“Do you think he is just breastfeeding for comfort?”
“My mother told me that surely he doesn’t need to breastfeed so frequently.”
“Why is my baby breastfeeding so much in the late afternoon? Is my supply low?”
Working as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I hear mothers ask these questions all the time. And I know I had these same questions and concerns when I was a new breastfeeding mother. The frequency in which our babies breastfeed is SO much more demanding and confusing than what most of us anticipate. Can you imagine trying to explain to someone how it feels to breastfeed 24/7, without time even to pee, shower, or eat?! It’s something you have to go through to understand. There is a reason behind all of this madness, leaking boobs, and frequently feeding babies . . . and there are many reasons your baby will be asking for a breastfeed, and it’s not just hunger.
Your storage capacity.
Did you know that we all make about the same milk within 24 hours? However, we have different storage capacities. This means that what I can hold at any given time in my glandular tissue (where milk is made and stored) will differ from what you can hold. And no, the size of your breasts has nothing to do with how much milk you can produce and store. Breast size has to do with fatty tissue . . . not glandular breast tissue. What does this have to do with your little frequent breastfeeder? It means that some babies will get a lot of milk at each feed, while others will only get a small amount. The babies who get smaller amounts will have to feed more frequently. The smaller storage capacity means you will need more frequent feeds to fill your baby’s tummy.
Your baby is tired.
Did you know that your breastmilk contains ingredients that may help your baby fall asleep?! These are called nucleotides, and they have been identified as components in milk that may help relax and calm your baby. Cuddling your baby and having some skin-to-skin time combined with your milk is the perfect mixture to help relax your baby off to sleep. Besides giving your baby nutrients, this is one of the most important (and common) reasons your baby will ask for a breastfeed. They’d like a cuddle and some milk to help them nod off.
Your baby is in pain.
Suckling at the breast and drinking milk helps bring pain relief to babies. All you have to do is watch a baby getting their immunizations or a heal prick while being breastfed to see the power of the boob. If your baby is feeling pain due to reflux, diaper rash, a random body pain . . . the list goes on, breastfeeding is what they will seek to help them find some relief from their pain. Newborns cannot maneuver themselves easily when in pain, so breastfeeding will help them manage this.
Your milk supply needs a boost.
Our babies are much smarter than we often give them credit for. If you are following your baby’s lead (rather than scheduled feeds), you are putting yourself in the best position to be able to make enough milk for your baby. If your baby is going through a growth spurt and needs more milk, they know to breastfeed more frequently. This frequent feeding leads to more milk being drained from your breast, leading to more milk being made! It’s the perfect supply and demand system.
Your baby needs comfort.
When your baby needs comfort, they will ask for a breastfeed and a cuddle. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone.” Oxytocin is involved with making love, birth, and breastfeeding. Oxytocin has been found to create calm and closeness feelings, and it is released in both mother and baby when breastfeeding. If someone asks you, “Oh, you don’t need to breastfeed him again; he is JUST breastfeeding for comfort!” You can help explain why this little “comfort” breastfeed is important.
There is no one reason that is more important than another. Breastfeeding for comfort is just as important as breastfeeding for hunger or thirst. Babies seek the breast to answer virtually all of their needs. When in doubt . . . whip it out! You cannot overfeed your breastfed baby.