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Scheduled feeds vs feed on demand

Posted by: Brigitte Rozario Post(s) by this blogger

Should small children be fed on demand or should they be put on a schedule? Mothers are generally divided over this although all mothers agree that when a child is hungry, you have to feed her/him. And this means that even if you put a child on a schedule, there might be the odd feed here or there that is not on schedule.

Let's hear what two mothers and a paediatrician have to say:


Bridget Emily Mowe with her daughter.


Bridget Emily Mowe, who is mother of a three-year-old girl and expecting her second one any day:

I stopped breastfeeding my daughter when she was one year and three months. When I was breasfeeding, I fed her on demand. She was a preemie and it seemed like it was the right thing to do by feeding her as much as I could. Plus, by doing that, I noticed she never had colic problems. In addition, we bonded better and still remain very close till this day.

There were days when she would sleep through and there were days when she would be awake at odd hours demanding a feed. She didn't throw up and I take it that its because feeding on demand means not being overfed.

After the sixth month I noticed that she developed her own pattern of feeds. She woke up less at nights and slept for longer hours. I also believe it is because at that age, we had started her on solids. That could have contributed to her feeding pattern as well.

I don't think feeding on schedule or demand makes a difference because babies develop their own schedule as time goes by. No matter how much we plan to space out their feeding intervals, if they're hungry, they're hungry. From my experience, babies will develop their own pattern as they get older. Its up to us mothers to take notice of it and what factors contribute to it. In my case, my daughter fell into schedule as soon as I started her on solids at six months. Before that, she would demand for milk every three to four hours.

I believe there is a tendency to overfeed them if we do it on schedule because that's the only way to make sure they sleep through a specific amount of time.

Paediatrician Dr Yong Junina:

Babies should be fed on demand especially when they are young because they don't have enough nutrients to last them through the night.

If you don't feed them at night, then their blood sugar level will start to drop so you need to feed them on demand.

If they're not on solids yet and you're breastfeeding, then you feed them until about midnight, let them have a big feed, then they may last for about four hours.

Breast milk is digested at a faster rate so the chances of them getting hungry soon are greater. That's why breastfed babies feed every two hours while bottlefed babies feed every three to four hours.

Because you can't see how much breast milk your child is taking, you need to estimate. If the child is taking five minutes per breast then maybe you coax him to go back to the first breast and see if he will take some more (so that he won't be hungry again so soon).


Elaine Ho with her son James.


Elaine Ho, mother of two boys aged three months and two years old:

Both my sons were and are being breastfed. The elder boy weaned himself at about 15 months when I started working. He was only drinking maybe two to three times a day then and after one period when I had to be away for a company trip, he just stopped taking the breast.

When I started out with my eldest it was on demand but he would scream for his milk every three hours like clockwork. His demand was easy to tell because he would start crying. The second one is not so easy to tell because he just makes a bit of noise and if I don't feed him sometimes he'll go back to sleep. So, roughly every three hours I will check to see if he is hungry. Sometimes it's one hour, sometimes it's two, sometimes he drinks from just one breast, sometimes from two. So, for him, feeds are really on demand and I'm on call 24 hours a day.

But at this point, because he is still so small, I can't schedule the feeds. Instead of scheduling his feeds, I schedule my own life in two-hour pockets.

Now, although my bigger boy is also eating solids, he is not on scheduled feeds. I guess we just continued from his on-demand breastfeeding days. So, now, we wait to see signs of hunger before feeding him. His lunch is usually about 12noon to 1pm, tea is about 3-5pm and dinner is 6-7.30pm. We see when he's hungry and we'll feed him. If he doesn't want to eat, he'll refuse the food. Then we normally let him play a bit and then try again later.

While it's still pretty much on demand, his feeds now are more scheduled than when he was breastfeeding.

We don't believe in forcing our children to follow a schedule because even we ourselves don't eat on schedule. So, we let them tell us when they are hungry.

I don't plan to start scheduling my children; let the kindergarten schedule them.

I think scheduling could lead to forcing them to eat and this will have a negative affect on their relationship with food and leads to food-related psychological problems - they may overeat or be overly fussy with food.

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