

In on-demand feeding, the baby breastfeeds when they ask for it, regardless of whether it’s been twenty minutes or an hour since their last feeding. When we watch the clock and count the time between feedings, it can lead to low milk production. In addition, it becomes exhausting for the parents. Therefore, there should be no feedings at any particular time.

Is it necessary to wake the baby to breastfeed?

During the first days of the newborn, it’s important to wake them to feed them. Some babies are able to sleep for many hours, so it’s important not to let too much time pass between feedings. Especially if there’s a risk of hypoglycemia in the baby.

Although there are those who claim that sleep feeds the baby, this is just one more untruth in a long list of breastfeeding myths. In any case, after those first few days, it’ll no longer be necessary to wake the child to breastfeed. Remember that breastfeeding should happen on demand and the baby will suckle when they need it.

Newborns should have between 10 and 12 feedings per day. After that, their feedings begin to become more spread apart.

How many feedings should a baby have in on-demand feeding?

A newborn should have between 10 and 12 feedings per day. This is because their stomach, being so small, needs to be fed more frequently than in later months.

Then, as the months go by and they grow, the baby themself will start to feed less frequently. From about 3 months on, the feedings will also be shorter, as little ones are already experts in sucking. For example, there are babies who already drink all the milk they need in 5 minutes.

It’s important that we never take the breast out of the baby’s mouth, even if they’re asleep, as the milk still makes its way to them. Therefore, we must wait for the baby to let go of the breast on their own. Once they let go of the first one, offer them the other one. If they’re full, it’s time for a break.

What do the studies say about this?

According to a 1994 study, breastfeeding on demand was positively associated with breastfeeding success. At the same time, a paper published in the Revista Sanitaria de Investigación states that for successful breastfeeding, breastfeeding should be offered on demand without schedules, the mother’s posture should favor and control swallowing, and the baby should take the nipple and most of the areola with lips everted.

Anticipate early hunger signals

When a baby cries for hunger, it’s because we’ve waited a long time to feed them and they’re anxious to eat. So, the first thing to do is to soothe the little one by offering them the breast. On the contrary, if you try to breastfeed in that state of crying and nerves, the baby can hurt the nipple by sucking hard and even have a bad latch.

For this reason, it’s important to anticipate and not wait until the baby cries to offer the breast. Some signs of hunger may include the following:

  • Moving the head from side to side as if looking for something
  • Sticking out the tongue
  • Sucking on the finger or hand
  • Clenched fists

A baby’s crying isn’t synonymous with hunger

In addition to hunger, a baby may also cry because they’re uncomfortable, lonely, or simply because they want to be close to their mother. When in doubt, always offer the breast as the first option. Remember that the breast is much more than food and can help calm their crying, even if it’s for another reason. It can also relieve them of any discomfort, ailment, or need for contact with their mother.

Many times, babies cry for reasons other than hunger. However, the breast should always be offered first.

Breastfeeding on demand: When to be concerned

The fact that breastfeeding is on-demand doesn’t mean that everything is okay. There are mothers who literally spend 24 hours a day with their baby at the breast, which isn’t normal either. During breastfeeding crises (especially the first one), we may notice an increase in demand from the baby, but just as this stage comes, it will also go. For this reason, we must pay attention to several factors that may indicate that something’s wrong:

  • The baby isn’t gaining the weight it should.
  • The baby doesn’t wet at least six wet diapers per day.
  • The baby spends many hours at the breast.
  • You experience pain in the breast.

You should be well informed

By taking all this information into account, you’ll be able to know what to expect from breastfeeding on demand and when to suspect that something’s wrong. It’s important to be well informed to avoid making mistakes and to know how to act in any type of situation that may arise. In addition, if you have any doubts, you should always consult your doctor.

  • Pérez-Escamilla R, Pollitt E, Lönnerdal B, Dewey KG. Infant feeding policies in maternity wards and their effect on breast-feeding success: an analytical overview. Am J Public Health. 1994 Jan; 84(1):89-97. doi: 10.2105/ajph.84.1.89. PMID: 8279619; PMCID: PMC1614910. Disponible en: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8279619/
  • Porras Rodrigo M, Cambrón Blanco R, Dreghiciu A, Luna Tolosa E, Úbeda Catalán C, Villanueva Vera P. Lactancia materna. Revista Sanitaria de Investigación, ISSN-e 2660-7085, Vol. 4, Nº. 2 (febrero), 2023. Disponible en: https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=8854178