Breastfeeding On Demand

There seems to be a lot of confusion around mothers who are breastfeeding on demand ie whenever their infant cries. Personally we found this method hard to implement as infants cry for many more reasons than just hunger.

I just can’t understand how we can let our tiny children tell us how they should be raised and when we should feed them. Do they know better than us?

Yes, yes, I can already hear all the commentary about how can a man even comment on such a thing? The fact that I am a man (If us house husbands are still considered men) means that just maybe I can be a little more analytical and a little less emotional about the whole process.

The post natal period is an extremely emotional one and the average breastfeeding woman can be very easily caught up in the “is my child eating enough, are my breasts producing enough, is my milk nutritious enough or am I a good enough mother” guilt spiral.

It is impossible for my judgement to be clouded in this way as I do not have breasts nor do I produce milk. My insecurities lie in many other areas.

The common issue/complaint I have noticed among breastfeeding women is that they do not know how much their infant has eaten. This does not occur when you bottle feed and perhaps coincidentally I do not know anyone who has bottle feed on demand.

It would appear that the problem with on demand feeding is that an infants only form of communication is crying so whenever your child cries it gets fed. There are a hell of a lot of other reasons a child cries. It also means that when your child demands, it gets, which is, I think, is setting you up for a whole lotta trouble down the track.

I’ll give you an example. We were out with a friend who is on demand breastfeeding. The child woke up and started to cry so mum went to feed. No problems so far. After about half an hour mum comes back with a happy baby.

After about twenty minutes of play the baby starts to cry again so what is the first thing that mum does? Yes, that’s right, she feeds the baby again! Come on guys! Surely you would check a few things first like a nappy or wind or hot or cold or stimulation or a cuddle or even a sleep?

But no – it’s food, food, food. The baby then falls asleep on mums’ breast after three minutes and mum says, “See, she must have still been hungry”. Holy crap! I’ll bet everything I own that the baby was tired and just wanted a bit of comfort and not hungry at all.

The solution for us was a three or four hour cycle of wake, feed, play and sleep as you would if you were bottle feeding. You might find that your breasts will be fuller (and so it will be more obvious when they are empty) and your child will feed better.

I guess what I am asking is, Should babies be encouraged to see food as the solution to all of their problems? And, should babies be allowed to demand anything? Isn’t it our job to show them what to do?

From an purely outsiders (male) point of view, the practice of on demand feeding seems to advocate a cry and reward scenario based on food that puts the infant in the drivers seat. It also makes me wonder if it has anything to do with the recent rises in eating and behavioral disorders ?

Food for thought….

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12 Responses to Breastfeeding On Demand

  1. bec says:

    Seriously? This is an incredibly irresponsible post and completely disregards all the latest research about maintaining an adequate milk supply for a breastfed baby.
    I suggest you leave breastfeeding advice to the trained, informed experts such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association, who’s advice completely contradicts what you have written.

    • james says:

      Thanks Bec.
      The problem we found when trying to get information was that none of the trained experts were able to agree on the best method. What was in favour last year was out this year. What the doctors said the midwives disagreed with.
      All the mothers we spoke to told us that they had had similar experiences and it was best to find our own way which I have documented in another post.
      If you’ve got a link to some good info on demand feeding I’d be happy to post it. J

  2. Kate says:

    I think what you fail to acknowledge in this comment is that breastfeeding is about more than just hunger. In the early stages of life, feeding is also about comfort, and bonding/attachment of a baby to its caregiver. I feel it is important fo to acknowledge your views, as fathers do form an integral part of breastfeeding, however I think rather than trying to fit a child into your ‘routine’, you should also follow their cues and their needs. It sounds like in the example you gave, perhaps the mother was misinterpreting her child’s cues, but that seems like a fickle reason to disagree with the concept of demand breastfeeding. As it is, in western societies, mother’s who breastfeed are not always supported in the complexities of the process. However, I feel they should take their cues from the ABA and WHO, rather than individual’s opinions and observations.

  3. james says:

    I certainly did fail to acknowledge all of your well made points Kate and I agree that we should learn to follow our babies cues. Our problem was in the first three months when we really had no idea what was going on. Our routine was something we could actually control and our bub seemed to really adapt to it quickly and settle much better.
    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  4. Chris says:

    I could not agree more with your post and wish I read it before getting into the feed-baby-to-sleep cycle we are still trying to break at nine months! Feed/play/sleep is much better! Trouble is nobody wants to tell you what to do , everyone’s advice conflicts anyway, and bad habits get entrenched very quickly. If any new parents are reading this I hope they will take the advice so they don’t end up where I am! Thanks for a great blog.

  5. elenorjean says:

    I breastfeed my baby on demand. I find that there is no need to know how much he’s had in ml’s. If he’s hungry he gets fed and when he’s no longer hungry he stops feeding. You’re right, babies cry for other reasons besides hunger. But you’re incorrect when you say breastfeeding on demand is about feeding the child every time the child cries. I can usually tell when my son is crying from hunger as opposed to other reasons. I am well aware of his “overtired” cry too, for example.
    If, however, you did do that and offered the breast when the child was not hungry and was crying for some other reason, most likely thing to happen is the child will not take the breast (or will take it only for moments) and will keep crying. Leaving you to continue your investigation into why he’s crying…
    Sometimes my baby wants to be fed to sleep, and that’s okay by me. He also sometimes likes to be rocked to sleep by his Dad. That’s also okay. I’m not too interested in getting the baby into a routine at the moment. I just don’t see the value in it. I’m happy to be guided by his needs (which are pretty simple at the age of 11 weeks; food, clean nappy, sleep, playtime or affection). Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m being critical of your choices, I’m just commenting that mine are different, that’s all. Horses for courses etc, and all babies are different.

  6. nonegiven says:

    Quite a while back, decades ago, it was recommended to weigh the baby before and after once in a while to reassure yourself. You don’t get the measure of fluid ounces or ml, but you do get the difference in weight. From that you can figure out how much a measured amount of milk weighs, assuming you pump.

  7. Brad says:

    You are an absolute disgrace and complete and utter imbecile!

    You do not understand the method behind feeding on demand – It is not about feeding whenever they cry – You also cannot equate breast feeding on demand to bottle feeding “on demand” – they don’t hold ANY parallels.

    This is coming from a man who supported my partner breast feeding on demand and there really weren’t any issues with it apart from the level of peoples’ education out there!

    As elenorjean stated – there is no need to know how much they have fed as they feed when they NEED TO not when they want to… It is not a choice it is a survival instinct encoded through our DNA.

    “After about twenty minutes of play the baby starts to cry again so what is the first thing that mum does? Yes, that’s right, she feeds the baby again! Come on guys! Surely you would check a few things first like a nappy or wind or hot or cold or stimulation or a cuddle or even a sleep?”

    That isn’t breastfeeding on demand that is actually a lazy mother. Yes you do need to check if they need a nappy change – yes you need to check if they just want a cuddle… They are a baby! They don’t know what they want!

    As a male you have more responsibility than to spout uneducated nonsense on the web for young mothers to be to pay attention to increasing scepticism toward their doctors and midwives!

    Please leave it to the experts mate – You really don’t have any authority on the subject!

    • James says:

      Thanks Brad,

      Your passion is admirable but rather than personally insulting me perhaps it would be more constructive to share your own successful on demand feeding techniques. I would be happy to publish them for the benefit of all mothers, fathers, partners and mothers to be!

      You also need to read the disclaimer.

      Additionally I believe that on demand feeding is exactly the same regardless of whether it is from a breast or a bottle. On demand feeding is not about what they eat but more so about when and how they eat.

  8. Kitee says:

    You can’t force a child to breastfeed. If they’re hungry or needing comfort they suckle. If they’re not, they look at you like you’re crazy for offering.

    Also, mothers with smaller breast capacity need to feed their babies more often. 1) To maintain their supply. 2) So bub gets enough milk.

  9. Leah says:

    I cannot disagree more. Whilst I’m no expert at the psychology vs nutrition behind feeding infants, I am an expert at knowing my own child, and having done nearly 2 degrees in early childhood research and development, I have some insight into the theory behind nature vs. nurture and its impact on development. I can say that even though my baby is only 8 weeks old, he is successfully being demand fed. I do not simply stuff my breast into his face every time he makes a peep. I carefully listen to his cry and analyze it according to the current context (I.e when did he last feed/have a nappy change/engage in activity; what is the weather, where have we been today etc) coupled with the different sounds he makes; which research has shown to be a very accurate indication of hunger, fatigue, wind pain/soiled nappy or need for stimulation. If, according to this method I deduce that he is hungry, I feed him; and he similarly accepts the breast with gusto. If however I do not think he is hungry, then I do not feed him, i.e he does not form a cry=instant feed association. It is also important to note that infants have not yet formed an understanding of emotional manipulation and thus do not ‘demand’ in the real sense of the word. They are functioning on basic instincts triggered by neurological impulses sent to the brain by the body. It is not as black and white as you depict but quite complex and ever changing with development and many other factors. It is as much of a Sherlock Holmes process for a breast feeding mum as it would be for a bottle feeding mother. I don’t think that measuring the amount of milk and scheduling feeds means that they are any less likely to be hungry or simply need the comfort and nurture of the breast coupled with the nutritional value of the milk at that point in time.
    Are you supporting the use of formula over breast feeding here? Does the same argument you make stand for expressed breastmilk?
    Really, you should be careful about the advice you give new dads, I would be shattered to think that a new dad would come by this blog and pressure his partner into not thoughtfully demand feeding their child and/or promoting formula feeding, scheduled feeding or controlled crying (if you are for that I don’t know). A better argument would be to specifically highlight the importance of the process that should underpin demand feeding rather than to challenge it completely. The evidence is irrefutable that breast is best and that ‘thoughtful’ demand feeding positively effects the physical, cognitive and emotional needs of the child.
    Another thing, just because I am post natal it does not mean my judgement is clouded, that is rather offensive. Also, the only ‘extreme emotion’ I have felt is the utter joy and humility of bringing our child into this world and being blessed with the role of nurturing him. I have also spoken to many dads that worry about exactly the same things as a mother would. The nurturing of a child should be a decision made in partnership, based on reputable sources of research and professional advice not a self professed super dad. I’m not looking to offend just advocating for people who may be misled by misinformation which could potentially negatively influence the development of their children.

    • James says:

      Hi Leah,

      Your points are excellent and well made and you are obviously an engaged and well informed mother. Congratulations on your feeding success! What you describe here appears to be an excellent example of “thoughtful” on demand feeding. Unfortunately not everyone is as confident and successful with this method.

      Please note that I am not offering any advice here only sharing my experiences and opinion to generate further discussion. (Please see disclaimer)

      My wife and I had difficulty implementing the “on demand” system and so a routine breast feeding approach worked better for us and our baby. Like you, we also found carefully listening to and analyzing cries very helpful in determining what is was our baby needed. The Dunstan technique can be very helpful with this.

      It’s like you said – we are all experts on our own babies and I think the key here is to be thoughtful and engaged regardless of the method of feeding we use so we don’t get into the cry=instant reward scenario that you also mentioned.

      For the record we also think that “breast is best” however some mothers can have difficulty with this method for a variety of reasons and as such should not be judged on their decisions. I’m also not advocating bottle feeding over breast feeding only the subsequent routine associated with bottle feeding.

      Thank you for taking the time to share your valuable experiences and opinions.

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