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Ask Dr. Sears: Feeding by the Clock

Q. My friend suggested I put my 2-month-old on a feeding schedule so that I can feed her less often. Is this a good idea?

A.
Getting your baby on a predictable schedule of every three to four hours probably sounds like a good idea now, when everything else about your days feels chaotic, but rigid expectations are likely to produce more frustration than helpful results. If you're breastfeeding, your baby digests her meals very quickly; making her wait, hungry, for the next one could infuriate her. Formula keeps tiny tummies sated a little longer, but smaller, frequent meals are still best at this stage. Filling her too much can cause gas and irritability or frequent spitting up. And many babies have growth spurts every two weeks or so in the early months that require more feedings.

For these reasons I, and many other pediatricians, recommend a strategy called "demand feeding," in which a baby is fed whenever her little belly desires. Such "cue" feeding helps your baby build the trust, security, and bond that come from knowing her cries are quickly heeded.

Feeding every two hours or so is challenging at first, but many babies naturally begin to go longer between meals as they gain weight, and by 3 or 4 months have carved out a predictable schedule on their own. At this point you might develop a semi-demand type of schedule, offering one or two feedings at predictable times of day interspersed with cue feedings as necessary.Pediatrician William Sears, M.D., is the author of 25 books on childcare.

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