I’m always a little reluctant to tackle subjects like “demand feeding” versus “schedule feeding” and other topics in this general area because women tend to have such strong feelings about these things, and I have no desire to get into a raging debate with any of the Christian sisters about such things.Â But brace yourselves, I’m going to stick my neck out a wee little bit.
First of all, whoever named the alternative to schedule feeding “demand” feeding was quite clever but not necessarily being fair. Some moms do everything on a schedule, and so to put the newborn on a schedule is simply that mother’s natural way of doing things. But whenever I imagine the alternative described by the word demand, I think of a spoiled child who is still nursing at age three when he should be learning his ABC’s and sitting at the table with a cup. My style of mothering newborns was very similar to my style of doing other things. If we were to the point where my doctor recommended feedings every four hours, I would take a peek at the clock, see that it had only been fifteen minutes, and figure that it just wasn’t dinnertime yet. But if I was just twenty minutes out from being four hours since the last feeding, I didn’t fuss about it. And if I thought we were in a growth spurt or some other such mysterious thing, I didn’t stress out about the clock. So I wouldn’t describe that as “demand” feeding. But it certainly was regular feeding. It worked and they grew. If demand feeding means spoiling a child, then I am against it. If demand feeding means that you feed the child regularly when they are hungry, then I’m for it. If schedule feeding means that the world revolves around you and your schedule no matter what, I’m against it. If it means you feed your child regularly without being a slave to the clock , I’m for it.
Every mother has her own style, and it is always dangerous to claim that your “method” is the only one approved by the Bible. Of course every mother should think that her own way works the best and appeals the most to her. The real danger appears when one group of mothers begins to look down on the other group of mothers, criticizing their method of feeding their own babies. It really is a ridiculous thing if we just think about it for a minute. I never hear mothers asking one another ifÂ they serve dinner on time every night and getting huffy ifÂ someone doesn’t. When it comes to things like that, we see how it is very much not our business. But how mothers feed their babies has become (for some reason) a matter for public discourse, disapproval, and busy-bodiness.Â
So let’s see if we can come up with some governing principles to guide us in these things.
1. Babies are born hungry. Feed them! I’m a big fan of nursing simply because that seems to be what God had in mind in the first place. But you can take any good thing too far, and when a kid in sneakers can run up to Mom to pull her shirt up for a snack, I think we have exceeded the bounds. And if a mother wants to supplement or doesn’t want to nurse her child for whatever reason, I feel she ought not be cornered by women interrogating her about it. Neither should she be shunned by the women who do it differently. Why so militant? It is, afterall, her child.
2. Of course a baby will yell and fuss when he’sÂ hungry. What else can the little guy do? He can’t write a note or speak politely yet, so a mother should get the message by all the other commotion. This is the way God has designed us. A newborn needs to be fed more often than a six-month old.Â A newborn should be fed during the night hours. But at a certain age or weight, a child can sleep through the night without a midnight snack. I remember getting to that point, and then the baby would get a fever and need some night-time consolation. Then we would get back to the no-night feedings again. It took a while to get there, but we made it!
3. When we had a baby who was fed, changed, not sick, but hollering and fussing anyway, we would assume that it must be bedtime. When we put the little fusser tenderlyÂ to bed, my husband would tell him or her to “count it all joy.” There is nothing wrong with a baby crying in his bed instead of all around the house while you jump and swing and sing and rock and nothing works. Our kids cried themselves to sleep many times, and it didn’t seem to hurt their little psyches one bit. At the same time, if it was time to start getting them to sleep through the night (whenever that was, I forget), I didn’t just roll over and ignore them. We would go to their room and check on them, make sure everything was all right, give them a kiss, and put them back to bed. And since I was recognized as the chuck-wagon, my husband often did this duty so the baby didn’t get his hopes up. This was part of the night-time weaning process.
4. Babies need lots of loving. They are little bottomless pits for love and affection. So I think mothers should pour it on. You want to rock and hold and love on your baby when the parenting book says he should be having his “quiet time” in his crib? Goodness gracious, relax and enjoy your baby.
5. Mothers can tie themselves in knots over these things. It’s great to seek the advice of an older woman, if you know she doesn’t have a stake in her method. The world is a messy place. Some women like a schedule and some don’t. Some breastfeed and some don’t. I’m not saying that I have no preferences. Of course I do. But there is no reason for me to impose them on everyone else.
6. Mothers tend to be sentimental. This means we can be manipulated away from doing what would really be the best thing for the child. And how are we manipulated? We don’t want them to cry, we don’t want to say no for any reason, we hate the thought of not having a baby at the breast. This is where molly-coddling comes from: mothers who need to be weaned themselves! We want to mother our children like Christian women, not like women who do not fear God.
Finally, and most important: These things require wisdom. Wisdom is something that we must seek, pray for, and grow in. If we find a book that has everything mapped out for us with charts and graphs, we don’t need to seek wisdom because someone has already told us what to do. But parenting is way too complicated for such things. As Anne Bradstreet said, some children need salt, some need sugar. Every child is different. And lo and behold, just when you think you have it down pat, they pull some new thing. Then you are back on your knees asking God for wisdom again.Â But that is just where He wants us.