Demand vs. schedule feeding | The pros and cons

Posted on August 8th, 2018

Should you feed your baby on demand or according to a set routine? We discuss the pros and cons of each. By Kate Sidley

Demand vs. schedule feeding

Most newborn babies feed between eight and 12 times a day, on a schedule that’s pretty unpredictable. This is normal. But is it possible to get your baby onto a more predictable feeding schedule? And is this good for her?

Feeding on demand means feeding your baby whenever she signals that she’s hungry, rather than according to a set schedule. This is what doctors recommend for young babies. Remember that your newborn has a tiny stomach, so it fills up quickly. The other thing to know is that breastmilk is digested and absorbed easily and quickly. Also, bear in mind that your baby is growing faster than she will at any time in her life. It’s no wonder that she needs to eat so often.

ALSO SEE: 8 signs that your breast-fed baby is hungry.

Advantages of feeding on demand

  • You’re in tune with your baby’s needs. If she’s experiencing a growth spurt and needs to feed more frequently, there’s no problem.
  • Her individual needs are catered for. Babies feed at different rates, and vary in the quantity of milk they take in during a feed.
  • Your baby isn’t going hungry waiting for a feed.
  • Regular feeding helps establish your milk supply.
  • It may form the basis for healthy eating habits later – she learns to eat when she’s hungry, not according to a schedule.

ALSO SEE: How to spot the signs of a growth spurt

Don’t stress too much

Remember that babies are individuals and they have hungry days and less hungry days, often linked to their growth and development. There’s no benefit to adhering to a strict schedule of arbitrary times!

You need to know

Sometimes a premature or sick baby is too weak or sleepy to wake up and demand to be fed. Sr Elizabeth Beavon, who runs the Well-Baby Clinic at the Colony Pharmacy, says: “If your baby is born weighing under 3kg and you’re breastfeeding, you may need to wake her to feed. If she was born at around 3.9kg, you can probably let her sleep. Go for weekly weigh-ins to be sure she’s gaining weight at the right rate. And take your clinic Sister’s advice.”

ALSO SEE: Breastfeeding a prem baby.

Scheduled feeding

Today, when parents talk about feeding to a schedule, they usually refer to establishing a consistent and fairly predictable routine. “From the ages of six weeks to three months, you can start initiating a routine,” says Sr Beavon. “You know your baby’s patterns and can follow her signals. There are moms who swear by books by the likes of Gina Ford, who advocate stricter routines, but in my experience, a bit of guidance is needed from mom, and a routine evolves naturally.” This is different from a ‘6pm-is-dinner-time’ approach! Your baby is fed when she’s hungry.

Here’s how to gently encourage a more predictable feeding routine:

  • Sr Beavon says: “Allow your baby to feed for long enough so that she gets a satisfying feed. Be aware that some babies are slower feeders than others.
  • Judge by the feel of your breasts and by your baby’s behaviour – a satisfied baby will be content and calm; an overfed baby (unusual if you’re breastfeeding), or an underfed baby will be restless and unhappy.”
  • If your baby is feeding every hour for about five minutes, she’s not getting a full feed. Encourage her to feed for longer.
  • If she’s had a good feed, she may stay fuller for longer, and sleep longer between feeds.
  • If your baby tends to drop off to sleep in the middle of a feed, try to keep her awake by talking to her or changing her nappy mid-feed.
  • Feeding is one part of your daily routine. Sr Beavon says, “The key is to follow a regular pattern so that your baby gets to know what to expect, especially when it comes to the evening routines of bath time, feeding time, andsleep time.”