Whether to breastfeed on-demand is one of the biggest decisions new parents have to make when presented with their new bundle of baby at the hospital. Breastfeeding on-demand is both physically and emotionally exhausting, but doing so will reap a multitude of benefits for both mom and baby.
In this post, you’ll find:
- A brief summary of my personal experience learning to breastfeed on-demand;
- Some of the top reasons to breastfeed on-demand;
- Common challenges moms face when breastfeeding on-demand;
- The products I’ve found most helpful at mitigating burnout;
- A bonus freebie to help you stick with on-demand feedings, even on the most difficult days.
Just so you know, I incorporate affiliate links, from which I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you, to help showcase products I personally own and love, as well as to illustrate certain points or product features.
The Best Products for On-Demand Breastfeeding
In the weeks leading up to the birth of my first baby, I found myself daydreaming about rocking her to sleep, singing her lullabies, reading her stories, and also something a little unexpected. I longed to hold her in my arms and nurse her for the first time.
As we enter motherhood, our mommy hormones kick into overdrive, preparing our bodies to provide everything this new human needs to thrive. But there’s more to it than just the biological instinct to feed your baby.
I wasn’t robotically thinking to myself, “I cannot wait to furnish my baby with sufficient nutrients to increase her brain capacity and improve her immunity.” (I hope you read that in your best robot voice.)
I felt my heart swell with affection as I imagined connecting with my baby in a way that only I could — through breastfeeding her. In those moments, you’re not just a milk cow; you are everything to your baby, and your baby is everything to you. It is one of the most unique and special experiences you will ever have.
Breastfeeding proved to be everything I thought it would be, and so much more…both good and bad. I committed to breastfeeding my baby on-demand, and it was simultaneously one of the best and most difficult decisions I have ever carried out.
What is Breastfeeding On-Demand?
Breastfeeding on-demand is a form of responsive parenting, which basically means you, the parent, make an effort to differentiate between and understand your baby’s cues, and then respond quickly and appropriately. In the case of breastfeeding, it entails recognizing not only your baby’s hunger cues, but also the need or desire to nurse regardless of the reason.
Your baby might have just eaten for a full forty-five minutes, and you think there’s no way she’s already hungry again ten minutes later, but sure enough, she’s squirming and rooting. A parent who does not feed on-demand might decide, “You’ve eaten enough. We’ll feed again in ninety minutes.” A ‘responsive’ parent, on the other hand, would respond to the cues immediately (as best as possible) and allow the baby to nurse.
Why is this important?
Despite having essentially created this child inside of my own body, I cannot read her mind. The only person who truly knows what Baby is feeling is Baby, and inconveniently for us, they cannot articulate their needs. Your baby does her best to signal her needs to you, and you can benefit her by doing your best to meet those needs.
Babies nurse for a variety of reasons, not just because they are hungry, and every reason is equally as legitimate as hunger. Your baby may feel unsettled and need the security and closeness nursing provides, she may feel unwell or in pain and need comfort, she may be tired and need help to become sleepy (sucking releases sleepy hormones in Baby’s brain), she may need to increase your milk supply, or perhaps most touching, she may just want to bond with the most familiar person in her life.
Won’t this spoil my baby?
“Babies don’t spoil. Food spoils,” is one of my favorite sayings. During the first year of life, all your baby knows is what she needs and whether you provide it. She is not trying to manipulate you or control your life. That comes later. In the meantime, i.e. during arguably the most critical stages of your baby’s development, it is best to assume Baby’s wants and needs are the same thing.
Our babies run strongly on instinct the first few months of life and are propelled to do things we don’t always understand. As in the earlier example, we might think they can’t possibly still be hungry. Well maybe they aren’t. Your baby is also responsible for establishing your milk supply, which is monumentally important. For reasons beyond our comprehension, somehow there are times when baby knows best.
Baby might be experiencing a growth spurt, and unfortunately, they don’t always follow the growth spurt schedule published in all the baby books. Nursing is also critical for baby’s brain development as well as strengthening her brand new immune system.
The Physical Demands
In today’s age, the importance of on-demand feeding is widely recognized. The hospital encourages it heavily during your postpartum stay. However, it is brutally taxing on a mama physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I love to snuggle my baby and completely lose all concept of time, just treasuring the peace and contentedness reflected up in that tiny baby’s face, knowing that her needs are being fully satisfied by what she receives from me.
The first two weeks, though, I was in excruciating pain through every feeding. “Carrots” (our online nickname for Baby #1) would nurse for hours on end, a reality for which I was not prepared.
According to the books she was only supposed to be hungry every other hour. Clearly, no one had let her in on this pertinent information, because instead, she would nurse for thirty minutes to an hour (OR MORE) on each side, take a ten to twenty minute break, and then start again.
There were times her hunger cues brought me to tears because I just couldn’t go through the pain of latching her again. I was cracked and bleeding with hickeys and blood blisters, and I wanted to sleep more than anything in the world. But she needed me, and I couldn’t let her down.
The Good News
The upfront demands of breastfeeding can be extreme, but guess what? The worst was over in less than ten days.
Moving beyond the early postpartum weeks, breastfeeding on-demand can still feel draining. Here are some of the most common challenges:
- It can feel like Baby controls your daily schedule;
- Your sleep might still be interrupted at night;
- It might feel like your baby never fell into a regular feeding rhythm, or you might have a snacky baby who wants a quick nurse every thirty minutes or so (ahem, Carrots);
- Your daily tasks get interrupted frequently;
- Your baby might associate sleeping with feeding;
- Your baby might not want to stay asleep unless latched (more common with co-sleepers).
While these problems might seem daunting, they certainly do not outweigh the AMAZING benefits of breastfeeding on-demand. While there is no magic product to ward off burnout, these five products have made the day to day demands just a bit more manageable for me.
Best Products to Overcome Breastfeeding Burnout
A Nursing Chair
This first item is the big kahuna. However, it doesn’t have to blow your budget. You can search for nursing chairs on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist and find really decent furniture for really decent prices.
Initially, I was going to bypass a nursing chair and just feed Carrots on the couch or in the bed. We lived in a little 700 square foot apartment near D.C., and it was already pretty cramped without a rocking recliner. I honestly didn’t think we could fit one. One day, my nesting brain decided I must have a nursing chair regardless, so I started searching for a used one. My extremely generous grandparents got wind of my search and sent me one. I have no complaints about this chair. It’s comfy and holding up well.
Mama, let me tell you…I LITERALLY. Let me repeat that. LITERALLY lived in this chair for the first month. As in, I spent upwards of twenty hours a day in my nursing chair.
My advice to you is even if you think you don’t have space for one, put it in the middle of the kitchen if you have to (pro tip: position it in reach of both the fridge and microwave). If you have to choose between a crib and a nursing chair because of budget or space constraints, choose the chair and get a a bassinet or Moses basket. Here’s why:
- The rocking motion is extremely soothing for Baby (and you, too), and unless you have the coolest bed or couch ever, they don’t rock.
- I found it easier to nurse in a reclined, but not lying, position. The adjustable angle was also easier on my stitches. Side-lay nursing can be really painful until everything down there is healed, but you’ll need a metric butt ton of pillows to prop up in bed the way a recliner would support you.
- Even if you don’t want to co-sleep long term, your baby might not give you a choice the first couple of weeks, or it might happen by default when your exhausted self falls asleep unintentionally. Don’t tell your pediatrician I said this, but a good chair can help you to do so safely. Yes, you do have to be careful that there are no spaces for your baby to slide into and that they can’t fall off the chair, but when you’ve done that, you sleep in a stationary position and baby has easy access to the food source. I co-sleep with Carrots, but was nervous to do so the first few days because I was just so sleep deprived and not always aware of my surroundings. If you play around with the configuration, a chair and some well placed pillows can alleviate the issue.
- In my particular situation, my baby refused to nurse anywhere except her nursing chair in the first three weeks. Even once we transitioned to bed-sharing, I would have to get out of bed to nurse in the chair because she liked it so much.
- Since I was sleeping in the chair at night for the first few weeks, it allowed my poor hubby (who was very tired from all of the labor and child birthing and baby nursing that I had been doing) to sleep with fewer interruptions.
My chair came from Walmart, but at the time it was also available at Target. If you don’t go the second hand route, be sure to price check the chair you like at all the different stores.
A Ring Sling
I wish I had had a ring sling from day one. Possibly the most stupendous function of the ring sling is that it allows you to nurse your baby while moving around and using your hands. Praise God for that because it saves me from having to choose between feeding my baby and making coffee (and let’s be honest, my first choice is not always Baby).
I will warn you, the ring sling is deceptively tricky to learn to use. It actually took me a few weeks of trial and error to feel comfortable and be able to cinch Carrots in quickly. Put in the work, though, because it will revolutionize your day!
I even have a pool/beach ring sling that I use to nurse Carrots in the shower if she is fighting nap time, doesn’t feel well, is generally fussing, or just to bond and relax together.
I have this Hip Baby ring sling, which is ethically sourced 100% linen. Brand new linen is a little scratchy and stiff at first, but once broken in, is so soft and durable. I specifically wanted a linen sling because I don’t want to die of heat stroke when warm weather comes. A personal preference, I know. Ring slings come in a wide variety of materials, but linen is great because it is so cool and breathable.
Choosing a ring sling is very much based in personal preference, so shop around and get a feel for the different options before buying one. Certainly, you don’t have to choose the same one I did. You and your baby will spend a lot of time wearing this, so do your research.
A Quality Pacifier
I did not realize just how much my baby nursed for the comfort of sucking until I finally found a pacifier she likes. While her excessive nursing did benefit my milk supply and keep her well fed and satisfied, it was so time consuming. Now she feeds in just a few short minutes, switches to her pacifier, and is content for much longer between each feeding. The pacifier helps us get through errands, car rides, family outings, etc. and has dramatically cut down on daytime fussing as well as gave my poor overworked milk factories a break.
Specifically when it comes to breastfeeding on-demand, a good pacifier can help you and your baby to build a routine and find some rhythm in feeding times. If your baby will accept a pacifier for general sucking needs and occasional soothing, a hunger pattern will more clearly emerge.
We followed contemporary parenting advice and did not introduce bottles or pacifiers until three to four weeks after Carrots was born. I wish very much that we had introduced a pacifier in those early weeks. Not to say that it isn’t real, but in my opinion, “nipple confusion” gets more hype than it’s worth. We waited too long, and she did not show one lick of interest in a pacifier until she was five months old.
A word of caution: If you are committed to breastfeeding, especially from the perspective of responsive/attachment parenting, breastfeeding always trumps pacifier in the early weeks. At the least, you need to establish your milk supply. I believe pacifiers are useful and can give mom a break when the pain is too intense, but don’t use it as a crutch.
I am specifically recommending the Naturesutten pacifier in particular for its outstanding quality. They are 100% natural, plant based rubber crafted in Italy. The price tag is higher than your standard options, but not outrageous or unreasonable. Think about it, Mama: Your baby will be sucking on their binky for hours every single day. Do you want cheap plastic manufactured in China breaking down in your babies mouth and exposing them to potentially harmful chemicals?
Once I ordered this pacifier for Carrots, she latched onto it (literally) and uses it all day long. Next time around, I’ll be introducing a Naturesutten right from the beginning.
I thought I would tough it out and not buy any nipple cream, especially since they give you some at the hospital, but that mentality didn’t last long.
The hospital cream did the job, but it was thick, oily, and painful to spread around an already very sensitive area. You really only need nipple cream in the first couple of weeks, but learning to breastfeed can be so challenging and painful that even just a little relief makes a world of difference.
I have the Medela “Tender Care” cream, and it is so much better than the hospital stuff.
It is really light and smooth, so it glides on easily without further agitating your poor cracked and bleeding nippies. It is all natural, which is worth knowing since your baby will essentially be eating it, and it is not at all oily.
I bought the two ounce tube and still have tons left for the next time around.
When you’re breastfeeding on-demand, you might be stuck in one place for hours at a time, especially early on in your baby’s life. Even once your baby is done nursing, they might have fallen asleep on you, and getting up often isn’t worth the risk of waking them. I have found that a variety of mental stimuli help make the downtime enjoyable and even restorative.
In the beginning, I did not have the mental energy for anything more than marathon Netflix sessions. When your most important responsibilities in life are to sustain another human being purely with your own body and heal from the physical trauma of delivering that human into the world, you’ve got to give yourself permission to enjoy some mindless streaming.
If movie streaming isn’t in your budget, line up some free trials with Netflix and Hulu. Each on gives you 30 days for free, and if you and your husband have different emails and credit cards, that’s 120 free days right there. Alternatively, maybe a friend or family member is willing to let you piggyback on their streaming account during your postpartum healing.
Books and Book Subscriptions
Once I started feeling a bit more like myself, I wanted more intellectual stimulation. I tried reading, but once Carrots was aware of the paper object near her head, she would stop nursing to try and eat it, or wake up any time the pages rattled.
With a thicker books, it can be difficult to juggle a wiggly, nursing baby and a book, especially when that baby still has a weak neck and needs help re-latching frequently.
During this struggle, I discovered Scribd, which is kind of like a cross between Kindle and Audible. While not all inclusive, it does have a wide selection of both books and audiobooks and has been a great tool to keep my mind both engaged and entertained. I specifically like Scribd because you can easily get a two month free trial, and the monthly subscription fee after that is significantly less than other services like Kindle and Audible.
Mamas, what products have you found most helpful to beat the breastfeeding burnout? Share your favorite tips and products in the comments below!
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