To Feed on Schedule or on Demand: A Pendulum Post

To Feed on Schedule or On Demand - Visionary Womanhood

Mama Grizzly’s Way

If there’s one topic that brings out the grizzly bear in most mamas, it’s this one.  Why?  We’re mamas.  God wired us to love and protect our tiniest ones with an emotional intensity that sizzles like lightening.  And deep down inside we want to know that we are giving our little treasures the BEST we can offer.

When someone comes along and points out a different way to “do things” than what we happen to be doing at the time…our hair stands up on end and our claws come out.  It’s female Wemmick nature.  It’s uncomfortable to admit it, but pride is at the root of that kind of response.  Humility would lead us gently toward a greater depth of wisdom, and perhaps balance.

One of the hard lessons I’ve learned over 20 years of parenting is that what “works beautifully” for one child…is not so good for a different one.  To force our children into a mold whether they fit or not can be destructive in the long run.  Again, pride makes us hang on like rabid dogs to our own “plans.”  There is no dependence on God when we claim we “know the right way,” and it’s “our way or the highway” for everyone else.

God is patient and kind.  He will faithfully throw us curve balls to break us.  He will do whatever it takes to bring us to our knees, crying out to Him for wisdom and direction every step of the way.

Early Mama Years

We lost our first baby at 21 weeks, and our second baby was born 11 weeks early and spent 7 weeks in the hospital.  While he was there dealing with many digestive problems, the medical team had him on a three hour feeding schedule using breast milk that I pumped every three hours for that purpose.  Why?  Because that was the best timing medically/scientifically to allow the food to be absorbed into the system and utilized by his body.

It was also the perfect timing for the production of my milk.  After three hours I had a full supply of milk, was able to empty it out, and then begin the cycle again.  I did this for the full 7 weeks and produced a such a prolific amount of milk, that I had more than enough to feed two babies.

When we brought him home from the hospital, he still had a few digestive “quirks,” and it was recommended that I maintain the three hour schedule as much as possible.  He was already in that routine and seemed to do very well on it at home too.  Eventually the time stretched out to a full feeding every four hours with long naps in between, and he was a very happy, contented, and FAT baby.

He started talking at 9 months, learned to read at age 3, and is graduating this spring from college at the age of 18.  He’s already launched his own business and been doing a lot of free lance work for various businesses. Was it the scheduled feedings?  Was it the all natural labor?  Was it all the broccoli and cauliflower, blueberries and strawberries I fed him?  I don’t think so.   I did the same things with my third baby – and he struggles in many of the same areas in which the oldest one excels.

I’m not saying throw out the health food and reach for the potato chips.  I think making healthy choices is a common sense thing to do, and we should work toward the self-control it takes to make wise choices for ourselves and our families.  What I AM saying that it is easy to fall into making the “health movement” a god.  It has the potential to become an all consuming focus that can sometimes be rooted in fear rather than a more emotionally balanced perspective.

In the same way, I think it has been easy for many young moms to fall into the trap of thinking that a certain method of feeding a baby is “THE ONLY WAY” to do it right.

Let’s Go Swinging!

Swinging over to the right we have all the mamas who are wearing their babies 24 hours a day, nursing their children every 10 minutes until they are 10 years old, sleeping with the entire family in a king sized bed, eating exclusively organic produce, and refusing to wear bras or deodorant.

Swinging over to the left we have all the mamas with their charts checking off timed and scheduled feedings that include which breast was used first and which was used second, how many minutes it took for baby to feed on each side, how many minutes were spent in alert activity, and how many minutes were spent in REM sleep vs. deep sleep.  They don’t go anywhere or do anything that might disrupt the schedule and sleep pattern of the baby.

When baby cries, they get out the check list of possible reasons for the crying including a handy flow chart of options depending on the time of day, the type of cry, the guestimated amount of milk that was taken in at the last feeding, and the number of minutes spent in REM sleep in the past 4 hours.

I know what you’re thinking.  “NOBODY swings THAT far left or right!”

You’re right.  I don’t know anyone like that either.  We all fall somewhere in between those two extremes, but we DO tend to air on one side or the other of this particular pendulum.

In my early days as a mama, I aired on the “scheduled feeding” side.  Part of it was because of our experience with a preemie, and part of it was because I read that little book called Baby Wise.

Babies, Bathwater, Books and Bones

Let’s talk about books for a minute.  Books are great.  I love books.  But there is only one Book that is infallable, and that is God’s Book.  All the other books are written by – well – Wemmicks.  And Wemmicks are NOT infallable.  Does that mean we can’t learn from Wemmick books?  Of course not.  It just means we need to read with open minds AND discerning minds.  It means we need to measure all that we read (or hear) with the plumb line of God’s Book. 

A friend of mine once told me, “Whenever you read a book, you need to chew on the meat…and spit out the bones.”  I’ve observed that many of us tend to throw out babies with bathwater when we read things we don’t personally agree with.  When we do that, we sometimes miss out on some good nuggets of wisdom simply because we don’t know how to spit out bones!  I think that has happened a bit with this controversial book, Baby Wise.

I read that book shortly after we had brought our preemie home from the hospital.  It made a lot of sense at the time because it actually explained in great detail the rationale behind feeding a baby on a routine, which is what they had done in the hospital not only with our baby, but with ALL the very sick babies in the NICU.  We figured what was best for fragile babies in the hospital was likely best for healthy babies at home with their mamas.

Because I was young and inexperienced, I read that book and believed that I needed to follow it to the letter.

And I did.  And it stressed me out.

Without going into details, let me just say that I really worried a lot about silly things like how many minutes had gone by since the last feeding and how long the naps were lasting, etc.  If my baby started to cry before it was feeding time, I anxiously wondered if I should hold off for 10 more minutes or just go ahead and feed him/her “early.”

Now let me also say that every single one of my babies (I recently had #9) has been a great sleeper/eater.  None of them have had troubles with night time sleeping, going to sleep on their own, taking naps, eating at regular intervals, etc.  They all are in the 50% or higher for their size, and they all are healthy and happy individuals.  So the things I learned from Baby Wise have been a HUGE benefit for my life, their lives, and the life of our family as a whole.  I’m grateful for the wise nuggets of truth I gleaned from that book.

That said, I’ve had to recognize that there were some “bones” I needed to spit out too.  And the biggest bone was simply that “feeling” that I had to somehow have my babies on a strict schedule ALL the time.   I’m not even sure the authors would recommend a STRICT schedule.  But that was the impression or “feeling” that became a stumbling block for me on the road to peace.

And Then We Went To Disney World…

My parents took our little family (we had three children at the time…a 6 year old boy, a 4 year old boy, and a 6 month baby girl) to Disney World for a week.  I was a “feed my baby on a schedule” mama.  The problem was, in Disney World, it’s a whole different ball game.

Schedule?  Not on your life.

My six month old baby girl was carted here, there, and everywhere for 7 days while the rest of us partied. We’d go to see a show and she’d start crying – and I’d stick her to my chest.  There.  She’d happily (and quietly) suck away, and we could all enjoy the show without being a distraction.

We’d go to one of their cool (and horrendously expensive) restaurants, and she’d start fussing, so I’d feed her again.  Never mind that she had just eaten 20 minutes earlier on the “It’s a Small World” ride.

Yes, my friends – she nursed almost none stop during that entire trip.

And she did GREAT!  So did I.  And with that experience I realized that IT WAS OK to let the “schedule” go at times!  Nothing horrible would happen.  We found our rhythm again once we got back home, and I found a NEW peace as I became more relaxed about the whole schedule thing.

Flexible Routine

Since those early mama days, I’ve had a few more babies, and a few more opportunities to learn a few more things.  I never did really swing over to the demand feeding side of this pendulum, but I have swung closer in that direction toward what I would now call a “Flexible Routine” type of feeding.

I have found that, for me, this type of feeding has a beautiful rhythm of its own that not only fosters a healthy eating/sleeping routine for the baby, but also cuts the mama some slack, giving her the opportunity to “go with her gut” and do what she feels is best for that particular moment in time.

Sometimes it may mean feeding the baby again even though he just ate 30 minutes earlier.  Sometimes it might mean rocking the baby to sleep because she feels he is overly tired and needs that extra help to relax.  I now bring my newborns into the bed with me as they transition from the womb experience to life outside the womb – something that I NEVER would have done in my early years.

I “wear” my babies a lot more now, and if they wake up early I just go ahead and feed them.  I don’t analyze the whole process anymore.  I just FLOW with it.

Ah—peace.

I DO sort of have a “goal” in mind.  Baby and Mama work together toward a cycle that includes a FULL TUMMY feeding, good burps to follow, some time awake playing and interacting with siblings and parents, and a sleep cycle of 90 minutes or so.  While this cycle doesn’t have to successfully “happen” every time, we have that goal in mind each day and work toward it.  I’ve never had a baby that is characterized by being fussy and irritable, tired or hungry.  So this is what really works for me and my children.

Ultimately I want my babies to be able to go to sleep on their own without any sleep props – and to sleep through the night.  But not by the time they are six weeks old.  I’ve actually found that my milk supply dries up faster if I’m not feeding my babies at least once in the middle of the night.  So I have been known to wake them up in the middle of the night to feed them even if they WANT to sleep all night.

Do you know what?  By the time they are one year old, and we are both ready for the weaning process, they start sleeping all the way through the night, and weaning is gradual and graceful. It’s a beautiful thing!

The Bottom Line

We’ve had fun swinging!  Now it’s time to look at the bottom line.  Here’s my take: God made each one of us mamas unique and special.  We all have different personalities and backgrounds, different gifts and callings.  And we all have different children.  We will all need to find our own rhythm when it comes to caring for the smallest among us.

We can glean nuggets of wisdom from wise Wemmick authors who have gone before us, and we can get encouragement and help from our family as well as sisters in Christ.  But we must recognize that these sources, while helpful, can’t provide the ultimate answers.  God will give us wisdom as we call upon Him to lead and guide us in the midst of each day’s challenges.   We need to look to HIM, not other Wemmicks, for help when it comes to the care of babies.

If you are struggling with guilt, wondering whether or not you are doing things “right”…LET GO.  God is more interested in whether or not you are trusting Him than He is in whether or not you are doing it all “right”.  Often it is in those doubtful, painful times that God is nearest to us.  He LOVES for us to quit our striving and to simply rest in His provision and plan.

Oh, and speaking of pendulums—don’t be surprised these days if you catch me wearing Birkenstocks.  And a baby.

Natalie Klejwa is a Wemmick, loved by the Woodcarver, wife of 22 years to Joe, and mother to 9 Wemmicks ages 2-20. She is a business owner (Apple Valley Natural Soap), founder and administrator of the Visionary Womanhood blog, publisher and contributing author of Three Decades of Fertility, You Can Do it Too! 25 Families Share Their Stories, and The Heart of Simplicity: Foundations for Christian Homemaking.

You can hear her being interviewed on Kevin Swanson's Generations with Vision radio program.

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5 thoughts on “To Feed on Schedule or on Demand: A Pendulum Post

  1. I’ve read parts of the Baby Wise book, also, and it was not for me. I’ve almost always had my babies sleep with me. The times I didn’t it was because of pressure from family(including hubby) and the outside world that babies are supposed to sleep in their CRIBS…. That did not work so well for me or my babies. However, I am struggling with getting my 4 yr. old out of my KING SIZED bed! ;) I know it is only for a time though! I try to cherish this family snuggling time! My 8 yr. old got kicked out of our king sized bed when the now 4 yr. old was little, little, but she still sleeps in our room in a toddler bed she still fits in… I have tried to move her into a room of her own, but she just isn’t ready. I shared a room with my sister growing up and loved sleeping with my sister so I know how she feels not wanting to sleep alone. I never slept with my own parents, but this feels right to me. I love the bonding! (I also hate bras.) I do wear deodorant though and have given up on trying to only eat organic as I am not a farmer and don’t have a lot of experience with gardening! HA! Your post gave me a pretty good laugh in that section! Great article!

    • Cilicia, thanks for sharing a glimpse into your life! We’re all trying to “figure it out”. : ) It’s part of the beauty of this gift from God that we call “life”. Ultimately, the bras, deodorant and lack of sleep won’t matter. It’s the love and the relationships that count. I’m still learning this…and sometimes the hard way. Grace and peace to you!

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head with this post. Each child is different. Each interaction of mother and child is unique. You could call feeding on demand “flexible routine” because I think that’s what it really is. Just as your child needed to nurse more often while at Disney because of all the commotion and out of her routine distractions around her, children need more or less feeding/ comfort because of varied reasons/ needs.

    I read all the books with my first child and did most of it wrong. I was anxious, impatient and irritable. Still I nursed her way into her 2nd year of life because she needed it. I weaned her before she was ready. I was ready. I was a first time Mom who was impatient and tired of having a baby hanging off my b***b.

    Today with #4 who just turned 2 y.o., we enjoy our nursing time. She nurses to sleep and I don’t have a problem with that. When she is thirsty or just wants comfort she nurses during the day. She eats everything is sight but still nurses. I am no longer impatient with my breastfeeding babies.

    My first child taught me that nursing is more than just food. It’s character training for Mom, it’s emotional and psychological development for the child.

    I so wish that we could relax more in our call of Motherhood and enjoy our blessings instead of trying to cross all the “t”s and dot all the “i”s.

    Blessings, :)
    tereza

  3. I totally agree with your conclusions – all babies are different, and each mom/baby needs to find the routine that works for them. I think the worst thing a new parent can do is read one book and decide that is the way they will do things. No one system is right for every child, every parent, or even every phase of life of the same child. You are right that God is the only true giver of baby care wisdom. All books are collections of man’s ideas, but unfortunately some books are more extreme and potentially harmful than others. This is the case with Babywise by Gary Ezzo.

    You made the statement “Because I was young and inexperienced, I read that book and believed that I needed to follow it to the letter.” I read Babywise also, and it definitely carries the tone that one needs to follow it to the letter – I don’t blame you for feeling that way after reading it! The book is very dogmatic and extremely critical toward others who practice different parenting methods. Ezzo takes turns slamming attachment parents, lactation consultants, La Leche League leaders, really anyone who would recommend or practice a system other than his Parent Directed Feeding schedule. Here’s what he says about your “extreme” practice of babywearing: (re: lactation consultants) “Likewise, if you are getting more parenting philosophy from the consultant than breastfeeding mechanics, or if you are told to feed your baby every hour, carry him in a sling, or anything else sounding extreme, consider looking elsewhere for help.” (pg. 101) and this quote “Indeed, babies who are allowed unlimited feedings, who are carried in a sling during the day, and who sleep with their mothers at night, do cry very little. This is true. However, this is not a result of love, training, and an abiding sense of security. Such babies cry less because this parenting philosophy calls for the suppression of all crying.” (pg. 139) He has strong words for the thing you have discovered keeps your babies calm, secure and close to you.

    He also advocates using the cry-it-out method in babies as young as 2 months! “Seventy-five to eighty percent of PDF babies begin sleeping through the night on their own without any further parental guidance apart from routine feedings. It just happens. Some periods of night crying are experienced by the remaining twenty percent of children. Most of this takes place over a three-day period and the crying bouts average between five and thirty-five minutes in the middle of the night.” (pg. 132 in a section about 8 week old babies) I agree with you that womb to crib to kid in a bed takes some transitioning, and I teach my kids to sleep well by themselves with gradual, gentle methods. Ezzo’s book makes no such concessions.

    This book either implies or directly states that a feed-on-demand (I like to call it Cue Feeding) method along with co-sleeping and babywearing causes the following:
    Obesity in children because they were overfed
    Abusive parents who are stressed out by lack of schedule
    Zero tolerance for delayed gratification
    Constant fussiness
    Post-partum depression for mom

    Like all books, parents can learn and glean from Babywise while “spitting out the bones” as you say. But unlike many books, Babywise is extra dogmatic, extra judgmental of other philosophies and extra dangerous if a baby is not thriving on the schedule and the parent is too afraid to try something else. I don’t think it should be banned, but I think it should be warned against, which is why I write this comment.