Q. Dear Armadillo
My nine week old feeds every two hours during the day, everything feels very chaotic and I'm wondering when I can expect her to go longer?
A. Hi Emma
Chaotic is a great way to describe life with a newborn, life is suddenly so different than before - with everything focusing around this tiny being. Many mums have expectations their baby will go 3 1/2 - 4 hours between feeds, and of course be sleeping through the night by six months! As the vast majority of infants are not breastfed after the first few weeks - these expectations are based on what is normal for infants fed a breastmilk substitute, which is often different to normal behaviour for a breastfed baby.
On top of this whilst mothers can make roughly the same amount over a 24 hour period - the amount available at each "sitting" varies mum to mum, so some infants will need feeding much more frequently than others. How effectively baby feeds is also a factor - some power feed whilst some feed much more slowly; often infants who feed very frequently during the day will have a longer stretch at night, and vice versa, but there's really no rules. Some babies will only take one side per feed, others will take two - generalising how much and how often baby should eat simply doesn't work.
Breastmilk is also about much more than food - it's emotional and psychological comfort, pain relief, has hormones to relax and get baby to sleep, contains a massive range of anti-viral, anti-infective, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial properties; providing it's own immune system. This means babies often want to feed more when unwell, teething or hitting a developmental milestone. Young infants also have a need to suck for appropriate neurological development - scheduling feeds deprives baby of all but nutrition. All this means that baby can have phases of frequent feeding, combined with phrases of sleeping a little longer - it really is not the case that once they can sleep through (defined as 5 hours) they do every night!
Even sleep patterns are different depending upon how an infant is fed, with some experts suggesting it is the longer and deeper levels of sleep that increase risk of SIDS.
Unfortunately - much of this natural behaviour is a big clash with expectations and cultural norms. Modern mums are used to structure, routine and predictability. In response mothers often try and stretch out or schedule feed - for a small percentage breastfeeding will still work. For many more problems with supply/insufficient weight gain in baby, or both will occur - sometimes not apparent until around 4 months when prolactin levels drop.
But let's look at what's involved with feeding. When you consider the guidelines for formula preparation - you can see why mothers are tempted to try and encourage baby to "finish the bottle", hoping for a decent gap before the next feed. In comparison breastfeeding involves simply picking baby up - is it really a biggie if it's more frequently?
Instead of battling to regain structure - why not just go with the flow and take each day at a time? your baby is still so young and within a very short period of time your baby WILL go longer between feeds and before you know it they are too busy to feed, not every need can be met by the breast and long lazy snuggly feeds become a distant fond memory; all without you doing anything at all. It can be easy for mums to feel they are doing something wrong if they don't have a set routine or pattern, it's simply not so and mums often find taking things as they come can make young babyhood so much more enjoyable.
Hope this helps