UTLOT - Myth #5

Myth #5

All babies can wait at least 3 hours between feeding and it is better to wait 4 hours, even if they are crying. If you don't make a baby eat on a schedule, his eating patterns will remain disorganized and intrusive on the parents. [note: the revised version of this brochure says" 2 1/2 hours between feedings and it is better to wait 3-4 hours, even if they are crying."]

God made our bodies in such a way that when the body runs out of fuel, and the blood-sugar level drops, we ``feel" hungry - feeling mild and eventually severe hunger pains if we do not eat. If you have gone on a fast you will understand how painful these hunger pains can get. Most adults eat something (even if just a snack or cup of juice) at the first mild hunger pain.

Babies express their hunger by their one means of calling for help: crying.

In a study done by Cambridge, breast-fed babies awoke and cried much more frequently than bottle-fed babies, becoming restless and crying within 2 to 3 hours after a previous feeding. Mothers who had been led to believe that the normal baby who was getting enough milk could go 4 hours between feedings showed a dramatic tendency to assume they didn't have enough milk and to switch to bottle feeding (page 93, Distress and Comfort).

So if you are breast-feeding your baby you might normally expect that it would go at least 2 hours between feedings ( the time is measured from the beginning of nursing to the next beginning, not end to beginning).

Breast-milk has a significantly lower fat content than formulas, and an easier-to-digest protein (for humans), so it is more quickly digested by the baby. Fat content in human milk varies from woman to woman so some women's milk might ``hold" their babies longer than others. This is NOT an indication of insufficient milk, you may just have to accept that you have to feed your baby more often than some women because your milk is digested more quickly.

Also, some babies (again, just like adult humans) need to eat more frequently than others. While most adults can easily go from meal to meal without in between snacks or drinks, it is not that unusual for some to require drinks or small snacks between meals to avoid headaches, light-headedness or other signs of the drop in their blood sugar. No connection has been made between these needs and infant feeding patterns- i.e., these adults were not ``conditioned" to get headaches.

Of my own four children, two nursed at ``normal" 2 to 3 hour intervals, one nursed every 1 1/2 hours, and the fourth would often go 4 to 5 hours between feedings. Three of them tripled their birth weight by 6 months, and the other (one of the ``normal" ones) only doubled his weight. The one who ate the most often now never snacks between meals, but eats more than my husband. The one who ate least often still eats very little, but has caught up in size and weight with his ``over-eating" older brother (who is almost 2 years older)!

Clearly, each body has a different metabolic rate and therefore different calorie needs.

All babies are fed continuously and never experience hunger (or the pain associated with it) until birth. Nevertheless, babies settle into a predictable nursing schedule (dependent on their personal metabolic needs) within a few weeks of birth. By that time, your own body will be producing milk on a synchronized schedule with your baby 's needs. It is not unusual to be busily working, to notice that your milk is starting to ``let-down", and to hear your baby start to stir or fuss all at the same moment. On checking your watch you will see that the baby's normal time between feedings has just elapsed.

It is my belief that to avoid eating disorders when grown, babies (and children) should be allowed to eat when hungry, which may mean giving them a small healthy snack between meals, and stop eating when full. Even adults who regularly put off eating until they are ``starving" find themselves irrationally ``binging" and becoming food-obsessed. Not unexpectedly, those countries where rigid imposed feeding schedules for babies are most practiced are the same countries where eating disorders are now widespread. One friend of mine carefully controlled her daughter's infant eating schedule, letting her cry if necessary to reach the ``correct" time, believing the glowing promises that such ``parent -controlled" feedings would save her problems with her child when older. Only when her daughter almost died of anorexia twice as an adolescent did she realize how hollow these promises were.

Breast-feeding is initially more difficult than bottle-feeding... taking a couple weeks for you to become adept at it the first time, and sometimes a week for the pain of nursing to subside. (Note: If you experience intense or prolonged pain, consult a nursing specialist as the baby is probably nursing incorrectly.) There is no doubt that it is healthier for the baby to nurse, as well as much cheaper, more portable, and handier at night. Feedings that initially take 15 minutes on a each side, will decrease to closer to 5 minutes on each side as the baby nurses more efficiently and has a bigger swallowing capacity- and as you learn to relax and your ``let-down reflex" is quicker.

Those who cannot nurse for some reason, can take comfort in the fact that modern formulas are closer to breast-milk and easier to use than in the past. Bottle-feeding can also be shared with your husband. Hold and comfort your baby while you bottlefeed him and your relationship with him will not suffer because you are unable to nurse. The close relationship between you and your baby is the most important thing.

Objection: But my baby seems to want to nurse all the time! Do I just become a ``human pacifier"?

A baby does NOT need a feeding schedule imposed on him to regularize his feeding needs. The blood sugar level of the body automatically signals the brain when the body needs more food, producing hunger pains. As a result, most babies quickly settle down to a regular nursing pattern, based on their own metabolic needs and what they are eating (see above). However, if this doesn't seem to be happening, consider these three things:

1) Babies actually nurse for three reasons: hunger. thirst. and comfort. God designed a wonderful system where the ``fore-milk" (that which comes out first) is very watery. In hot climates especially, it is important that babies do not become dehydrated. Often, in between regular nursing, a thirsty baby will want to nurse briefly to get a ``drink." Do not think he is fooling you by this behavior (faking hunger)... he is simply getting a needed drink. When he is hungry, he will persevere until he has drained the breast, getting the rich, thicker ``hind-milk" or ``cream" as we call it in cow's milk. While others may accuse you of nursing ``constantly" (``didn't you just feed that baby?"- they may say), this is NOT overnursing.

2)A baby that is teething. sick. has an earache. or is tired and overstimulated may want to nurse for comfort, hoping to ``tune out" the pain or commotion. Sometimes you will find that other methods of comforting the baby will work just as effectively as nursing if she is not hungry or thirsty, such as rocking, a baby swing, a warm dark room, or putting him/her in a baby sling or snugglepack. How do you know if she is nursing but not really hungry? She will stop swallowing, or swallow only every now and then.

3)A baby that seems to want to nurse constantly should be checked by a doctor, or you should seek help from the La Leche League or a similar nursing support group. In addition to illnesses, ``constant" nursing can also take place briefly during growth spurts of your baby, when he is needing to stimulate your breasts to produce more milk.

Your baby's brain grows the most during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first six months after birth. Therefore, it is very important for your baby to have abundant resources for his growth and development especially during this time period. Nurse your baby often until he settles into a smooth schedule in keeping with his own growth needs. A well-fed baby will quickly double his weight. It is a well-known fact that inadequate nourishment results in not only retarded growth rate but possible delayed brain development, and sometimes permanent brain injury.

However, if you find your baby is nursing constantly, but not gaining much weight, a nursing specialist can help you determine if your baby is nursing properly (some babies hold their tongue or heads in such a way that their swallowing capacity is greatly diminished, for example). Any baby that is not gaining weight fast enough to double his weight by six to eight months should be checked by a nursing specialist as well as a normal doctor.

Objection # 2: But if I don't control my baby's feeding schedule, then when do I begin disciplining my child ?

It is important to remember that though the Bible contains many specific dietary laws, it does not contain any recommendations about infant feeding and sleeping schedules. If these were important for for your baby's health and godly parenting we can be sure that the Lord would have mentioned them. We are therefore free to choose a variety of parenting methods as long as our attitudes and behavior toward our baby communicate the love, patience, and faithfulness of God in a way the baby will understand.

As a baby gets older and his understanding increases, you will find that you will be able to adjust your behavior in accordance with his understanding. The Bible has much to say about the importance of teaching our children to be obedient and disciplining them when they are rebellious. But, for a child to obey (or disobey) three things are necessary:

  1. Your child must be able to understand what it is you want him to do or not do;
  2. Your child must understand that you are requesting him to do it / or not do it; and
  3. Your child must be capable of obeying your command.

While training of a child begins at birth (in that how we deal with them teaches them something), disciplinary actions begin when a child is able to understand that some action is contrary to his parents will, when he can control himself in that area, and when he, with full knowledge of what he is doing, willfully chooses to disobey his parents.

So, while a three-year-old child can be, expected as a matter of discipline, to stay in bed while his parents read in the next room, leaving a child a three-month-old in his crib to cry because he won't go to sleep is an inappropriate disciplinary action. First, he cannot understand that his parents want him to be asleep-too abstract for his age. Secondly, he cannot be expected to recognize that being put to bed is the parent's ``request'' that he go to sleep. Thirdly, he is unable to make himself go to sleep. For parents to assume that the baby is crying because he is unwilling to comply with his parents desire is totally unrealistic. Therefore you CANNOT say that the baby is rebelling or strong-willed in a rebellious sense, nor in any way trying to control the parents. The baby is crying out of fear, tiredness, loneliness or whatever. The baby is NOT refusing to obey the parent; nor is the parent who ignores the baby ``teaching the baby to obey.''

It is best to concentrate on teaching your baby the unfailing compassion, omnipresence and faithfulness of God's love. Until your child can move around on its own, there is almost no likelihood of the above three principles being in operation. Even when your baby can crawl, simple commands like ``don't touch" will be much more understandable if they are applied to only one or two things. Before your baby can crawl, she can be taught to understand words like ``hot" by saying it repeatedly while touching her hand (briefly) to the side of a mug of hot coffee. Then when she is crawling, say ``hot, don't touch!" when she approaches the hot oven (and carefully put her hand close enough so she can feel the heat.) Even at this young age, the baby can soon realize that ``don't touch'' is a warning for her own good and she will readily obey.

One Christian leader I know taught his baby to treat books nicely by first introducing him to magazines. If he wrinkled a page, he would express great concern and carefully smooth it out. If a page was torn, he would say ``no" and carefully tape the page or take it away if the action was repeated. (Babies can easily understand displeasure or approval from their parents before they understand words.) This training went on for many months. By the time his son could access the bookshelves, he could be trusted to look at books carefully. What a difference between this type of training and isolating your child in a playpen with toys!