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From Snacks to Meals

Right now my daughter eats whenever she wants. And normally that's ALL. DAY. LONG.

When I visited with my family, her eating habits — or rather, my nursing habits—brought on some strange looks and comments.
At first formula was suggested because she'd "be full longer" but I know that formula doesn't digest as fast, which is why some babies may not eat as often. I also know part of the reason for suggesting formula was so they could help feed her, which is one reason I brought my breast pump along.

Then, my sister commented on how quick I am to feed her when she's upset. I didn't think it was a big deal, especially since it always calms my baby down. But after our pediatrician asked if she's eating every three hours or so it made me question how often she really eats.

After tracking for a couple of days to be sure, I noticed she wanted to eat (or would eat if I offered) about every hour. Since I've been on maternity leave and haven't really had a busy schedule away from her, I've been nursing her on demand. I've had no problem with it since I enjoy holding her as much and as often as I can. But now that we're soon going to be apart for 9-10 hours a day, I'm beginning to wonder if implementing some kind of schedule would be better for her — better for all of us. I know there's some controversy around strict eating schedules for babies. Fear that people will abide by a schedule so rigid that babies will starve or be harmed by it, but that's not what I'm looking for. I'd never want to do something that hurts my baby. What I'm talking about is finding a way to help her to eat more every two to three hours instead of snacking every hour or half hour.

Right now nursing is my quick and easy way to calm her down when she gets upset. Get her to sleep when she's cranky, and top her off when she's beginning to feel hungry. But I notice when I put a little effort in I can rock her to sleep, entertain her when she's bored and may want to eat, and calm her down when she's upset. It does take more work, but I know she's just as happy as when she's nursing, and it's something Daddy can do when Mommy's away since he doesn't have the same equipment.

A big way having a flexible schedule will help us is when I go back to work. I know nursing is better than pumping when it comes to feeding my daughter so it would be ideal to feed her right before I leave for work, during my lunch break, and as soon as I get home. Obviously I wouldn't want her to have a bottle right before those points, but is having her hold off a little bit if I'm on my way home cruel? Of course if she's hungry, she's hungry and I wouldn't want her to cry until I get home. But if she can be entertained some other way until I can arrive to nurse her it could save us of some of that precious liquid gold I fear may become more and more rare once I return to work.

The more I nurse the more it'll help my supply and the less I'll need to pump or dip into our frozen stash. To keep that organized I think I'll need a morning, lunchtime and evening schedule. After I'm home from work though aside from maybe a pump schedule I think I'll enjoy nursing her on demand again, as much as she wants. After all, I will have missed her all day.

I know some people who swear by schedules and others who curse them. What are your thoughts?