Soon after giving birth, new mothers have to regularly nurse and take care of their babies. Feeding infants is probably one of the most important things that mothers are occupied with. After all, the mother’s milk is the most important source of nutrition for babies till a certain age. It also provides the important nutrients that protect the baby from having illnesses and infections. Breastfeeding, however, is more than just feeding. It helps in the early formation of the loving bond between mother and baby. In certain cases, owing to the health issues of the mother, breastfeeding might not be possible. In such cases, the next best choice would be to resort to baby formulas. Doctors recommend breast milk as a priority, so if you are having issues with that, consult your doctor who will most likely treat it with massages or other meds. Whatever a mother decides regarding breastfeeding, it’s her choice, and others shouldn’t really try to pass judgmental calls on her decision.
When you read about breastfeeding, one thing that you’ve probably come across is the two kinds of breastfeeding that most mothers follow — on-demand feeding and scheduled feeding. Which one is better? We are here to lay out the facts of both methods and let you decide. Keep reading to find out:
Before we get into what you should follow, let’s look at what on-demand feeding really means. On-demand feeding simply means that you do not feed your baby based on the clock. You don’t worry about what time it is to feed your baby. Instead, you feed them when they are hungry and let them show you that they want food.
Babies can show you that they are hungry in many ways. The common ways that an infant shows you that they are hungry is by crying, licking their lips, or sucking on their hands and fingers. They also stick out their tongue, sometimes. On-demand feeding also means that you don’t “time” your feedings and let your baby feed until they are satisfied. For example, some women time their feeding for something like 15 minutes per side. With on-demand feeding, you avoid this.
There are several benefits to feeding on-demand, both for the mother and baby. Here are some of them (1):
- Right after birth, breastfeeding your baby on any hungry cues may contribute to bringing in a full milk supply. It’s simple — more the breast stimulation, more the milk supply.
- It ensures that your baby grows properly and is consuming sufficient milk every time they want.
- It’s not possible to know how much milk your baby needs. Every infant takes in different amounts of milk, even throughout the day. On-demand feeding allows your baby to stop when they’ve had enough.
Sometimes, newborn babies are too weak to wake up to feed in the first few weeks after birth. This is common in babies born prematurely, babies with jaundice, babies with low birth weight, and babies with tongue ties. In such situations, irregular feeding can result in less milk supply and slow weight gain in babies (1). Therefore, it’s best to avoid on-demand feeding and fix a feeding schedule for your infant every 2-3 hours.
Now, let’s look at what scheduled feeding means. As the name suggests, scheduled feeding is when a parent feeds the baby on a timed schedule, depending on the weight and age of the infant. It does not take into account the baby’s hunger cues or readiness.
The thing about scheduled feeding is that there is no way to know how much food the baby needs per feeding or how often they feel hungry. If it doesn’t consider the baby’s hunger cues, there might be no chances of a growth spurt. If your baby is not fed when hungry, it could poorly affect your milk supply, too (1).
Let’s look at the benefits of scheduled feeding. If you know when you have to feed your baby, you can fuel up by eating energy-inducing foods between feedings to regain strength. Scheduled feeding allows the mom time to rest and recover between feeding. One study also showed that moms who breastfed on the schedule were more likely to get enough sleep eight weeks postpartum. The study also observed schedule-feeding mothers measured higher on the well-being scale ( 2).
The biggest con of scheduled feeding is that you never know if your baby is getting enough food. Since scheduled feeding does not consider a baby’s hunger cues, you might end up feeding your little one less milk than they require. This not only affects your milk supply, but it could also affect your baby’s health. If your newborn is too weak to get up for feedings, especially when they are premature, have tongue ties, or are low birth weight babies, it could result in slow weight gain (1).
Overall Which Method To Prefer?
As with most tough questions, the answer can be a little difficult to arrive at. There is a clear trade-off between the two methods. While scheduled feeding of infants is better for the mother’s wellbeing, on-demand feeding is at times seen to be the better option for infants. But instead of sticking to one method entirely, parents can always plan to mix it up a little ( 2). Besides, there is still a lack of conclusive research evidence on which method is the perfect one. And feeding patterns are not the only factor that decides the health and wellbeing of the mother and child. Many other factors like sleep pattern, nutrition, exercise, bone health, etc. also play a vital role. As long as mothers are well attuned to the needs of their little ones and are maintaining a healthy lifestyle, things will work out.
We hope we cleared your doubts about on-demand feeding and scheduled feeding. If you have concerns about which technique is better, it’s best to consult your doctor about it. You could also speak to a lactation expert to understand which method would be more suitable for you. Which feeding method do you prefer? Comment below and let us know!
- On-Demand vs. Scheduled Feeding: Which is Best for Baby?
- Infant feeding: the effects of scheduled vs. on-demand feeding on mothers’ wellbeing and children’s cognitive development