All the baby books, advice and websites tell you that your 4 month old should be on (or at least well on the way to) a four hourly routine. So why then, are there so many parents asking the question, how do I get there?
The reality is, not many babies are really on a four hourly routine. Speak to a bunch of breast feeding moms and they will tell you how difficult it is to stretch to four hours.
And speak to moms who have managed to make that magic four hour milestone, and they will probably also tell you that their babies don’t actually sleep through the night.
Before we look at some strategies to get to the 4 hourly feed mark, let’s go back to baby feeding 101 o understand what’s going on.
Baby’s Feeding 101
Newborns will feed as often as every 2 hours. Their bodies are developing fast, but they have tiny little tummies (the size of a marble) that can’t take a lot of food at a time. So, they feed often to keep up their calorie needs.
By one week old their stomach has grown to the size of a small apricot. They can take more food in, and they can stretch their feeds a little.
By one month old, baby’s stomach is the size of an egg. Their feeding might become more regular as their metabolism regulates and they are probably feeding every three or so hours.
When your baby has a growth spurt, they need more calories to help them grow. So, they feed more often to get these calories in.
But babies don’t just grow when they are having a growth spurt, they are growing all the time. And they need a certain amount of calories per day to keep this up. The bigger they get, the more calories they need.
Therefore, if you want to stretch the times between feeds you will essentially be dropping a feed and losing calories. You will need to make sure they are taking more food at each feed to make up for this. (Hence, if you manage to stretch the time between feeds during the day, you may notice more night wakings to feed. Your baby is hungry and is trying to make up for lost calories).
Make sense so far?
Let’s jump forward a few months to a six month old infant. Six month olds are starting solids because their bodies have developed to the point where a liquid diet is not providing enough calories. They need something more substantial. Six month olds are in effect, regressing back to a 2 and a half to 3 hour feeding routine. Their feeds may look like this:
7:00 milk feed
10:30-11:00 milk feed
As you can see, there is only two and a half to three hours between breakfast and the next milk feed. Six month olds need to be fed this regularly, or they will be malnourished. And it doesn’t stop there, toddlers generally want to eat every few hours!
Going back to your 4 month old…
What is your motivation for wanting to feed your 4 month old every 4 hours? Is it because ‘the books’ say to? Or your friend does? Or your parent / in law thinks its the right thing to do?
It may mean that you don’t have the perfect routine, but things are going to change in a month or two when you start solids, so I would recommend feeding your baby when s/he is hungry, even if that is every 3 hours.
If your baby is really hungry and wants to feed more often than that, maybe it’s time to start solids. Pediatricians are reverting back to recommending commencing solids at 4 months, so talk to your doctor about starting if you think your baby is ready (don’t start solids without some form of medical advice).
If you’re still REALLY keen to stretch to a 4 hourly routine…
Step 1 – start by stretching by 15 minutes. In that 15 minutes use distraction techniques to keep your baby occupied and take their mind off their tummies. Play with a favourite toy, sing songs, or engage them in a game. Your baby is going to need you to keep their mind busy!
Step 2 – After 3 days, stretch by another 15 minutes.
Step 3 – Do this every 3 days until you have reached the 4 hour mark. If you notice night wakings and/or hunger at night, go back a step and try to get more milk in at each feed. 3 days later, try progressing 15 minutes again.
Keep in mind – your baby does not know that you are trying to change their routine and stretch or drop a feed. All they know is that they are hungry and want to be fed! Keep this in mind, and be gentle!
Photo from freedigitalphotos.net