Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It's Important to Feed a Hungry Baby

In my classes, we've talked about so many topics that are interesting to me (and I'd certainly hope that's the case; it would be silly to get a master's degree in something that doesn't interest me). A recent discussion in my human growth and development class has been on my mind.

We were talking about Erikson's eight stages of development, specifically the first stage (trust vs. mistrust). In short, this is a very important stage that babies go through; it sets the stage for so much more of their lifespan development. Children come out of this stage with a sense of whether or not people can be trusted in close relationships, and this is determined largely by how consistently their needs are met-- particularly hunger. This says a lot to me about how important it is for parents to respond to their babies' hunger cues rather than implementing a strict feeding schedule! For babies, responding immediately to their hunger is about more than just nutrition; it helps them understand that their parents will respond to their needs. 

But we also discussed breastfeeding-- both the benefits of it and the struggles many mothers face (physical, emotional, lack of support in the workplace and culture, etc). And an interesting thought occurred to me. I haven't researched it extensively, but I think it makes sense...

Many women struggle to make enough milk for their babies, and many babies have trouble gaining weight. This often causes moms to discontinue breastfeeding. Obviously there could be a variety of factors at play here, but I wonder if one of these factors could be scheduled feedings. A mom's body makes milk on a supply-and-demand basis. So suppose the baby is hungry, the mom's body has the milk all ready, but the baby is not nursed until a set time. It won't take long for the mom's body to scale back milk production based on when the baby is fed (which in this case would not correspond with the baby's initial hunger). But I wonder... could that possibly lead to a reduction in supply to the point that the baby isn't getting enough milk, or isn't gaining enough weight because he/she is being fed at scheduled times rather than immediately upon becoming hungry? I wonder how often supply problems or weight gain problems could be remedied by nursing on cue rather than on a fixed schedule?

Like I said, I've not put a lot of research into this, and I'm certainly not saying that's the only reason these problems might occur. But I do think it's a possibility worth considering if the mom and baby are having these issues. 

At any rate, regardless of whether parents are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, feeding on cue rather than on a schedule seems like a biologically appropriate choice when you take into account a baby's physical and emotional needs. I would personally be very, very cautious about advice to schedule a baby's feedings. Some babies naturally fall into a predictable pattern, some don't-- but that's okay! Being responsive to their needs builds trust, which is very important throughout life. 

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