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It’s not ‘spoiling’ your baby to breastfeed on demand

Crying to be comforted or fed is an important communication tool we want to cultivate.

It’s not ‘spoiling’ your baby to breastfeed on demand

As an IBCLC—an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant— and a postpartum and labor and delivery nurse, I cannot count the number of times parents have asked if feeding on demand, holding the baby too much, or calming the baby when it cried spoiled the baby.


Initially this shocked me. Common sense told me when a helpless and vulnerable newborn cried, this was their only way of communicating their needs. This communication is your first conversation, a building block to your relationship, and the start to your deep connection with your sweet little babe.

But culture (and some strangers and family members) have their own opinions. So much pressure is placed on new parents to make schedules for babies, to not hold them or feed them too frequently, or pick them up too quickly when they cry.

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So is there really such thing as spoiling a newborn?

The answer is no. Absolutely 100%, no.

When your baby is crying, the best thing for you to do first is go to him and figure out why he is crying. Hunger? Dirty diaper? Burp? Cold? Over-stimulated? Wants to snuggle? Tired?

Hearing your newborn cry will trigger your nurturing instincts. And responding to those cries will build the bond between you and baby. As Dr. David Mrazek of the Mayo Clinic says, “Meeting an infant's need to be comforted, held, and fed in a predictable fashion helps him feel secure and builds a loving relationship between parent and child. It does not lead to spoiling.”

Crying to be comforted or fed is not a sign of weakness or something we should want our baby to unlearn, but an important communication tool we want to cultivate.

Spoiled children (after 6 months of age), use manipulation and negative behavior to get what they want, but a newborn is just too young and not intelligent enough to have this complicated thought. “Infants don’t have wants. ‘Wants’ assumes a more advanced cognitive awareness. Infants only have needs. There’s a big difference,” James J. McKenna, a professor of anthropology and the director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame told The Atlantic.

From the very start of the baby’s life, letting your baby nurse when it wants, or snuggle when it needs, creates the foundation for a trusting relationship and builds self worth.

A baby’s psychology is geared toward constant holding and frequent feeding.

Holding your baby off because of a schedule has not been shown to have any benefits and slows weight gain in the long run. Nursing is an infant-driven system where infants who breastfeed self-regulate. By feeding on demand, they will feed when they feel hungry, frequently, throughout the day and night.

Starting off your breastfeeding journey this way will give you the best opportunity for a full and healthy milk supply. The more stimulation and the more emptying you do, the more milk you will make. Your supply will continuously adjust to the baby’s exact needs, if you are breastfeeding exclusively and feeding on demand. This adjustment will continue all the way until you wean.

By attempting to put your baby on a schedule to avoid “spoiling” instead of responding to your baby’s feeding cues (ie: rooting, sucking, sticking his tongue out, licking his lips), you will likely end up with a fussier, hungrier and unhappier baby. Ultimately, your supply will suffer.

If your child is showing you signs of hunger or signs that they want to suckle, don’t push it off because it’s “not time yet” or you are afraid to spoil him. Feed that kiddo!

So what about when someone says your baby is “using you as a pacifier?”

Once again, this statement has the false risk of spoiling. This concept is woefully misunderstood. Nursing for comfort or any other reason besides food, can help strengthen the baby-mama bond, helps the mama feel confident in her new role, increases supply while giving extra calories to babe, and gives some quiet to the new chaotic life.

If we take a look back to Erik Erickson’s psychoanalytic theory of psychosocial development, newborns are in the “trust vs mistrust” stage of development. Attending to your baby as soon as possible in a predictable, reliable and consistent way, teaches them that they will have their needs met. This action leads to a sense of hope for support when a conflict arises.

By being attended to when fussy or crying, and feeding when your child demands to be fed, your baby will learn to have good feelings of self and of others, to have less anxiety, to cope better with stress, and to be less clingy.

They will carry this with them through life allowing them to be more self confident in exploring the world on their own.

Responding to your child's needs does not mean you run to their first whimper or never ever let them cry. It means you should be consistent, loving and predictable with your behavior.

Nursing on demand fulfills your child’s feeding demands, but also eases pain, helps them sleep, and makes them feel cozy. So if your instincts are telling you to put your baby back on the breast, it’s okay to listen.

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    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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