Demand Feeding vs. Scheduled Feedings: Which is Better for Your Baby?

As if new moms aren’t overwhelmed enough, conflicting parenting tips come along to muddy the waters even more. When it comes to making sure your baby is getting enough nutrition, some parents say demand feeding is the only way to go. Others insist that babies should be on scheduled feedings to make life easier for everyone. Today, we’ll examine both types of feedings and figure out which is really best for your baby.


Demand Feeding: Your Baby Leads the Way

Demand feeding is exactly what it sounds like: your baby demands to be fed and you feed him. Okay, so he’s not really like a little dictator screaming “feed me now”…well, maybe a little. Still, he’s basically telling you when he’s hungry and you’re responding. Seems pretty logical, right? Take a look at the benefits of demand feeding.

  • Helps establish milk for breastfeeding moms. Experts tend to agree that demand feeding helps your body learn to produce the right amount of milk for your baby. This is a major benefit for those trying to overcome challenges with breastfeeding already.
  • May ensure your baby is getting what he needs when he needs it. When your baby leads the way with demand feeding, he tells you when he’s hungry or full. It’s harder to over or under-feed your baby once you know his personal cues.
  • Helps baby develop his own schedule. Look, your baby isn’t going to starve himself. He’s also not going to eat when he’s just not hungry. By demand feeding, you’re letting Junior sort it out for himself. As he grows, he’ll change his schedule and take longer breaks between feedings. If you’re on scheduled feedings, you may miss those cues that he’s ready to change it up a bit.

Here’s the thing: most experts recommend demand feeding, according to KidsHealth. Whether you’re formula-feeding or breastfeeding, it’s pretty much the agreed-upon “right” way to go. Still, we’re fair and balanced here, so let’s talk about scheduled feedings a bit.

Scheduled feedings: You Lead the Way                       

I have no idea when the idea of scheduled feedings popped up. I remember before I had my son, reading in the forums about something called Baby Wise. It freaked me out. I was totally in disagreement with pretty much every word in the book. To me, it seemed that this doctor and his followers were trying to make parenthood more “convenient.” Being a parent isn’t about convenience. There is nothing easy or convenient about getting up in the middle of the night to feed your baby. It’s life. It just is. You do it, then they grow up and eat on their own.

Let me make something clear: I’m not talking about those of us who had to schedule feedings because of specific issues. When my son was born premature, I had to at least try to get him to eat every three hours. That’s pretty much a schedule. Once he reached a “normal” weight, we switched to demand feeding. Sometimes you HAVE to do scheduled feedings to make sure your baby is getting enough, at least for a little while. There is nothing wrong with that!

 Take a look at a few of the pros cited by those who are for scheduled feedings.

  • It is believed to help babies self-soothe and self-regulate. Those who are all for scheduled feedings feel that babies learn to soothe themselves and regulate their feeding schedules based on the scheduled feedings.
  • Gives parents a break. Scheduled feedings are designed to give parents a bit of a break when they feel they need it. This is good if you’re recovering from a particularly traumatic birth experience.
  • Helps moms return to work faster. If you’re heading back to work, you may feel that scheduled feedings help establish a routine that enables you to get back to the office faster. After all, when you send your child to daycare, they typically work with scheduled feedings.

While the research doesn’t really support the pros of scheduled feeding as well as it does the pros of demand feeding, as long as your baby is getting adequate nutrition, it’s really up to you to decide what is right. I personally feel demand feeding is the way to go, but I wouldn’t villainize a mom for choosing scheduled feedings if she’s making sure her baby is happy and healthy. I’m very much a “do what works for you, as long as it harms none” type of person.

What are your thoughts on demand feeding versus scheduled feedings?


11 thoughts on “Demand Feeding vs. Scheduled Feedings: Which is Better for Your Baby?”

  1. Can you please provide sources that the pros and science support breastfeeding more than scheduled feedings? You mention it but I don’t see any references to studies or anything that prove it and I’m genuinely interested in making the most informed decision!

  2. My older 2 were formula fed and they set their own schedule. My youngest is 13 months and is breastfed since birth and feeds on demand, nursing wise. I’m in the process of trying to wean him, but he is fed on demand and always has been. Breastfeeding is supply and demand, not by a schedule.

  3. Your mother insists that your newborn should be able to wait a full three hours between feedings, but a neighborhood mom gave you an earful about how scheduled feedings are cruel. Who is right? The answer isn’t as simple as new moms would wish. We ll take a look at both sides to give you the breakdown to see what s right for you and your child.

  4. Interesting discussion. I think it’s difficult to stick to scheduled feedings and sometimes when faced with a hungry baby, it’s hard to see how it makes sense.

  5. When my first was born someone suggested scheduled feeding. I don’t believe in scheduled feedings under typical circumstances. Why would I wake a sleeping child to feed them instead of just waiting for them to wake if/when they were hungry.

  6. What I discovered is that part of the breastfeeding process is bonding. I was new and had no idea what to expect and was frustrated when my daughter seemed to want to feed constantly but not gain any weight. The doctor said she needed the bonding. If I was on a scheduled feeding, I wouldn’t have realized how much she needed to be held! (Note: I’m not complaining at all… I loved every minute of it!)

  7. I think scheduled feeding is too controlling. My son ate a lot and is a big kid, I hate to think if I fed him less he would have grown up shorter! It probably doesn’t work that way though!

  8. I always breastfed my children on demand. It was time consuming at first but as they got older they figured out their own schedule. Plus, breastmilk is easier for babies to digest and need to be fed every few hours to avoid their blood sugar from dropping two low.

    My sister in law on the other hand used formula and she scheduled feedings. Formula takes longer to digest and babies can go a little bit longer between feedings.

    As a mom, I always tell new moms to do what is best for you and your baby. Don’t let a book, dr, or anyone else determine what is best for your baby and situation as long as your baby’s needs are being met.

    1. I used formula with my son. He was on special formula, but he was a preemie, so I had to at least try every 3 hours. For the first 6 weeks, it was rough. He didn’t really know how to eat. Sounds weird, right? But they told me I had to basically teach him how to eat on his own. He was on a feeding tube for the first 10 days.

      I totally agree with you, new moms need to figure out what is best for them. No book or advice from other parents can replace your own gut feeling.

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