Almost all mothers seem to be advised:

“Your baby should feed every 3 hours, preferably 4 hourly”

Health professionals provide all sorts of reasons in support of this statement but not a single one of them is based on a scrap of evidence. Not a single one can be supported by any science, nor by some basic logic.

The basic fact is that the baby’s stomach is much smaller than we have believed. The average 3kg baby has a fully stretched stomach volume of just 20mls, the size of a ping pong ball. What it means is that to get the full requirements for daily growth, the baby should be feeding once an hour. In the stomach the milk is curdled to become like cottage cheese, and empties in one hour. Not surprising, the baby will wake from a sleep cycle and be hungry.

The stomach can stretch quite fast, but prefers to grow and expand at the same rate as the rest of the baby. But in the first weeks of life, even a two hourly feed is stretching the stomach. We are taught to “burp” the baby, or help it “spit up” … is this not proof positive that there is too much in the stomach? When we are giving 3 or 4 hourly feeds, there is even more distress. It does not really matter how much the baby had in the previous feed, some was burped up, some has been passed through the gut, but the baby feels hungry. Now it must wait, and learn “not to be greedy”!! It is suffering with hunger and the more assertive it is the more it will cry. The baby that stops crying is not content, it has given up in despair.

One reason often given by health professionals is that you, as the parent, must also have a life, and feeding three or four hourly is best for you! This creates a false expectation, and sets us up for failure. So here is the surprising good news !! Feeding one hourly (or even every 90 minutes) is the easy and natural way. A single milk ejection reflex is 20mls – not a coincidence!  The baby stimulates the breast and can swallow that amount in 20 or 30 seconds. Just one side, one complete milk ejection reflex. This feed therefore takes two minutes. There is time to say hello to baby, make eye contact, play a little bit. Repeated 20 times a day, you have spent one hour feeding. No need for burping.

If you feed four hourly, you have a ravenous baby who is either crying and upset, or shutdown in despair. When the baby settles enough, the baby has to stimulate four milk ejection reflexes, and this can take 20 minutes. Then you have to burp the baby who is in too much pain to say hello and make eye contact since baby is lying over your shoulder perhaps. The whole procedure takes at least an hour. Even if you allow half an hour, six times a day is three hours you have spent, and this can easily become 6 hours. What a waste of time.

Feeding a baby requires small frequent amounts of mother’s milk. It does mean adjusting your expectations about you own sleep. Sleep when your baby sleeps. Day and night: you can last a long time on power naps.

Read more about this in Nils’ article in Acta Paediatrica>