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Do infant routines discourage breastfeeding?

Using a strict routine for sleep or feeding, or not keeping the baby close may mean that cues for feeding are missed and milk supply is affected

Establishing infant routines may discourage breastfeeding.

Establishing infant routines may discourage breastfeeding.

Parenting books differ in advice, but what most parents want is a routine. Having a baby is a big change to one’s life!  It’s cliche but true.   A routine gives us some comfort…it brings predictability into a world of potential chaos.

I take comfort in daily routines in my life.  My children take comfort in them as well.  But babies?  Not so much.

A new study finds that “early parenting routines may harm breastfeeding“.

Dr Amy Brown from the College of Human and Health Sciences at Swansea University and Dr Bronia Arnott from the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University explored the relationship between early parenting behaviour and breastfeeding duration. The research surveyed 508 mothers with a baby aged under one year old, examining behaviour such as use of routines for sleep and feeding, beliefs about responding quickly to their infants cries, feelings of anxiety about their baby, and breastfeeding duration. The researchers found that mothers who report adopting a responsive approach to early parenting, following the baby’s cues for feeding and sleeping and responding quickly to infant cries, are much more likely to start breastfeeding and continue to do so. Alternatively following strict routines was associated with stopping breastfeeding in the first few weeks.

Dr Brown said: “There are many trends in parenting that encourage new parents to follow a routine for sleep or feeding or not to respond quickly to their infants cries but the impact upon infant development has not been explored. Parents may believe that following a routine could encourage babies to sleep for longer or to be more settled but there is very little research behind these suggestions. Our data is the first to show that a strict parenting routine may be incompatible with or discourage breastfeeding’.

When I was a new mother, I tried following a sleep and breastfeeding routine.  This quickly fell apart when I realized it was not what my baby needed.  It may have been what I needed, but in the end, it was not.  My midwives led me in the proper direction of following my baby’s leads and not those of a parenting book.

There is plenty of time to establish a sleep routine later in life.  It will not harm your child or make it harder.  In fact, an infant who has had its needs responded to and allowed to follow its natural rhythms will be easier to “train” later.

I have seen some friends and family members be rather extreme when it comes to infant scheduling. From keeping a baby awake to prevent it from napping to close to bedtime to only breastfeeding on a set schedule, such routines would drive me crazy!   These scheduled routines are well-intentioned, and and often the advice of doctors, yet I have witnessed results similar to what researchers found.  Most of these mothers ended up supplementing their breastmilk with formula and/or did not sustain long term breastfeeding as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr Arnott said: ‘We know that breastfeeding is best established with an infant-led feeding approach where babies are fed on demand. Using a strict routine for sleep or feeding, or not keeping the baby close may mean that cues for feeding are missed and milk supply is affected. This could mean that mums perceive that they are not producing enough milk and believe that they need to top-up with formula or stop breastfeeding altogether.

Dr Arnott added: “Mums may believe they should follow such strict routines so that their baby will sleep through the night or so that they will have a ‘good baby’ who is ‘settled’, but it is normal and healthy for a young infant to wake frequently and want to be held.”

Life changes with an infant. We must embrace this change and follow our baby’s cues.

Image courtesy of Jomphong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  1. My first doctor wanted me to put my first on a schedule of nursing, etc. That lasted about a month since it just didn’t make sense. I follow their lead and they ended up being so much happier.

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