Nearly every modern mama has heard about the Feed-Play-Sleep routine.
As popular as it is, it must be the right and perfect routine for all babies, right?
Why The Feed-Play-Sleep Routine Doesn’t Work For Breastfed Babies
Contrary to popular belief that this routine is perfect, one lactation consultant definitely doesn't agree.
In fact, it may make little sense for most babies regardless of how they’re fed.
What Is The Feed-Play-Sleep Routine?
This routine pops up in books, blogs and out of the mouths of many people you’ll meet during your pregnancy and while you have a little one.
But on the off chance you haven’t heard the details about Feed-Play-Sleep, it’s basically just what it sounds like.
When your baby wakes, you offer to feed her. Once a feed is done, you encourage play. If your baby is quite young, this may mean reading her a book, showing her how to use a rattle, or any stimulating activity.
After a bit of time, and meeting other needs like a diaper change, you settle baby to sleep. However, when you settle baby to sleep, it’s expected to be done without feeding her.
The expectation of this routine is that baby will have longer stretches of sleep than if she’s fed on demand before, during and after sleep times.
Why Doesn’t This Routine Make Sense For A Breastfed Baby?
One of the biggest reasons the Feed-Play-Sleep routine doesn’t make sense for a breastfed baby is that breast milk production is a supply and demand process.
When a baby is fed on demand, she and your body work together to ensure an adequate supply (provided there are no underlying medical issues).
Be sure to read How Does Breastfeeding Work? An Explanation to learn why feeding on demand is a vital part of maintaining an adequate milk supply.
Another reason the Feed-Play-Sleep routine isn’t ideal for all babies is your baby is a unique individual. Not all babies feed in the same way. Not all babies sleep the same. Not all babies have the stomach capacity, emotional maturity, sense of security, etc. to happily go three or more hours between feeds to stick to a specific routine.
Breastfeeding isn’t only about feeding. Breastfeeding meets your baby’s need for touch, warmth, security, connection, entertainment, and more.
It can soothe pain and ease fears. It can instantly calm an overstimulated baby in many situations.
To restrict breastfeeding to a specific time in a daily routine is to restrict one of the best parenting tools nature’s given us.
Is The Feed-Play-Sleep Routine Dangerous?
Dangerous is a very strong word to use here. However, in some contexts, one might feel that way.
If a mother has a breastfeeding goal and it isn’t met, and a strict feeding routine was a contributing factor, one might say it’s potentially dangerous.
As mentioned above, milk supply is a supply and demand process. If a mother is restricting feeds to certain times, it’s very possible she could impact her milk supply.
In Australia, 96% of mothers initiate breastfeeding. This shows the vast majority of mothers hope to breastfeed.
However, when it comes to exclusive breastfeeding, this number quickly declines with each month. Only 39% babies are exclusively breastfed to around four months and 15% are exclusively breastfed to six months.
While many health organisations recommend breastfeeding for a minimum of one year (along with solids after six months), just 28% of Australian mothers are breastfeeding at all at one year. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of two years.
There are many factors which contribute to breastfeeding rates. However, cultural norms (e.g. feeding routines and schedules) which impact the ability for mother-baby pairs to feed on demand can play a big role in weaning sooner than a mother desires.
Implying a specific routine is necessary and normal also has the power to impact a mother’s confidence. When she spends much of her day trying desperately to get her baby to follow a schedule only to find her baby isn’t cooperating, she’s left wondering: “What am I doing wrong? What is wrong with my baby?”
This insistence on following specific routines can negatively affect a mother’s confidence which can impact her wellbeing and her interactions with baby.
Are All Routines Bad?
Routines are actually a wonderful and healthy thing for babies and children. When a child, who has little if any control over how their day unfolds, knows what to expect it can help them feel secure.
With breastfed infants, however, a routine which restricts their access to the breast isn’t likely to be a routine that meets all of their needs.
You can have a daily routine while allowing baby to feed on demand. Breastfeeding can be done during play, during sleep, really during anything! There’s no need to restrict access to the breast in order to create a predictable routine for an infant.
Meg Nagle sums it up pretty perfectly: “Remember your baby is a little human. A little person…and this little person needs frequent breastfeeds and frequent cuddles day and night. You are mothering through breastfeeding…not creating a soldier for the next graduating class of military cadets. Relax and just enjoy your baby.”
Be sure to read Feeding Schedules: 6 Ways They Harm Breastfeeding to learn more about the risks of restricting feeds for a breastfed baby.