Should I schedule my child’s feedings or feed on demand?

Infants do not have the ability to control or postpone their needs. If they’re hungry or need to be comforted, they desire immediate gratification. When parents respond to their infant’s cries, providing food and comfort, the baby begins to trust her world and to feel some small ability to affect what happens to her. If her cries for food are ignored, she has no way to satisfy herself.

Feeding an infant on demand, which means whenever the baby begins to fuss, is one way parents can meet their child’s needs. Demand-fed babies and their parents are usually calmer and more content than families with babies who are fed on a schedule. This is because an infant fed on demand does less crying for food and comfort, and her parents spend less time distracting her since she doesn’t have to be held off until a scheduled feeding. A demand-fed baby also may be easier to put to sleep since she can be soothed with nursing or a bottle when she seems tired. There’s no chance of overfeeding a demand-fed child; an infant will not drink more than she wants or needs.

Parents who do not choose to feed their baby on demand, but rather on a schedule, often find themselves trying to comfort or put off their crying child. She might want to be fed, but the parents feel that it’s too soon, that the baby should wait three or four hours because she has “just been fed”. While it’s true that some babies can wait four hours between feedings, it is equally true that some babies need feeding much more frequently.

If a baby fed on a schedule is hungry before feeding time, her parents will have try to soothe her. And if they are not able to calm her down, they may be likely to leave her fussing or crying for long periods of time. Since it’s often hard for parents to listen to her cry, this can be a difficult situation, and one that probably takes as much time and energy as the extra feedings given to a demand-fed child.

New parents often decide to feed their child on a schedule because of advice from friends, relatives, and the pediatrician. In the face of such advice, they find it difficult to trust their instincts and begin demand feeding. They also worry that demand feeding means giving in to their child and letting her have too much control. Yet, an infant, because she’s helpless, needs to feel she has some control, some ability to make other people respond. When her needs are met, she learns to trust that her parents will take care of her.

The decision to demand-feed or feed on a schedule is often influenced by the way the child is fed—by breast or bottle. Although either method can be adapted to scheduled or demand feeding, it’s more likely that a breast-fed baby will be demand-fed, if only because of the ease of feeding. A mother can easily offer her breast at any time, while the parents of a bottle-fed infant must first prepare and warm bottles.

A bottle-fed infant is more likely to be fed on a schedule because her parents can easily see how much milk she’s drinking, and thus can decide when they think she’s had enough. Parents of a breast-fed baby, on the other hand, don’t know how much their child is drinking. When she cries soon after nursing, her mother is likely to offer the breast again because the child might not have had enough milk at the last feeding.

You can be successful breast-feeding or bottle-feeding, but using either method, you will satisfy your child best if you feed her on demand. If you feel you must follow a schedule, be flexible enough to offer a feeding when she truly seems to need it. When comforting doesn’t work between scheduled feedings, your child’s cries probably mean she’s hungry or so tired she needs to soothe herself to sleep after feeding. At such times, you should ignore the clock, follow your instincts, and meet your child’s needs.

Picture Credit : Google