Decision: Feed on Demand vs. Feed on a Schedule
During those bleary first weeks, many new moms end up feeding on demand by default. (Who has the mental energy to formulate a workable schedule?) Plus, most experts agree that on-cue feeding is best for newborns, who need frequent fill-ups anyway. But once your baby starts sleeping for longer stretches (four or five hours) at night, you'll probably notice that he's able to drink more less often, possibly creating his own eating schedule. What's typical at this point? A bottle or nursing session every three hours, for a total of eight or so feedings per 24-hour period. When he hits this stage, you can try to shift his natural schedule to times that work best for you, says Alan Greene, M.D., author of From First Kicks to First Steps and Feeding Baby Green. But if your tyke hangs on your boob for hours on end or nips from a bottle all day long, talk to your pediatrician about gradually increasing the time between feedings so that your baby will drink more at each one. Consider offering your little nipper a pacifier in between feedings, too; some babies simply need to suck - a lot.
Many moms, though, enjoy the round-the-clock closeness that demand feeding entails and believe that their babies benefit from their immediate responsiveness. If that's you, there's no need to change what you're doing. If you're formula-feeding, just be careful not to overfeed (it's easier for breastfed babies to self-regulate their intake); Dr. Greene's rule of thumb is to offer your baby two to three ounces of formula for every pound of his body weight, up to a maximum of 32 ounces daily.
Bottom line: If your baby is crying from hunger, of course you wouldn't deprive him. But if a schedule makes for a calmer, happier, more rested you, give it a try. Your baby needs you at your best.