When to Switch From On-Demand to Scheduled Feeding
One of the biggest questions from new mums, is it the clock or the baby that determines feeds? Should I make a schedule, or follow bub’s requests?
On-demand or self-regulated feeding is the recommended method to feed your baby particularly in the early months. (5) Infant feeding practices in their first year filter into your child’s future relationship with food and chances of overweight and obesity. (7) For breastfeeding mothers, breast stimulation triggers milk supply, so the more your hungry baby goes to feed the better in terms of getting a full supply. (2) Similar to breastfeeding on demand, bottle feeding in an on-demand style is also encouraged. This is recommended to allow babies to learn to self-regulate their own appetites through feeding when they are hungry and stopping when they are full. This minimises the risk of overfeeding, promotes emotional connection development between mother and child, and ensures babies are getting the milk quantities their bodies require. (6) Despite the attractiveness of being able to plan around a feeding schedule, babies need to develop a sense of security and reliability with you. Feeding is about so much more than just calories and nutrients. Feeding time is for bonding and nurturing, and the trust that evolves in them knowing that when they’re hungry, you will feed them. (1) This helps to build a healthy attachment style and strong connection between mother and baby. On this note, on-demand feeding has been proven to makes babies and mothers alike feel less stressed. Babies are fed when they’re hungry, and mothers aren’t stuck listening to cries while they wait for the minutes to tick by and the timer to go off.
The concept behind scheduled feeding has only come about more recently. It was advocated that set feeding times encouraged young babies to sleep through the night as early as possible. The idea was that this was better for mums, as they could plan the rest of their day-to-day around set times the baby would need to eat, therefore reporting feeling less tired. But the strengths of on-demand feeding are undeniable! Besides, as time goes on from birth and you become more in tune with you baby, they are likely to develop their own food behaviour into somewhat more of a predictable schedule. Scheduled feeding also doesn’t account for growth spurts – periods of time where you baby may need to feed more as they grow bigger. So hang in there! No need to rush them and have a sad baby and a stressed you. While not best for your baby in the early months, there does comes a time when scheduled feeding can be introduced. It is recommended that the best time to switch from on-demand to scheduled feeding is when you introduce your baby to solid foods (earliest 6 months of age). This is because when your baby starts on solid foods, many families begin to have their baby join them at their own mealtimes. Of course, your baby may still request the breast or bottle during this transition, but introducing your little one to the idea of an eating routine is a good idea at this stage. And makes life easier for mum!
It is important to acknowledge that there are some situations and conditions in the first few weeks postpartum where scheduled feeding may be recommended. Some young babies sleep more than others for varying reasons including premature birth, babies born with jaundice and babies born underweight (1). This oversleeping can lead to insufficient feeding and in turn to a lowered percentile weight (4). Therefore, scheduled wakeups for feeding can help premature and sick babies get the nutrients they need for recovery and healthy development (4). At the end of the day, how you choose to feed your baby is entirely up to you! This is general information only. For detailed personal advice, you should see a qualified health care professional who knows your baby.
1. Kaplan, Robin, and Robin Kaplan. "On-Demand Vs. Scheduled Feeding: Which Is Best For Baby? — SDBFC". SDBFC, 2014, available at: https://www.sdbfc.com/blog/2014/12/9/on-demand-vs-scheduled-feeding-which-is-best-for-baby
2. "Increasing Supply". Australian Breastfeeding Association, 2021, available at: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/common-concerns%E2%80%93mum/supply
3. Iacovou, Maria, and Almudena Sevilla. "Infant Feeding: The Effects Of Scheduled Vs. On-Demand Feeding On Mothers’ Wellbeing And Children’S Cognitive Development". Available at: European Journal Of Public Health, vol 23, no. 1, 2012, pp. 13-19. Oxford University Press (OUP), doi:10.1093/eurpub/cks012
4. "A Guide To Premature Baby Feeding And Preemie Nutrition". Com, 2021, available at: https://www.enfamil.com/articles/guide-premature-baby-feeding-and-preemie-nutrition/
5. "Should Bottle Fed Babies Feed On Demand". Com, 2021, https://www.tommeetippee.com/en-gb/parent-room/should-bottle-feeding-babies-feed-on-demand. Accessed 4 July 2021.
6. “Responsive Feeding: the missing link in child malnutrition in Sri Lanka” Sri Lanka Journal of Child Health, 2014; 43(1): 53-54. Available at: http://repository.rjt.ac.lk:8080/xmlui/bitstream/handle/123456789/1514/38.pdf?sequence=1
7. Appleton, Jessica et al. "Infant Formula Feeding Practices And The Role Of Advice And Support: An Exploratory Qualitative Study". BMC Pediatrics, vol 18, no. 1, 2018. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5784678/