3 Mainstream Feeding Philosophies - Which Fits Your Family Best? | GrowingUpHerbal.com
Photo Credit: MuddyBootsPhoto via Compfight cc

Demand feeding, hyperscheduling, cry feeding, natural feeding, rigid feeding, responsive feeding, self-regulating feeding, cue feeding, parent-directed feeding… do you know what all of these are and which feeding philosophy will work best for you and your new little one? 

What?! You didn’t know there were that many different kinds of feeding philosophies? It’s true. There are a lot, and I’m sure there are even more out there. It seems like everyone and their brother has a “better” way of doing things which in turn becomes a new “philosophy” that parents should go by. No wonder parents give up and just wing it. It’s all so confusing!

Today I want to discuss the 3 mainstream feeding philosophies I’ve found as well as the one that I think works best for baby and mom. They include hyperscheduling…better known as clock feeding, attachment parenting or demand feeding, and parent-directed feeding. Two of these are extreme opposites, and one falls nicely in the middle.

After 4 kids and trying each of these feeding styles, I’ve come to the conclusion below and found the perfect fit for my family.

Which will suit you and your family? Read on and see for yourself.

3 Mainstream Feeding Philosophies

Hyperscheduling or Clock Feeding

This feeding philosophy consists of setting a specific amount of time between baby’s feedings and sticking to it come hell or high water. If you choose to feed your baby every 3 hours then you feed your baby every 3 hours, no exceptions. What if baby’s hungry 2 hours after his last meal? Too bad, it’s not time!

This philosophy was developed because it was believed that babies grew accustomed to their environments, and that their bodies would follow along or get “in rhythm” with their feeding times. It’s also thought that this type of feeding helps to decrease overeating and obesity among children. Basically it boils down to structure.

This type of feeding schedule is very conservative and is usually better for mom in that she knows exactly when baby will eat. It works for her schedule more than it does for baby.

How It Worked For Me

This was the feeding/scheduling style I tried with my first baby, or at least it was a very loose version of it. I was definitely not a slave to the clock. If baby was hungry early, I didn’t force him to wait until the clock said I could feed him or anything. No matter, I found that this style only ended up frustrating me with myself and with baby because “the schedule” started to fall apart at some point. Life happens, baby goes through a different stage, or some other common life reality comes into play and the schedule no longer worked for us… unless I wanted to stay home all day long, which I didn’t.

Attachment parenting…AKA Demand Feeding

Demand feeding is where the baby is in charge of when it eats. If she cries…feed her. When she wakes up…feed her. This feeding philosophy is the extreme opposite of clock feeding. It’s a very liberal feeding style, and its approach is non-structured.

Attachment parenting has many facets, but the main idea is creating a emotional bond with your baby so that she gets her comfort and security from you. You do everything with your baby. Beyond feeding, it could be wearing your baby around all day while she’s awake or even laying down with her to get her to go to sleep.

This style of feeding is usually for the benefit of the baby, not mom, and in some cases can cause you to have a demanding little booger and a very tired mama. It can also make it more difficult for baby to find a good routine for themselves as they get older because they’re used to getting what they want when they want. Who wants to wait on something when you really don’t have to?

How It Worked For Me

I found that this method did not work very well for me when I tried it with my second child. At first it did, when baby was a newborn and very small. It was easy to keep him close by, feed him whenever he acted hungry and let him sleep whenever and wherever he wanted. But as he got older, I started seeing him being very clinging and demanding. Now granted he was a baby and babies need their mamas, but I couldn’t possibly lay down and sleep with him when it was nap time. I couldn’t wear him around all day! Dad did not cut it… only mama was enough so this type of feeding/scheduling style worked at first, but it was definitely not something I wanted to continue on with.

Parent-Directed Feeding

PDF is smack dab in the middle of the previous 2 feeding styles. This style of feeding is more of an independent style with a flexible focus. A lot of people refer to it as routine feedings or scheduled feedings. It takes the benefits of each of the above philosophies and mushes them together.

Basically, mom sets the time between baby’s meals (usually every 2-3 hours for a newborn), but adjusts if baby is hungry sooner. If mom wants to feed her 1 month old every 3 hours then she feeds him at the set times in order for his body to adjust to a feeding schedule. If he wakes up early or shows signs of hunger before the next scheduled feeding session, she goes ahead and feeds him and adjusts the rest of the days feedings accordingly which tends to happen during growth spurts or times of illness.

This style is based on flexibility and balance and seems to work well for mama and baby as feedings spans can shorten or lengthen as needed based on baby’s age and life situations.

How It Worked For Me

This is the feeding/scheduling style that I naturally fell into with baby #1 and baby #2 when the above two styles didn’t work so well for me. I didn’t read about it in some book until later on, but this was just something that came naturally. I wanted my babies to get used to routine because I knew that was a good thing, and I knew I did well with routines too. So once I jumped ship on the other two styles I realized that routine for my kids was a simple cycle. Eat, Awake, Sleep. That’s it.

Like I said earlier, with a newborn, I tend to be more of an attachment parenter because I want to establish good nursing habits and just bond with my sweet little man. However when baby got older, around 3-4 months, I started moving towards this routine cycle of eat, awake, sleep. We did that over and over every 3 hours eventually working our way up to 4 hours and that worked well as baby got older. I followed baby’s hunger cues and if he woke up early and was hungry than I fed him. This worked well for us, and it’s what I’ve continued on with each of my other 2 babies.

So Which Is Best?

Fortunately, this isn’t a question I can answer for you.

After 4 babies, I have found what seems to work best for us which was to work my way away from both extremes and finally settle on the middle ground. This doesn’t mean it’s the best or most right way to do things. It doesn’t even mean it’s what you should do with your baby.

This may not work for you. You may do better with a stricter routine, you may do better with more laid back routine, and then again, you may like the flexible structure of the middle ground like I do. It really comes down to how you want to parent and what your schedule is already like. The number of kids you have will also play a role in how you feed and schedule you babies, and the great thing about it is that you can work any of this to fit your life… if something doesn’t work, you can always change your mind about it and try something else later.

Everyone’s different, and no one is in a position to judge each other based on what each mama thinks is best. No two babies are alike and no two mamas are alike so how can we say that one way is right and one way is wrong? We natural mamas need to stick together, grow our supportive community, and help each other, not cut each other down.

Okay, so now I want to hear from you. Which feeding philosophy/schedule has worked best for you and your kiddos? How have you benefited from it?

Remember, this is a war-free zone. I have the right not to approve any comments I don’t want on my page so if you don’t have anything nice or beneficial to say, don’t say it at all. If you do, it won’t come through. Promise.

Post originally published on September 11, 2011. Updated on March 5, 2014.