Infants don’t have the ability to control or postpone their needs. If they’re hungry or need to be comforted, they desire immediate gratification. When you respond to your infant’s cries, providing food and comfort, your 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 your infant on demand, which means whenever your baby begins to fuss, is one way you can meet your baby’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 baby; an infant will not drink more than she wants or needs.
Parents who don’t choose to feed their baby on demand, but rather on a schedule, may find themselves unsuccessfully trying to comfort or distract their crying baby. Your baby might want to be fed, but you may think that she should wait three or four hours because she’s “just been fed.” Since it’s often hard for parents to listen to their baby 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 baby. While it’s true that some babies can wait four hours between feedings, it’s equally true that some babies need feeding much more frequently.
New parents often decide to feed their baby on a schedule because of advice from friends, relatives, and their pediatrician. In the face of such advice, parents may 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 and some ability to make other people respond.
The decision to demand-feed or feed on a schedule is often influenced by the way a baby 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 breastfed baby, on the other hand, don’t know how much their baby is drinking. When she cries soon after nursing, her mother is likely to offer the breast again because she may not have had enough milk at the last feeding.
You can be successful breast feeding or bottle feeding, but using either method, you’ll satisfy your baby best if you feed her on demand. If you feel you must follow a schedule, be flexible. When comforting doesn’t work between scheduled feedings, your baby’s cries probably mean she’s hungry or so tired she needs to soothe herself to sleep with a feeding. At such times, ignore the clock, follow your instincts, and meet your baby’s needs.